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Sweden to compensate sterilised transgender people

Published torsdag 28 april 2016 kl 14.39
Maria Sundin: The government must understand what it did
(2:42 min)
Närbild på kvinna, tittar in i kameran. Foto: Robin Haldert / TT
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Ulrika Westerlund is chair of RFSL, which welcomed the government's announcement. File photo: Robin Haldert / TT
Minister for Health Gabriel Wikström. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT
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Minister for Health Gabriel Wikström. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

Transgender people who were sterilised by the Swedish state will be paid compensation for their suffering, Swedish health minister Gabriel Wikström has announced.

The decision was welcomed by the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer rights (RFSL), which had been preparing a lawsuit on behalf of those affected.

"We are very happy about this initiative from the government. We have been pushing this issue since 2013 when the sterilisation requirement was removed for people who wanted to change their legal gender,” RFSL chairperson Ulrika Westerlund tells Radio Sweden.

Between 800 and 900 people underwent gender reassignment surgery in Sweden between 1972 and 2013. During that time, the law forced them to submit to sterilisation in order to get treatment and change their legal gender.

Since the law was changed, RFSL has been campaigning for compensation from the state for the suffering caused.

The previous centre-right Alliance government resisted the calls for compensation, but on Tuesday the minister for health in the current centre-left government, Gabriel Wikström, told newspaper Svenska Dagbladet that it is right for "a modern society" to pay out such a compensation and thereby show that the previous approach was "completely reprehensible".

Wikström did not specify the sum he thinks should be paid out, but hopes that it will be legally possible to pay out the compensation by the summer of 2018.

Westerlund, chairperson at RFSL, says they believe SEK 300,000 per person is a reasonable amount and in line with similar compensation paid out today.

In 1999, the state paid a flat sum of SEK 175,000 in compensation to around 2,000 people who up until the 1970s were sterilised without consent for "social and medical" reasons. This includes people who had been sterilised in the 1940s with the motive of "improving the genetic quality" of the nation.

Maria Sundin is among those who was sterilisied when she underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1999. She sees the move announced Tuesday as a "recognition that we are human beings like everybody else" and hopes the financial compensation will come with a formal apology from the government.

"We need to have an apology and we need to make sure that the government understands what it did so it won't do anything similar again to any other group," Sundin told Radio Sweden.

At the time of her operation, she felt she had no choice but to go through with the sterilization, Sundin said.

"I really wanted to have a legal gender that corresponded with the way I looked and the way I behaved, because I was then just beginning a new stage in my career as a social worker, training in psychotherapy. Transgender people were viewed as unsuited to be psychotherapists in those days, and that is why I needed to be able to 'hide' my old identity," Sundin said.

Now, Sundin hopes the government will take the opportunity to put things right, and thereby also send an important signal to the rest of society. Sundin said: "The compensation and the apology from the government would probably mean a lot when it comes to making ordinary people see that we were done wrong. Transgender people are not crazy or weird in any way. Transgender people are not any different from any other person, and you can very well have them on the labour market."

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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