Skip to content
Thomson Reuters

Portugal approves law to boost transgender rights, protect intersex infants

Kieran Guilbert

13 Apr 2018

By Kieran Guilbert (Thomson Reuters Foundation) | 13 April 2018

The law makes Portugal only the sixth European nation to allow a change of gender without medical or state intervention

LONDON, April 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Transgender people in Portugal will no longer need to be diagnosed as mentally ill to change their gender legally, after parliament approved a law on Friday that also bans unnecessary surgery on intersex infants.

Several European nations require transgender people to undergo medical procedures such as surgery and sterilisation, be diagnosed with a mental disorder, and get divorced if married to have their desired gender legally recognised by government.

The law makes Portugal only the sixth European nation to allow a change of gender without medical or state intervention, according to ILGA-Europe, a network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) groups.

It follows Malta, Norway, Denmark, Ireland and Belgium.

People who are transgender do not identify with the gender they were born as, while intersex people have ambiguous genitalia that are not considered typically male or female.

“When trans people are trusted to take decisions for themselves, it signals respect (and) procedures are simplified,” said Transgender Europe’s senior policy officer Richard Kohler.

“It enables anyone who needs legal gender recognition to quickly get through with this bureaucratic step and continue with their lives,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The law also means Portugal will become only the second nation in the world, after Malta, to ban medically unnecessary surgery on the genitals of intersex infants, activists said.

About 1.7 percent of the world’s population, or 129 million people, is thought to be born intersex, the United Nations says.

Doctors often perform surgery to “masculinise” or “feminise” the genitalia of intersex babies aged 2 or under in the belief it will make their lives easier and to ease parental distress.

Yet it can cause life-long pain, sterilisation, loss of sexual sensation and health complications, campaigners say.

Rights groups such as Organisation Intersex International (OII) and said Portugal’s new law was insufficient.

Parents could circumvent the legislation and have surgeries performed on their children by claiming they were confident of their gender identity, said Kitty Anderson, co-chair of OII.

“The law … doesn’t explicitly prohibit intersex genital mutilation (IGM), nor criminalise or adequately sanction IGM, nor address obstacles to access to justice and redress for IGM survivors,” said Daniela Truffer, co-founder of

(Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Robert Carmichael. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Tellurian’s Driftwood LNG gets final environmental nod New York sues Exxon for misleading investors on climate change risk Exclusive: U.S. seed sellers push for limits on Monsanto, BASF weed killer U.S. youth activists will appeal setback to climate lawsuit, lawyer says Monsanto Roundup appeal has uphill climb on ‘junk science’ grounds: legal experts New Caledonia restricts tourism, bans fishing at Pacific reefs New York City votes to cap Uber, Lyft vehicle licenses U.S. states vow to fight Trump rollback on auto emissions EPA head wants car industry, states to compromise on emissions Ethical firms hope to win more gov’t contracts with new UK strategy