Slovakia: Surgery once again a condition for gender change

29 Jan



Slovak Health Minister Zuzana Dolinkova in November revoked guidelines on the gender transition process. This is causing concern within Slovakia's LGBTQ+ community.


Amy Zoyomi is a 29-year-old transgender woman from Lucenec, a town of 30,000 inhabitants in southern Slovakia. As an adult, Amy decided to move to the capital, Bratislava. Her gender identity was one of the main reasons for leaving her hometown. For Amy, life in Lucenec and life in Bratislava are poles apart. "When I walk down the street in my home town, people often stare at me," she told DW. "Sometimes they stop, and the stares change to verbal abuse. That doesn't happen in the capital. I feel safe here, people are much more relaxed and don't pay so much attention to others," she explained.

Despite finding solace in her circle of close friends and acquaintances in Bratislava, Amy's path to finding her true identity has been a rocky one — just as it is for many other members of the LGBTQ+ community in Slovakia, one of the last EU countries not to legally recognize same-sex marriage and civil unions and a country where gender transition has always been extremely difficult for transgender people. Amy first came out as gay when she was still a teenager. Her family dealt with the news quite well, she says, as they had already suspected what her sexual orientation was. Coming out as a trans woman, however, was not easy.

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Gender confirmation surgery

After initial doubts, Amy decided to undergo gender confirmation surgery in Thailand in 2022. "It has helped me a lot. I can finally accept myself as I am and I feel much more self-confident and whole," she said. According to the website, only four doctors in Slovakia currently specialize in the transition process. Gender confirmation surgery is not currently performed in Slovakia, and transgender people who decide to have the surgery done have to travel to other countries, the nearest being the Czech Republic.

"This can really complicate the whole process," said Amy. "I was lucky enough to find good doctors, one was very reassuring, and that helped me, but some people have to wait a long time before they can start their transition, and that can be very frustrating." Amy was lucky: She was able to make her own decisions about her body without any undue pressure. Now, however, transgender people in Slovakia are not so lucky.


New minister revokes guidelines

In late November, Health Minister Zuzana Dolinkova of the center-left Hlas, or Voice, party revoked guidelines on gender transition that allowed transgender people to change their gender in legal documents without undergoing gender confirmation surgery. The guidelines, which made the transition process easier for transgender people in Slovakia, had been introduced eight months previously by former Health Minister Vladimir Lengvarsky just before he left office, only to be revoked by the new government a month after it came to power.


Gender confirmation surgery not for everyone

"The fact that this operation helped me doesn't mean that it can help others. Some transgender people don't want to change their bodies and that's totally okay. It is inhuman to force someone into surgery like this," said Amy. The minister's decision was a purely political one: She explained in a media statement on November 21 that the guideline would be revoked "in the interest of the stability of the government coalition." Ever since the brutal murder of two young members of the LGBTQ+ community in a gay bar in downtown Bratislava in October 2022, the community has been calling for guidelines that would make life easier for transgender people and for more rights and greater safety for members of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.


Pressure from the nationalist right wing

The pressure to revoke the guidelines obviously came from the nationalist right-wing Slovak National Party (SNS), which is a member of the ruling three-party coalition alongside Smer and Hlas. In a recent interview, Environment Minister Tomas Taraba (SNS) expressed concern about the country, criticizing that "today's status quo in Slovakia is very progressive-liberal." "We have to erase these things, and we [the parties in the coalition – ed.] had discussed it even before we started talking about ministries. It's no surprise to anyone," he said in an exclusive interview with the conservative news outlet Postoj.


Blow to the LGBTQ+ community

The revocation of the guidelines was a huge blow to the LGBTQ+ community, which saw it as another attack on it and the rights of LGBTQ+ people and noted that the new rules will only bring more pressure and suffering into their lives. It also saw Health Minister Dolinkova's move as a violation of their rights: Gender confirmation surgery is not only a life- and body-changing intervention, it can in some cases lead to permanent sterility.

The change in guidelines comes at a time when European Courts are passing rulings that support LGBTQ+ rights in EU countries. One example of this is a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that said that by failing to legalize same-sex unions, Poland had violated the right to respect for private and family life.


Political discussions instead of informed decisions

"Politicians really abuse transgender people; they make hateful comments. It often makes me feel really bad, and it also hurts my family and friends," Amy told DW when asked about her feelings on Slovak politics. Iniciativa Inakost (Initiative Otherness), a Slovak group that brings together LGBTQ+ individuals and organizations, is adamant that political stability cannot trump human rights. In its media statement, the initiative explained that the regulation passed by Lengvarsky before he left office had been based on "expert consensus" and follows the standard transition procedure.

After last year's double murder in Bratislava, a variety of human rights organizations came together and formed the initiative Ide nam o zivot (Our lives are at Stake). Despite the revocation of the guidelines, the community is determined to fight on. "Ensuring a dignified transition for transgender people is one of the demands of the Our lives are at Stake initiative, which was supported by over 100 organizations and almost 33,000 people," the members said in a recent statement. "We won't let it go."


Author Sona Otajovicova

Edited by: Aingeal Flanagan

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