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Transphobia

Year on year, fighting Transphobia becomes more and more of a focus for people mobilising around IDAHOT. Since 2009, when ‘Transphobia’ was formally added to the name of the day, hundreds of actions have continued to take place each year, with the aim of ending violence and discrimination against trans and gender non-conforming communities. From manifestos and high-level advocacy actions, to street protests and cultural festivals, May 17 continues to provide an opportunity for trans activists, and their allies, to promote greater awareness in society, foster discussions within LGBTI communities, and demand equal rights from governments and international institutions.

On this page you will find:

  • 7 Arguments for taking Action to fight Transphobia
  • Facts and Figures on Transphobia
  • Quotes/Voices against Transphobia
  • The story of how ‘IDAHO’ became ‘IDAHOT’
  • An annotated bibliography of research on trans communities worldwide, and at the regional level
  • Posters for sharing on social media

Arguments for Action

1. Trans people are disproportionately affected by human rights violations

This first fact is the one that frames all the others addressed on this page. The nature of transphobic discrimination and violence are as diverse as the individuals affected by them, and responses vary widely around the world. Still though, social and economic exclusion, restrictive laws, violence, lack of access to health care, lack of rights of migrants and refugees fleeing transphobic persecution, and the effects of different forms of inequality (homophobia, biphobia, lesbophobia, racism, gender inequality, class inequalities) are everyday realities in the lives of many trans people. These difficulties are worsened by transphobia and being trans is a key predictor of whether an individual will suffer human rights violations.

The rest of the article considers each of these issues in turn. It is necessarily a very schematic overview. The Publications section below suggests links to further, more detailed and authoritative, resources such as the TvT report Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide: A Comparative Review of the Human-rights Situation of Gender-variant/Trans People. The TvT project documents transphobic violence, maps the legal environment for trans people in a large number of countries, and provides up-to-date and detailed data. [1]

2. Social and economic exclusion are everyday realities for many trans people worldwide

Gender-based stereotypes about masculinity and femininity – on how every person should act and look according to their assigned sex at birth – can vary between regions and cultures, but everywhere these norms lead to discrimination and exclusion of those who don’t fit into the rigid framework and, very often, who transgress binary gender systems. This is why most Trans people experience social exclusion at an early stage: at home, where they face physical violence are are often forced to undergo harmful ‘therapies'; at school, where they are exposed to bullying and sexual harassment by students and teachers and/or excluded from lessons, and in many other social spaces. In such hostile contexts, it is challenging for trans young people to finish school education, which results in hugely high drop out rates amongst trans students.

Aside from not being able to finish school education, trans people also face prejudice in seeking jobs. Even in the few countries which include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws in regards to labor, trans communities are mostly not explicitly addressed. As a result, trans people are more likely to be affected by unemployment and a disproportionately high number of trans people live in situations of poverty and homelessness. In a great many countries, these circumstances push a high number of trans people into marginal labour sectors, such as night-time industries and sex work, which in turn puts them at a higher risk of being exposed to violence, criminalization and health risks, including exposure to HIV/AIDS and other STIs.

3. Legal gender recognition must be extended

In many countries, changing someone’s gender in official documents is not possible and almost all countries or provinces that do permit legal gender change in documents require conditions such as sterilization, divorce, ‘full’ gender reassignment surgery, psychiatric diagnosis, and selective (i.e. discriminatory) notions of informed consent. These requirements are a blatant violation of many basic human rights, such as the right to a family, the right to physical integrity, the right to health, the right to private life, and the right to freedom of expression.

The new Argentinean law (2012) in regard to gender recognition provides evidence of what a sound policy in this area looks like. Under Article 4 of Argentina’s Gender Identity Law it is stated that “in no case will it be needed to prove that a surgical procedure for total or partial genital reassignment, hormonal therapies or any other psychological or medical treatment has taken place”. [2]

4. Social and institutional violence and harassment are unacceptable

As mentioned above, trans people are highly vulnerable to discrimination, harassment and violence due to their social isolation and the lack of legal protection.

