December 3, 2020 at 12:40 pm EST | by Parker Purifoy
Dutch government apologies for forcible sterilizations of trans, intersex people
(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Dutch government on Tuesday issued a formal apology to transgender and intersex citizens who were required to undergo sterilization surgeries to legally change their gender and agreed to compensate some of those who underwent the procedures.

The law, which was in place from 1985 to 2014, mandated that trans and intersex people had to undergo sterilization surgeries to change their official gender registration. The government agreed to pay 5,000 euros to about 2,000 trans people who had the sterilization surgeries. 

This comes after years of work by activists who demanded the government acknowledge the harm caused by the law. 

The Dutch Cabinet — specifically Education, Culture and Science Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven and Law Minister Sander Dekker — issued the apology.

“The law turned out to be a symbol of social rejection for many, and dreams have been lost as a result of the irreversible sterilization,” van Engelshoven said in the apology. 

“Such a violation of physical integrity is no longer imaginable today,” Dekker added in a statement.

Annelies Tukker of the NNID Foundation, a Dutch intersex advocacy group, welcomed the apology. 

“Naturally, we are pleased that the Dutch government has recognized the importance of the right to bodily integrity and the harm this law caused,” Tukker told the Washington Blade in an emailed statement. “Transgender and intersex people deserve to be recognized by states for who they are, without the requirement to undergo unnecessary medical interventions. The inclusion of intersex people who were affected by this law is an important step.” 

“Most intersex people identify with the gender in which they grew up. However, this is not the case for all, and they have been affected by this law,” added Tukker. “For the future, more legal changes are necessary to protect intersex children. Throughout the world, intersex children are still subjected to unnecessary medical interventions to change their sex characteristics when they are too young to decide for themselves. For the future, it is crucial that their right to bodily integrity and to make their own choices will also be recognized.”

Cianán Russell, senior policy advisor for ILGA Europe, also applauded the apology. 

“Another state not only acknowledging that forced sterilization for legal gender recognition is torture, but being responsible for the past,” they said on Wednesday in a series of tweets. “All trans people deserve access to justice which must always mean #LGR based on self-determination AND reparations for those who were not trusted by governments in the past to know who we are. This is the future.”

Several countries in the European Union, including Finland and the Czech Republic, still require sterilization surgeries for trans people who wish to change their legal gender. 

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