In Finland, if you want to choose your own gender identity, you face enforced sterilisation and years of mental health screening.

21-year-old medical student Sakris Kupila is fighting to defend transgender rights so that he, and others who want the right to choose their gender identity, will be able to do so without being robbed of the right to have children. Without the stigma of a mental disorder. And without the social anxiety. On 25 August the Finnish government will be reviewing their gender recognition laws. Tell them to protect trans rights.

Tell Finland: Protect trans rights

Unfair laws

Hard, unforgiving and scary

‘I remember the moment when I realised that I should be sterile in order to change my legal gender. It was devastating… I was just a child. I knew that, according to the government, I should not have the right to even potentially have children. It felt awful. I felt alien, like a freak. It felt like I was categorised subhuman based on my gender identity. I felt sick.’ Sakris Kupila

The current procedure to obtain legal gender recognition in Finland is humiliating. It violates the rights of transgender people to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as their rights to the highest attainable standard of health, to privacy, and to recognition as a person before the law.

According to the Act on Legal Recognition of the Gender of Transsexuals (or the Trans Act), the reference to the sex assigned at birth in the Population Information can be changed only if:

  • the applicant presents a medical statement certifying she/he wishes to belong permanently to the opposite gender;
  • they live in that gender role;
  • and they have been sterilized or is ‘for some other reason infertile’.

The act also restricts the possibility to access legal gender recognition to individuals who have reached the legal age of maturity, which in Finland is 18. The whole process can take more than three years.

Social anxiety

‘I don’t feel safe travelling or presenting my ID to clerks and officials. It causes embarrassing and unnecessary situations when being in contact with businesses and organisations. I have to explain myself and my personal situation over and over again.’ Sakris Kupila

The personal identity code assigned to Finnish citizens at birth indicates the sex assigned at birth – the last digit is always even for females and odd for males. All personal documents, including passport and identity cards, but also less official documents such as library cards, are issued on the basis of this information. The code is required to apply for benefits (such as pensions) and for payment of salaries. It is therefore extremely important for transgender people that the code corresponds to their actual gender identity and that they are not forced to ‘out’ themselves as transgender every time they are required to reveal their personal identity code.

 ‘Handing my dignity over’

‘The psychiatric diagnosing process felt like I was handing my dignity, identity and future over to doctors, nurses and officials that would thoroughly examine me and judge whether or not my sense of self was real or not’ Sakris Kupila

To be able to get legal gender recognition (and to access health care) one must obtain a specific diagnosis of ‘transsexualism’. Other diagnoses do not enable access to healthcare, or ultimately legal gender recognition. For example, transgender people not conforming to the binary male-female divide are not diagnosed with ‘transsexualism’ but with “other gender disorders”, excluding them from accessing legal gender recognition.

Enforced sterilisation

Current law also requires the individual undergoes a ‘real-life test’, a test that has been criticized by the CEDAW committee (the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) for promoting stereotypical gender roles, in which a person has to show that he or she is living according to their gender identity for the period of one year. This is what Sakris was going through in 2017.

The ultimate requirement is sterilisation, meaning that many transgender people have to undergo invasive medical treatments against their wishes for the sole purpose of obtaining legal gender recognition.

‘The requirement of sterilisation is a violation against bodily integrity. Even though I have been on hormonal treatment, I would still need to undergo unnecessary and risky surgery to meet the standard of sterilization set by Finland’s laws. My body is mine, and my decisions regarding my future are mine. I might or might not have biological children, but I want the right to make the decision myself. No one should ever be forced to choose between different human rights.’ Sakris Kupila

A time for change

The Human Rights Council, as part of The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) - a process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States, has recommended that Finland:

1.    Revise the Trans Act by abolishing the need for sterilisation, other medical treatment, and a mental health diagnosis, as requirements for a person’s legal recognition of their gender identity.

2.    Develop a gender recognition procedure that is quick, transparent, based on self-determination, and available irrespective of age, medical or financial status.

On 25 August, Finland decides on whether to accept recommendations from the Human Rights Council to change their legal gender recognition (LGR) processes. Tell the prime minister of Finland to recognise the rights of individuals like Sakris to self-identify without the fear of inhuman and humiliating treatment, discrimination or social alienation.