In many cases, survivors of transphobic violence do not report assault. When they do, authorities often neglect to conduct effective investigations; leaving a large percentage of cases unsolved, even in countries with clear anti-discrimination or protection laws. Trans sex workers are specifically vulnerable, as their activity is almost systematically criminalized, on top of being highly stigmatized.

Furthermore, state officials and institutions are often themselves directly involved in the violence and harassment of trans people. In some areas, trans people are constantly checked by police on the grounds of real or perceived sex work. In several recent cases in the United States, carrying condoms is reported as one of the reasons why trans people are being arrested for prostitution – cases which have rightly provoked outrage!

Inappropriate documentation in police reports and the fact that many authorities lack the correct understanding of the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity (e.g. defining trans women as gay men) leads to arbitrary detention, leaving trans women exposed to sexual violence in male prisons or, in various instances, being locked up in solitary confinement. All too many reports and testimonies provide documentation of police officers and other state agents being involved in cruel treatment of trans people.

5. Limited access to health care – a human right that must be addressed!

Trans people often face stigmatization at health clinics and hospitals from staff members and other patients. Many trans patients report experiences of public humiliation, inappropriate examinations and even denial of treatment. This stigma, so often combined with poverty and social exclusion, leaves many trans people unable to access their right to health.

These experiences in the general healthcare system lead many trans people preferring not to use the medical services and to self-medicate, which has a dramatic impact on their bodily and psychological health.

Gender reassignment treatments are legal in many countries but access to these services is often severely limited. In many regions, treatments are not covered by health care insurances (or are simply unavailable, due to lack of investment), resulting in trans people being often unable to afford or to access treatment and surgery in the official health care system, and falling back on parallel/non-legal providers and drugs, which may expose trans people to serious health risks.

6. Rights to seek asylum on the grounds of gender identity & expression disregarded

Many states have migration laws which provide the possibility to grant a person who experiences, or fears, persecution based on their religion, sex, gender or political opinion in their home country the right to apply for asylum.

Nonetheless, trans people who fall under these categories, often face a rather difficult application process, which in many cases leads to a denial of their asylum claim. One of the reasons is that officials in asylum systems often have little or no training to deal with issues of gender identity. Again, the confusion of gender identity with sexual orientation leads to inappropriate examination, dismissal of cases, detention and deportation. The lack of appropriate official documents and the misinformation on trans issues increase the difficulty to prove persecution on the basis of gender identity.

7. Challenging interlocking inequalities: transphobia, homophobia and biphobia

Transphobia is defined as a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards transgender and gender non-conforming people, based on the expression of their gender identity.

Gender identity is understood to refer to each person’s subjective, authentic and everyday experience of gender and self, which may or may not – of course – correspond with their ‘objectively’ assigned, and binary, sex at birth. [3]

Researchers describe transphobia as an emotional disgust, fear, anger or discomfort felt or expressed towards people who don’t conform to society’s gender expectations.

Such ‘fear’ actually serves to police, and to enforce, a ‘natural’ connection between sex and gender, and to naturalise male/masculine and female/feminine binaries as inevitable, inexorable and inescapable. By, often violently, enforcing an ‘objective’ set of rules about how people must identify (and actually be), transphobia denies people’s rights to self-determine their identities, lives and most fundamental expressions.

The stronger a society spells out, imposes and romanticises respective roles and attributes for women and men, the more likely it is to resist the radical challenge to heteronormative and cisnormative social control which many trans and gender non-conforming people represent.

Homophobia and biphobia are also expressions of the same ‘discomfort’, in many ways. All of these ‘phobias’ are really about attempts to enforce ‘appropriate’ gendered behaviour, and to pass judgement about who and what is natural, healthy, good and productive. Thus, all forms of cis/heteronormativity are intimately linked, and all resistance movements can benefit from a holistic view.

