Malta’s parliament just passed new legislation that allows self-determination of gender (with a simple process to legally change gender), and outlaws unnecessary surgery on intersex babies. This bill makes Malta the first country to ban unnecessary surgery on intersex infants.

Intersex is a term used to describe a variety of people who are born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fall into society’s expectation of either male or female. Intersex babies around the world often undergo surgery, either at the request of the parent or the recommendation of the doctor, to remove parts of their genitalia. In almost every case, the procedure is completely medically unnecessary and denies the child the ability to make choices about their own body. Some people call the surgery “normalization” surgery, which is a term that falsely implies there is something wrong with being intersex.

“To say that this Act is a groundbreaking human rights milestone is almost an understatement,” said Paulo Corte-Real, co-chair of the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association. “It provides an inspirational benchmark for other European countries that need to improve their own LGBTI equality standards.”

The new law also allows people to change their gender identity on documents by simply filing an affidavit with a notary, which ends the requirement for surgery in order to legally identify as a gender other than the one assigned at birth. The process of changing one’s gender in the system, under the new bill, won’t take more than 30 days.

“Demanding sterility, divorce, a mental health diagnosis in legal gender recognition or completely lacking procedures are more and more an inacceptable [sic] thing of the past,” said Arja Voipio, co-chair of Transgender Europe. “Lawmakers in the rest of Europe should take inspiration from this trail-blazer for swift action.”

“The GIGESC Act creates the conditions for an equal society as it recognises and protects trans and intersex persons in all spheres of life,” adds Alecs Recher, who is also co-chair of Transgender Europe.

In 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture announced it condemns unnecessary surgery on intersex babies. “The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments,” the UN statement reads, “including forced genital-normalizing surgery, involuntary sterilization, unethical experimentation, medical display, ‘reparative therapies’ or ‘conversion therapies,’ when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned.”

Maltese officials and medical professionals are now working to come up with guidelines to make sure all surgeries done on infants are medically necessary and not “driven by social factors without the consent of the minor.”

Media Resources: Pink News 4/2/2015; Gay News Network 4/2/2015;  Ms. Blog 2/7/2013; UN Report of the Special Rapporteur 2/1/2013; Transgender Europe 4/1/2015

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