As It Happens

'It means it a lot': Sweden compensates transgender people for forced sterilization

Swedish actress Aleksa Lundberg says it "means a lot" that her government will compensate her and 800 other transgender people for their forced sterilization, but she'd rather get an apology than a cheque.
Aleksa Lundberg was 21 years old when she was forced to choose between having the government recognize her gender or ever being able to have biological children. (Nino Ramsby)

Story transcript

Aleksa Lundberg says she didn't fully comprehend what she was giving up when she she agreed at the age of 21 to be sterilized in order to transition from male to female.

"I was way too young to understand what it means not ever being able to have children of your own. I didn't understand what I was saying yes to," the 35-year-old Swedish actress told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Lundberg is one of more than 800 transgender victims of forced sterilization in Sweden eligible to receive compensation from the government under new bill announced Monday.

They can't give me my ability to have kids back.- Aleksa Lundberg, actress

"That means a lot and it's quite a relief, actually, because we have been struggling with this for many years now," Lundberg said

Until 2013, under Swedish law, anyone who wanted to legally change their gender had to be sterilized first. Those who chose to undergo sex-reassignment surgery — Lundberg included — were not permitted to freeze their sperm or eggs. 

"It was a very hard decision," Lundberg said. 

Although in many ways, it wasn't a decision at all, because Lundberg says transitioning was "a matter of life and death" for her. "I had the feeling that I was trapped in the wrong body, that I couldn't live my life to the fullest," she said.

What's more, she said having a gender expression that didn't match the sex listed on her government ID put her at risk of violence. 

Rule still in place across Europe

In Europe, transgender people are twice as likely as gay people to be attacked, threatened or insulted, according to a European Union report published in December 2014.

Many European countries, such as Finland, Switzerland and Greece, still require transgender people who want to legally change their gender to undergo sterilization, according to the advocacy group Transgender Europe.

The practice of involuntary sterilization has been widely condemned as a human rights violation, including by the United Nations.

The Swedish bill would allow an estimated 800 people to claim 225,000 crowns ($34,000 Cdn) each in compensation from the state.

The decision came after the The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights threatened to sue the government. The group was demanding 300,000 crowns per person.

Official apology?

But Lundberg — who is now looking into non-biological alternatives to have children — says she'd rather get an apology than a cheque.

"It's not that much money and they can't give me my ability to have kids back," she said. "An apology is what's getting me my human dignity back in some way, so I think that's more important than the money."

With files from Reuters