Facts and figures on transphobia

  • In Europe, 38 out of the 47 countries of the Council of Europe recognize sexual orientation as grounds of discrimination that needs to be explicitly banned. However, only 20 out of 47 member states cover discrimination based on gender identity in their non-discrimination legislation, either as gender identity explicitly, or as a recognised interpretation of the terms ‘sex’, ‘gender’ or ‘other grounds for discrimination’. [4]
  • 79% of respondents to a survey on transphobic hate crimes conducted within the European Union, reported that they had experienced some form of harassment in public, ranging from transphobic comments to physical or sexual abuse. [5]
  • Several studies in Western Europe and the US demonstrate that unemployment for trans people is 3-4 times higher than that of the general population, and many times higher for trans people of colour. [6]
  • A nationwide survey in the US, by the National Center for Transgender Equality (2011), states that 90% of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination in the workplace or took actions like hiding who they were to avoid it. [7]
  • 87% of surveyed Transgender students at schools in the U.S. reported being verbally harassed because of their gender identity or expression. [8]
  • Between 2005 and 2012 at least 60 transgender women were murdered in Colombia. Of these 60 murders 0% were brought to justice. [9]
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that at least 58 trans women had been killed in the Americas from the beginning of October 2013 until the end of January 2014. [10]

The IDAHOT story: When IDAHO became IDAHOT

In 2009, what was then the ‘International Day Against Homophobia’ was changed to explicitly include Transphobia in the name. This was done to acknowledge the essential differences between Homophobia and Transphobia. A global campaign was conducted to influence the revision process underway of the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases manual (ICD10).

A large range of transgender networks and major human rights organisations developed a specific policy call, which was endorsed by hundreds of organisations worldwide.

The IDAHOT 2009 global appeal:

Reject Transphobia, Respect Gender Identity:
An Appeal to the United Nations,
the World Health Organisation and the States of the World

Every day, people who live at variance to expected gender norms face violence, abuse, rape, torture and hate crime all over the world, in their home as well as in the public arena. Though most cases of violence never get documented, we know that in the first weeks of 2009 alone, Trans women have been murdered in Honduras, Serbia and in the USA. Trans men are equally victims of hate crimes, prejudice and discrimination despite their frequent social and cultural invisibility.

The basic human rights of Trans people are being ignored or denied in all nations – be it out of ignorance, prejudice, fear or hate and Trans people overwhelmingly face daily discrimination, which results in social exclusion, poverty, poor health care and little prospects of appropriate employment.

Far from protecting Trans citizens, States and International bodies reinforce social Transphobia through short sighted negligence or reactionary politics:

Because of the failure of national law and social justice, in far too many States Trans people are being forced to live a gender which they experience as fundamentally wrong for them. In most countries, any attempt to change one’s gender can lead to legal sanctions, brutal mistreatment and social stigma. In other countries, legal recognition of gender change is subject to sterilization or other major surgical intervention. Trans people who cannot or do not wish to submit to this, cannot obtain legal recognition of their preferred gender, and are forced to ‘come out’ whenever they cross a border, run into a police patrol, apply for a new job, move into a new home or simply want to buy a mobile phone.

Contributing factors include that current International health classifications still consider all Trans people as mentally “disordered”. This outdated vision is insulting and incorrect and is used to justify daily discrimination and stigmatization in all aspects of Trans people’s lives.

Recently though in some countries with very different social and cultural contexts significant legal advances have been made. Following in the wake of bold judicial decisions, State action has led to increased acceptance of Trans people within their society. This demonstrates that understanding and progress is possible.

Currently Trans people everywhere in the world rise up to reclaim their human rights and freedom. They carry an unanimous message that they will no longer accept to be labelled sick or treated as non human beings on the basis of their gender identity and gender expression.

