As much as the opposition may press, there is only one way a coalition government can dramatically shorten its life expectancy: self-inflicted wounds. This is what happened in the negotiations of the bill on the rights of trans people. There are many issues that separate the PSOE and Unidos Podemos with differences that can be resolved. On economic policy issues, they will not coincide easily, but at least they can try to meet halfway, although one part is quite disappointed, usually Podemos. However, in everything that has to do with values and civil rights, if the discrepancy is complete, the temptation to think is very strong: what am I in this government for then?
When announcing the presentation of the draft after the Council of Ministers, it was necessary to represent the harmony that has been so difficult to achieve in recent months. Irene Montero praised the contribution of the Minister of Justice throughout the negotiation process. Juan Carlos Campo de-dramatized the situation by stating that “the project has arrived when it was supposed to arrive.” María Jesús Montero described it as “a collective text in which we have all contributed.” The government spokesperson specifically referred to the right to “free gender self-determination,” the concept that inspires the new legislation and which, until now, Vice President Carmen Calvo had refused to accept.
As journalists asked at the press conference about Calvo’s position, Campo was the number two in the government as public relations officer. “The words of the vice president to which he refers are the same that I used at the beginning, maturity and stability,” he said, referring to certain aspects of the reform. It didn’t sound very convincing. In reality, Calvo had not only wanted to give the project more legal certainty, but was basically denying its very argumentative basis. “I am fundamentally concerned with the idea of thinking that gender is chosen without more than mere will or desire, obviously putting at risk the identity criteria of the rest of the 47 million Spaniards,” said the vice president in a interview in February. That put her in a trench facing the Ministry of Equality.
The cynical point of view, common among journalists, has provoked comments according to which all the controversy would not have existed if the PSOE had controlled that Ministry. The truth is that the discussion about trans rights has caused a schism in the feminist movement in Spain and many other countries. The mutual attacks have acquired a verbal violence that until then could only be found coming from those who hate or despise feminism. Those opposed to trans rights argued that they endangered the very identity of women and with it all the advances made in the fight for their rights. On the other hand, they accused them of transphobia and of ignoring the support that feminism has always given to the claims of the LGTBI collective. The T has been there for a long time.
The PSOE maintained a favorable position on trans rights until 2019. In parallel to the public debate that was taking place, it changed its mind, or at least the party’s Equality Secretariat, led by Carmen Calvo, did. “I can’t give in,” Irene Montero said in May. It was already a head-on collision that could endanger the existence of the Government. Only Pedro Sánchez was in a position to put an end to that confrontation by instructing the Minister of Justice to make the reform possible by establishing some limits to the draft drawn up by the Ministry of Equality. The formal objective was to give it “legal certainty”, because the Government had to assume that the reform will be appealed by the right before the Constitutional Court.
The trans law and another law to grant more rights to the LGTBI collective were merged into a single text, a way of adding supporters to neutralize opponents. That has not convinced historical leaders of socialist feminism, who have aligned themselves with Calvo in rejecting the project. The vice president said she was against the “pathologization” of trans people, of considering them ill who require the approval of a doctor and a treatment with hormones for their new identity to be recognized. In practice, canceling this stigma leads to the recognition that gender change only depends on your decision, whether there are many or few administrative procedures that are established.
The draft approved by the Council of Ministers settles this issue with the expression “freely expressed will.” Which amounts to the same as gender self-determination only in other words. Campo explained the specific conditions that are dictated for children from 12 to 14 years old and those from 14 to 16 because they are minors, but the recognized rights are not vetoed.
From now on, the doubt remains about the degree of enthusiasm with which Carmen Calvo will defend the project or even if the approval makes her exit from the Government more likely when the pending remodeling takes place. Where there is no doubt is in the position of the Government. “The law safeguards the rights of women,” said María Jesús Montero. That “evidently” of Calvo’s phrase in February is now out of the official government discourse.