LGBT: now back to Europe

While we criticize Russia’s terrible record on LGBT rights, it’s worth having a look at our own European situation. One problematic issue we could be addressing is legal gender recognition.

Transgender people are frequently victims of abuse and discrimination right here in Europe. 35 % of those recently surveyed have experienced violence or violent threats in the past 5 years. There are about 300 recorded hate crimes per year against transgender people in the UK. Some are lethal. Across Europe, in the past five years, there were close to hundred hate killings of transgender people – 34 in Turkey, 26 in Italy.

Along with the violence and discrimination on streets, transgender people are also exposed to the cruel rules of European states and legal institutions. Amnesty International has recently produced a report on legal gender recognition in Europe for transgender people: “The state decides who I am“. In it we are treated to our own States (EU members) violations of the dignity of those outside binary gender norms. The problem highlighted is that a majority of European states imposes harsh restrictions on transgender people obtaining official documents that reflect their own gender identity.

Many states made the change in one’s legal gender contingent on the fulfillment of invasive requirements, which violate the human rights of transgender people, through procedures that usually take years. In these instances, transgender people can obtain legal gender recognition only if they are diagnosed with a mental  disorder, agree to undergo medical procedures such as hormone treatments and surgeries, are single [and] of age. Some other countries simply do not allow for a change in one’s legal gender. In many countries, such as Belgium, Denmark and Norway, as well as about 20 other countries in Europe, transgender people have to undergo surgeries to remove their reproductive organs, resulting in irreversible sterilization. If they decide not to undergo such surgeries, they must continue to bear documents indicating the gender on the basis of the sex they were assigned at birth – even if that contradicts their appearance and identity.

In short: to have legal documents concordant with gender identity, you have to be told you are sick and then have major surgery and made sterile. Not only that, if you are married to a partner of the gender you want to be recognized as, you are forced to divorce.

The report explains and abundantly exemplifies why appropriate documentation is part of the problem:

Discordant documents force transgender people into many difficult situations. In many countries, this is almost a daily occurrence. In situations where official documents are required to obtain goods or services – finding employment, enrolling in education, obtaining housing, or claiming welfare – transgender individuals are forced to give up aspects of their right to private life in order to obtain them. A 20-year-old transgender man in Finland said: “I still have a female name and identity number, and I have had problems with my ID. For instance, almost every time I try to collect a parcel from the post office, they question whether the passport is mine. Also, the travel card has my identity number on it and when I try to get on a bus, the driver often claims it is not my card as it says female.”

Other first hand (and often more violent) accounts of discrimination in the working place, schools, health institutions, etc, are well documented in the report. With so many difficulties It is understandable for a transgender person to want to have a gender concordant document. Yet, to do so, many European states force them to have a diagnosis of a psychiatric illness and often irreversible surgeries that result in sterilization. Amnesty International makes simple and, in my opinion, very reasonable demands to european governments:

  • Abolish any medical requirement, including surgeries and sterilization, in relation to legal gender recognition.
  • Remove gender identity from the classification of mental diseases and reclassify aspects relevant to the provision of health care in a non-stigmatizing health category;
  • Abolish requirements to undergo psychiatric assessment and receive a diagnosis for obtaining legal gender recognition;
  • Allow individuals to change their legal name and gender, including the gender markers on official documents issued by the state, through a quick, accessible, and transparent procedure and in accordance with the individual’s sense of gender identity;

So, if we care about LGBT rights, after we finish pointing our fingers at the Russian government, we can put our hands back to work closer to home.


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