This is why we ask:

  • The W.H.O. to stop considering Trans people as mentally disordered and to promote access to adequate health care and psychological support, as desired by Trans people.
  • The United Nations Human Rights bodies to examine the human rights abuses that Trans people face around the world and to take action to combat these abuses.
  • The States of the World to adopt the international Yogyakarta Principles and ensure that all Trans people benefit from appropriate health care, including gender reassignment if they so wish; be allowed to adapt their civil status to their preferred gender; live their social, family or professional lives without being exposed to Transphobic discrimination, prejudice or hate crime and that they are protected by the police and justice systems from physical and non-physical violence.

We call on the UN, the W.H.O. and the nations of the world, in adopting these measures, to refuse Transphobia and welcome the right of their citizens to live fully and freely in their prefered gender, assumed as an expression of cultural freedom.

Download appeal as pdf document

Quotes/Voices

“Without official recognition of their preferred gender, Transgender and intersex individuals face a wide range of practical, everyday challenges – for example, when applying for a job, opening a bank account or travelling. […]Making it simpler for people to obtain official documents that reflect their preferred gender will make life easier for thousands of people, in the process removing barriers that until now have prevented them from exercising their human rights on an equal footing with others.” – UN High Commission for Human Rights Navi Pillay welcoming Australia’s decision on legal gender recognition, September 2011

“We are human beings of Transgender experience. We are your children, your partners, your friends, your siblings, your students, your teachers, your workers, your citizens. Let our lives delight in the same freedom of expression you enjoy as you manifest to the outside world your unique and graceful selves. Let us live together in the fertile ground of our common humanity for this is the ground where religion is not a motivation to hate but a way to appreciate the profound beauty and mysteries of life; for this is the ground where laws are not tools to eliminate those who are different from us but are there to facilitate our harmonious relationship with each other; for this is the ground where culture is not a channel to express the brutality of our limited perception but a means to express the nobility of our souls; for this is the ground where the promise of the universality of human rights can be fulfilled.” – Filipina Activist, Sass Rogando Sasot, speaking before the United Nations, December 2009

“It is my dream that by highlighting the deep humanity of Trans people’s lives in the media, elevating actual Trans voices to speak the truth of our lived experiences in ways that don’t sensationalize and objectify us, those human voices and stories can be a part of the disruption needed to end the disproportionate injustices that threaten so many Trans people’s lives, particularly the lives of Trans women of color. It is a state of emergency for far too many Trans people across this country. The stories of women like Islan Nettles and CeCe McDonald are far too commonplace in our community. I look forward to engaging in more dialogues about the complicated intersectional issues around these injustices and ways to make them a thing of the past.” – Laverne Cox after her appearance on ‘The Katie Show’, January 2014.

Publications and resources

Global

Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide (TvT) is an ongoing worldwide comparative, qualitative and quantitative research project conducted by Transgender Europe in close cooperation with regional partner organisations. The project provides an overview of the human rights situation of Trans persons and collates useful data and prepares advocacy tools for the use of international institutions, human rights organisations, and the Trans movement. TvT has just released a comprehensive overview of the situation of Trans People globally. Online here.

The Open Society Foundation’s publication License to Be Yourself documents some of the world’s most progressive and rights-based laws and policies that enable trans people to change their gender identity on official documents. It shares strategies that activists have successfully used in a variety of global and legal contexts, and features case studies from Argentina, Australia, Hong Kong, Kenya, Ukraine, and the United States.

Trans organisations are hugely underfunded. A global 2014 report documents the gaps and needs and constitutes a great advocacy tool.

Regional publications – Europe

Transgender Europe (TGEU) and ILGA Europe annually publish the Trans Rights Europe Map, which reflects European countries’ laws and administrative practices which protect or violate the human rights of Trans people. The Trans Rights Europe Index provides detailed country information in 21 categories.

The February 2014 report by Amnesty International, ‘The state decides who I am: lack of legal recognition for Transgender people in Europe’, criticizes European countries’ violatations of the human rights of people attempting to achieve legal gender and name changes. It details how trans people are forced to undergo invasive surgery, sterilization, hormone therapy, psychiatric testing before they can change their legal status, and how in Ireland no procedure exists at all. Available here.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, published in 2009 an Issue Paper entitled ‘Human Rights and Gender Identity’. In it, the Commissioner explored the human rights situations of trans people in depth, clearly showing that they remain one of the most vulnerable and discriminated communities, due to inadequate legislation and social marginalisation. Through a set of twelve recommendations, the Commissioner called on Council of Europe Member States to respect the human rights of Trans people and put in place concrete measures for the social inclusion and emancipation of trans people.

