Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category
I wrote last month about the decision by the conservative Christian Democrat party government (along with the nationalist Sweden Democrat party) to retain a 1972 gender recognition law under which TS/TG and gender variant people who want to change their legal gender are required to be sterilised. The requirement was a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is enacted as law in Sweden.
There was an international outcry at the loss of the opportunity to bring the legislation up to date: in Sweden, the law is only reviewed every forty years. Advocacy groups and activists from around the world protested the decision and an online petition to the Swedish Prime Minister received over 77,000 signatures.
Now, via Ulrika Westerlund, President of RFSL (the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights), I learn that the campaign appears to have been successful, with the conservative party which was blocking the reform to remove the criteria apparently having changed its mind.
According to a statement in Debatt:
Everyone is equal here. From the Christian Democrats’ side, we have been clear that the issue of sterilization at sex change – as well as other issues related to children – requires careful thought and analysis. Many transsexuals are met with hatred and fear, in violation of the principle of equal worth of all – the hallmark of Christian tradition of ideas and thus the Christian Democrats. Therefore, it is our opinion that the requirements for sterilization at sex change should be abolished, writes Christian Democratic party leadership.
This is very good news indeed for TS/TG and gender variant people in Sweden who wish to change their legal gender, although the underlying issue (linking people’s legal identity to their medical status) remains unexamined.
As a footnote, it should also be remembered that Sweden isn’t the only member state of the European Union requiring TS/TG and gender variant people to undergo surgery before they can change their legal identity. Published work by the TGEU’s TVT Project suggests at least eight other countries – Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain – where legal change of gender is contingent upon GRS/sterilisation or Gender Reassignment Therapy and we can only hope that these countries will follow Sweden’s example. (Note: the TVT Project’s list is not definitive and is subject to ongoing research and updates).
Last week, the government of Sweden took the decision to retain a 1972 gender recognition law under which TS/TG and gender variant people who want to change their legal gender are required to be sterilised. According to Ulrika Westerlund, President of RFSL (the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights), this was done to satisfy the conservative Christian Democrat party who, along with the nationalist Sweden Democrat party, are the only two groups in favour of the law. I gather that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeld was fully aware that this reqiurement is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights which is enacted as law in Sweden.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, has made a very clear stand on the issue, that forcing TS/TG and gender variant people to undergo unwanted medical interventions in order to change their legal gender is a breach of human rights. The Comittee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, representing 47 membership states has taken a similar stand. The bitter irony in all this is, of course, that while Sweden is often considered to be in the forefront of human rights advocacy and implementation, this decision would seem to be a huge step backwards.
Concerns have been voiced at the loss of the opportunity to bring the legislation up to date: in Sweden, the law is only reviewed every forty years and it already creates at least one anomaly, in that the present law also requires TS/TG and gender variant people to be single in order to receive legal gender recognition – and this in a country which already has same sex marriages. Courts have previously overruled this requirement, but nevertheless it is still enshrined in the law. Additionally, there is the risk of setting a precedent and this is a particular worry for some TS/TG and gender variant people in Finland where the gender equality ombudsman has recommended that Finland should remove a similar requirement from the Finnish law. Finland also has a Christian Democratic Party in its Government which has already blocked a reform giving same sex couples the right to marry.
Although Sweden is not alone in upholding the requirement of forced sterilisation (the Netherlands, Denmark and France are other European countries with similar legislation [source]), the outcry on various TS/TG forums was immediate and international; amongst others, Human Rights Watch, the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights and TGEU and ILGA-Europe have all made formal statements of protest to the Swedish Prime Minister and Parliament, calling for the immediate abolition of the forced sterilisation requirement for legal purposes.
Meanwhile, All Out, an activist group advocating for improvements in the lives of LGB & T people worldwide, has joined with RFSL to launch an online petition to let the Swedish Prime Minister know that this legislation is unacceptable. The petition currently has over 36,000 signatories and is aiming for at least 50,000. If this is something you feel you can support, then please sign – and distribute the information and the link as widely as you can.
Parts of this post are crossposted with a recent entry over on my own blog The Nuclear Unicorn.
Times are very hard, to be sure, and as I am now working in the fundraising department of a radical transgender rights oriented organisation I’m seeing yet another dimension to the endless Great Recession unfolding before me. Simultaneously, what I am constantly astonished by is how we, in some of the most economically disadvantaged communities, always manage to find a penny here and a penny there to help their sisters, brothers, and siblings in need. We’re out there looking out for each other and that never fails to give me hope.
