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Greek parliament passes legislation for legal recognition of gender identity

The new law expressly states that transgender people can change their legal documents with a court ruling, removing the requirement of medical interventions or tests

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Activists and members of the LGBTIQ community celebrate the passing of the law to legally recognise gender identity in Greece by the Hellenic parliament on Tuesday night.

13 October 2017

A new law reforming the legal recognition of gender identity in Greece was passed with overwhelming support in the Greek parliament, with 171 MPs voting in favour and 114 against out of 285 present. Ruling coalition party SYRIZA managed to get the support of centrist party To Potami (The River) and the Democratic Left, a small fraction of the Democratic Alliance, dominated by the socialist party PASOK, the leader of which, Fofi Gennimata, abstained from the vote, as did the leader of the Independent Greeks, the far-right part of the governing coalition, Panos Kammenos.

The new law expressly states that transgender people can change their legal documents with a court ruling, removing the requirement of medical interventions or tests. Currently, trans people in Greece who wish to amend their gender marker on personal documents to reflect their gender have to provide proof of medical treatment, sterilisation, and a psychiatric diagnosis of gender identity disorder.

The new Bill was the outcome of a long process, including consultation with many stakeholders - the LGBTIQ community, the medical establishment, and others - taking into account the experience of other countries. It was introduced as a way for Greece's laws to conform with EU legislation, but also to follow with the legal precedent set by a series of court decisions which had already ruled in favour of people changing their legal documents to align with their gender identity without medical or psychological assessment.

Much of the debate was focused on Article 3 of the Bill, which allows for individuals to change their legal gender at the age of 15, provided they have their legal guardians' consent.

This Article was passed in parliament in a roll-call vote, with 148 votes in favour and 124 against, while 13 abstained out of a total of 285 MPs present. All the individual articles barring Article 3 were passed with the votes of 165 MPs, with 119 voting against and one abstaining.

Main opposition party Nea Dimokratia opposed the bill in its entirety, as did far-right Golden Dawn, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Centrists Union. The leader of the Opposition, Kiriakos Mitsotakis, who had previously met with leaders of the LGBTIQ community and had appeared sympathetic, was fiercely criticised for changing his stance conceding to the far-right faction of his party and the Greek Orthodox Church, which had condemned the law as "immoral". The ND leader was also heavily ridiculed for stating, during the parliamentary debate, the example of a young person who was allegedly persuaded to change gender, after meeting with extra-terrestrials at the Immitos mountain of Athens.

Mr Mitsotakis used this story as a way to illustrate his view that people who wish to change their legal gender need psychiatric assessment, but the argument backfired, particularly since it is against EU laws. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe may have adviced Member States to ensure that the best interest of the child is paramount in all decisions regarding their legal gender recognition, but the European Parliament has specifically objected to the declaration of young trans people as mentally ill.

The new law was greeted with enthusiasm by the members of the LGBTIQ community, and ended a heated debate. Critics of the government accused SYRIZA of prioritising this issue - and hiding behind civil rights legislation - to distract attention from the harsh austerity measures implemented. It was also met with opposition by conservative and religious groups, which campaigned against the legislation, seeing it as an attack on traditional values.
Outside the country, criticism comes from human rights organisations due to certain problematic aspects of the law.

Peak body Transgender Europe, while welcoming the new law as an important first step towards quick, accessible, and transparent legal gender recognition based on self-determination, states that there are "serious flaws which should be addressed immediately. These include: if aged 17 or older, and unmarried, appearing before a judge who assesses the request for change of first and adjusted last names, and gender marker; 15-16-year-olds using a different procedure which involves assessment by a psycho-medical commission.

"Limitations in the law make it fail our human rights test. Having to appear before a judge is contrary to the idea of self-determination", said Richard Köhler, TGEU Senior Policy Officer.

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