The European Commission’s 2012 report ‘Trans and intersex people – Discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender identity and gender expression’ provides information about Human Rights Law on a international level, within the Eua and a analysis on discrimination Trans and intersex people face in the EU member states.

ILGA-Europe and Transgender Europe published in its wake a scoping study of best practices on each of the twelve recommendations, which is available here.

ILGA-Europe has also produced a ‘Toolkit for promoting implementation of the Recommendation at national level’ and a ‘Checklist to help assess progress towards the correct implementation of the Recommendation.’ CoE Member States and LGBTI organisations alike are encouraged to use these resources to measure progress and identify the areas that require amendments to national legislation and policy. Available here.

The Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union published ‘Homophobia and Discrimination on the grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the EU Member States – Part 1 Legal Analysis’ in June 2008 and ‘Homophobia Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the EU Member States – Part 2 The Social Situation’ in March 2009. Out of these publications, it synthesised a document entitled Challenges Facing Transgender Persons. Available here.

Specific measures to combat discrimination based on gender identity were also included in the broader Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5
of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to member states to combat sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Available here.

The Council of Europe has also extensively covered the issue of gender identity in its report released in 2013 on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in Europe, which is the largest study among LGBT individuals globally to date. Available here.

The European Network of Equality Bodies (EQUINET) acts as a platform at European level and supports its member’s work through the sharing of good practices and the provision of training. In 2009, EQUINET conducted a survey to assess its members’ work on trans issues and to raise awareness on how equality bodies can address discrimination against Trans people. EQUINET followed this survey with a review of what equality bodies could do to enhance Trans people’s equality. In 2010, EQUINET published Making Equality Legislation work for Trans People which provides various recommendations to its members and to the European institutions. Available here.

European Court of Human Rights’ Factsheet –Transsexual Rights, (2011), online here.

The Fundamental Rights Agency released a report analysing the situation of Trans people, which specifically highlights the problems for young Trans people

 

 

Regional publications – Asia Pacific

For the Asia-Pacific region, the publication ‘Lost in Transition’ draws important reflections and considerations from the region. Online here.

Trans Media Watch (TMW) is a media watchdog based in the United Kingdom that focuses its attention on the quality of representation of trans people in the media. TMW’s pioneering research showed that stereotypical representation of Trans people directly impacts Trans people in their daily life in the form of harassment and stigmatisation. Online here.

The think-tank GATE has detailed resources on the reform of the International Classification of Diseases. Online here.

Further information is also provided by the World Professional Association on Transgender Health, which is an international multidisciplinary professional Association whose mission is to promote evidence based care, education, research, advocacy, public policy and respect in Transgender health.

Regional publications – Africa

Genderdynamix is the only regional African organisation working exclusively on Trans issues. Log onto their website here.

It edited in 2012 the first research report in South Africa to address the sexual health and practices of transgender people. Available here.

Regional publications – North America

In the United States, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) together with the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force produced the first National Transgender Discrimination Survey122 in 2009. In February 2011, they published their first academic national survey of transgender discrimination in the United States, entitled ‘Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.’ National Centre for Transgender Equality & National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (2009), National Transgender Discrimination Survey, online here.

Regional publications – Latin America and the Caribbean

The Latin America and Caribbean Network of Transgender People, REDLACTRANS, and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance have published a report on Impunity and violence against Transgender women human rights defenders in Latin America – ‘The Night is another Country’ – in 2012. Available here.

Together with UNAIDS they also published a compilation of case studies on the experiences of transgender rights organizations from Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Uruguay in 2012. ‘Making Rights a Reality’ can be found here.

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