It sounds a tad bit cheesy, yes, but for all of my snarky sarcasm and the like, I’ve always put a lot of stock in that gift from Pandora’s Box. It’s a precious resource in the trans community. So, what am I waxing all poetic about and what not? Well, I’m trying to fundraise for a charity near and dear to my heart– so much so that I’m actually working for them. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a legal aid organisation for low income trans people of colour, has radical aims that dovetail with the themes I often speak of on my blog and Questioning Transphobia. My work for them is a pretty big part of why I’ve been a tadbit too busy to write these days. But it is the Goddess’s work and it feels decidedly good.
Lisa’s talked a fair bit about us in some of her elucidating articles, and the other organisations she mentions here, like the Audre Lorde Project, are our close partners in social justice activism (we even share a building with them!)
I’ve been busily helping with the organising and the fundraising that an event like this requires but for the moment I’ve been given a pet project and if any of my readers are interested in doing a spot of good then you can hop on over to Indie GoGo and check out our online fundraiser for the month of June, leading up to a gala for the community on the 29th (see below for more info on that!). Please feel free to contribute, but if you don’t want to or are unable to, then I encourage you to pass the link along to any friends, colleagues, allies, and so on who may be interested. With initiatives like this every dollar helps, every bit of awareness helps.
My work here has been, in no small measure, interesting and a crash course in many things. But it has, above all, been a beautiful insight into the community that my sisters, brothers, and siblings have forged and of which I am proud to be a part. I’m not the kind of woman who is easily persuaded into advocacy and I would have never offered my blog as a place to help our fundraising efforts if I couldn’t say the word “our” with confidence apropos SRLP; if I didn’t feel a sense of ownership, a sense of community, I’d have never mentioned my blog to my colleagues. But I did so eagerly because SRLP isn’t just where I work. It’s a workplace where I can be out as a trans woman without the slightest second thought, and it’s a place where all of the markers of isolating distinction and discrimination do not count against you; a place where I could seek support from everyone on staff when I experienced a transphobic incident a couple of weeks ago.
In sum, I do believe in SRLP and what they do; they practise what they preach and I love them to bits. They are that rarest of organisations that will make my usually cold onyx heart melt and go all mooshy.
This is one of only a few nonprofit organisations that reflects the radical vision I have; radically gender equal and positive, feminist/anti-patriarchal, and as much as possible a non-hierarchical organisation that constantly militates against forces compelling them to sell out. As much as possible, I can say with confidence having seen things from the inside, we really do try to ensure that the trans community has ownership of this non profit and that we are never beholden to the powerful or the “great and good.” Small donations from (yes I’m using the PBS phrase here) people like you make that radical goal possible.
From me and everyone at SRLP, thank you very much in advance.
Also, for those of you in New York, here’s more information about the SRLP Gala– all are welcome, no one is turned away for inability to pay.
I hesitate to jump into these shark-infested waters, but here goes.
I certainly have my own opinion on the “transsexual” vs. “transgender” debate that has ignited many a flame war on the internet over the last few months between those who want to separate our community based on those who have had or, at least, want to have, SRS, from everyone else, but I’m not going to express that here. Instead, I’m going to take a position that I’ve never seen expressed by anyone else, although some have come close. My position comes from my background as an attorney and my understanding of how anti-discrimination laws are written and are intended to operate.
Here’s what I know to be true: the dispute about who is transsexual and who isn’t is irrelevant to the fight for protections for transsexual, transgender, genderqueer and every other gender variant or gender nonconforming person in this country. Why? Because of how anti-discrimination laws are written for both practical and constitutional reasons.
To mark this year’s International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) has published its Rainbow Europe Map and Index in which it rates each European country’s laws and administrative practices according to 24 categories and ranks them on a scale between 17 (highest score: respect of human rights and full legal equality of LGBT people) and -7 (lowest score: gross violations of human rights and discrimination of LGBT people).
While the publication of this kind of research is broadly to be welcomed, and as eye-catching as the rainbow map is, it may be considered problematic in its conflation of LGB and TS/TG issues. As Justus Eisfeld (co-director GATE – Global Action for Trans* Equality) points out:
There are 5 possible positive points to be gained for gender identity issues vs. 13 possible points in the sexual orientation categories (I counted freedom of assembly and freedom of association under sexual orientation because trans groups generally have not had the organizational capacity to even run into issues in this category yet). The negative points are similarly unequally spread: two possible negative points for gender identity (two negative points are mutually exclusive, I therefore counted them as one) and four for sexual orientation. This means that a country that scores well for sexual orientation will automatically be in the ‘best’ group, no matter what their human rights record is for trans people.
