Protest against proposal from VOX party to change regional legislation affecting LGBT rights, in Madrid
A demonstrator wearing a mask takes part in a protest against the proposal from far-right VOX party to change regional legislation affecting LGBT rights at Puerta del Sol square in central Madrid, Spain, December 15, 2021.

Activists in Spain are concerned time is running out to pass a law that would make it easier for people to self-identify as transgender as its progress through parliament is slowed by heated debate.

Lawmakers will vote on Thursday whether to take a draft law to the Spanish parliament's plenary for debate. The bill would allow people to change their gender on identification documents without the need for psychological or other medical appraisals from the age of 14.

The bill is currently on a fast-track process through a parliamentary committee. Taking the debate to the floor - a request made by the opposition People's Party which opposes the law - will slow its progress through parliament and could jeopardise its chances of being approved as elections loom in late 2023, said Silvia Claveria, a political scientist at the Carlos III University in Madrid.The Equality Ministry, while acknowledging that there would be a delay, said it was pushing for the bill to be debated in one session.

In recent years, global medical bodies have sought to change laws that treat transgender identities as mental health disorders, arguing that not being able live according to a self-identified gender often exacerbates problems such as depression and self harm.

The Spanish bill has caused rifts within the ruling coalition, with the far left Unidas Podemos party accusing the Socialist party of attempting to "torpedo" the law by introducing late amendments to raise the age of self-determination to 14 years, from a previous proposal of 12.

Anyone aged 14 to 16 would need the agreement of their parents or guardians to change their gender. In some other countries with similar laws, children under 18 still need parental approval.

An interpretation of a recent law that was meant make prosecution of gender violence easier but has inadvertently resulted in several convicted sex abusers having their sentences shortened, could also give rise to more caution and slow the process, Claveria said.

"NOT A WHIM"

The law, which is similar to a bill being debated in the Scottish parliament, would have life-changing consequences for ten-year-old Jorge Navarro, who was assigned female at birth but began to refer to himself as a boy when he was four years old.

He would often ask his parents whether he would be able to grow a beard and have a penis like his father when older. Aged seven, he announced to his family and classmates at a school outside Madrid that he was a boy, he told Reuters.

Sara Laguna, Jorge's mother, said that the current law for the autonomous region of Madrid would require Jorge to undergo two years of hormone therapy or genital surgery before he can apply to change his gender.

"We need a law that doesn't oblige our loved ones to undergo a medical treatment so that someone can tell them who they are - only they know who they are," said Laguna.

She said that victory by the conservative People's Party in elections scheduled for December 2023 at the latest would spell the end of the law.Opponents of the law include women's rights group The Alliance Against the Erasure of Women, which says that men facing charges of gender violence could evade justice by identifying as women, spokesperson Laura Redondo said.

Spain's gender violence laws gives harsher sentences to violent crimes perpetrated by men on women.

An article in the bill attempts to address this issue by establishing that "a change of sex in the registry and, where appropriate, the change of name, does not alter the legal framework that, was applicable prior to the registry change."

Redondo said loopholes remain.

"By saying that you can choose your sex it erodes measures that have taken hundreds of years to achieve since the feminist movement has existed," Redondo said.

Rodondo also said looser rules around gender identification could actually encourage more teenagers to seek gender affirming surgery or hormone treatment without a previous evaluation. No scientific evidence has emerged that proves that self-identification laws lead to a higher rate of people seeking medical treatment to alter their bodies.

Sara Laguna refuted the idea that Jorge could be going through a phase or that he needed a psychologist to tell him whether he was transgender. She said Jorge will probably take hormone treatment to block his physical development but has no plans to undergo surgery.

"Being trans isn't a decision, or a whim or a choice - it's a condition of life," she said. "My son doesn't have any problem because he's trans - he has it because of the transphobic society in which he lives."