When German authorities insisted Tsepo Bollwinkel get sterilised to be legally considered a man 25 years ago, he was “eager to follow the rules, even if they sounded insane”.
Now Bollwinkel, a 58-year-old empowerment coach, wants compensation for himself and potentially thousands of other transgender people who underwent mandatory sterilisation to change their sex on identity documents before legal reform in 2011.
Back in 1994, “I felt grateful for that opportunity because it was important for me to get legal recognition,” said Bollwinkel, who is also campaigning for a government apology, backed by Bundesverband Trans* (BvT), a transgender advocacy group.
Today Bollwinkel’s goal is to make Germans aware of the country’s dark history of sterilisation – dating back to the Nazi era – and to acknowledge the rights of transgender people, despite conservative attitudes among many voters and legislators.
Several European nations still require transgender people to undergo surgery and sterilisation, or be diagnosed with a mental disorder, to have their new gender legally recognised, transgender Europe advocacy group says.
Sweden became the first country in the world in 2018 to offer compensation of 225,000 Swedish krona ($23,882) to hundreds of transgender people who had to undergo sterilisation to get their change of gender recognised – and it wants Germany to follow.
“I am not interested in money,” Bollwinkel told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “But in Germany, like in other European societies, recognition has to come in the shape of euros to be considered real.”
The justice ministry declined to comment. The interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
One German transgender woman who was sterilised almost 30 years ago said the law robbed her of her chance to start a family – a choice being made by a growing number of transgender people who have transitioned and retained their reproductive organs.
“They just could not conceive that a man could get pregnant or that a woman could make another woman pregnant,” said the woman who is in her late 60s and declined to be named.
“They stole that from us … There was no justification.”