In the light of this, the separate indexes for gender identity and sexual orientation may perhaps be of more use.
Note that intersections of race, class, disability, etc, are not mentioned in the report; nor is it recorded whether subjects are binary or non-binary identified. It should also be remembered that some TS/TG people are also LGB, and vice versa. Last but by no means least, it should be noted that – as is so often the case with research of this nature – the situation of intersex people seems to have been entirely ignored.
Click the thumbnail image above for full-size PDF
By way of a counterpoint, Trans Murder Monitoring has launched an interactive map for IDAHOT 2011. The new interactive map for the first time visualises the 604 reported murders of trans people that the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) project has documented since January 2008. The interactive TMM map can be accessed on the TvT website here.
In the first four and a half months of 2011, 55 reported murders of trans people have been registered in 19 countries. While the actual circumstances of the killings often remain obscure, due to a lack of investigations and reports, many of the documented cases involve extreme aggression, including torture and mutilation.
Click the thumbnail image above to visit the interaactive map at the TMM website
Although it may seem that sexual orientation and gender identity is less of an issue it becomes clear that homophobia and transphobia exists, and may be increasing, in many places. If today’s International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia serves one purpose, it is to raise awareness regarding the ongoing discrimination and violence committed by states, societies and individuals against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people on various scales, from homophobic and transphobic legislations and forms of state repression to hate crimes including insults, attacks and murders.
Thanks to Juris Lavrikovs and Silvan Agius (ILGA-Europe), Justus Eisfeld (co-director GATE – Global Action for Trans* Equality) and Carla LaGata (Research and Coordination, TvT project)
Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox
Just wanted to note this post by Adam Kotsko about the climate of austerity cuts and the dubious justifications employed by governments and bureaucrats, especially in the light of the devastating budget cuts on education in the UK (I mean, surely the judgment of the former head of BP can be trusted to understand education? Surely *snerk). Adam points out that:
- If we can afford to spend billions of dollars on weapons systems we will almost certainly never use, we can afford to have a system where a dedicated tax stream pays for some bare-bones retirement and disability benefits, with no more overhead than it costs to print and mail the checks.
- If we can afford to endlessly occupy two countries for no apparent reason, surely we can afford to help people get health insurance.
- If we can summon up $700 billion out of thin air to bail out banks, surely we can afford to fill in the state and local budget gaps that would lead to firing people who provide essential services.
- If we can afford high-tech laboratories to do scientific research the results of which we will basically give away to corporate interests for nothing, then we can afford humanities instruction, which requires a teacher, a chalkboard, and enough chairs for all the students.
- Again, if universities can afford to run money-losing athletic programs, then they can afford to provide the minimal research support funds humanities people require — basically time off to focus on research and maybe the occasional plane ticket, since the other resources they need consist of little more than the pre-existing infrastructure of a good library that you’d need for the university anyway.
The pattern is the same again and again and again: the thing that actually costs not too much money is denounced as unaffordable, while the insanely expensive thing is never even questioned. It’s like if I overdrew my checking account and decided I needed to start buying store-brand cereal while never questioning if I can afford that Lexus.
It is amazing indeed as the comments point out that the governments of the world could instantly summon capital and action for the “crisis” of finance but not for any kind of human needs – which is somehow implausibly “idealistic” next to the raw “need” of capitalist realism. Indeed, in the United States what was clear in the way the bailout was handed out was the way in which finance is not remotely subject to the same degree of disciplining that those in the public sectors or on welfare are – even when finance is requiring the most substantial bailout of any industry just about ever.
Imagine the education sector, which is also “too big too fail” given the number of students, teachers and office staff employed, being handed 700 billion with barely any conditions. No fucking way. And then imagine that higher education the very next year responded by giving its executives the highest number of bonuses ever (or any for that matter) – as Wall Street just has. There’d be riots in the streets, and justly so.
There is no human right to finance, no human need which requires the bulk of the population to subsidise the immoral and often illegal speculations of the ruling class. No, it is time as Digby said recently, to start the prosecutions, to treat the financial elites as the criminals they undoubtedly are, and to stop disciplining the wrong industries and begin putting money into the vital areas which are not merely useful but fulfill universal needs – health, education, public works.
Anything else is simply idealism of the worst kind – the idealism of a capitalism which is failing on every possible score, even its own ability to make money (the only legitimating quality it is suggested to need). It is realism to treat human rights first and capital second. Austerity cuts are simply doing the short-term work of the financial/political ruling class themselves, and it will profit no-one – not even they themselves – in the long run, because as the 2008 crash and the Louisiana oil spill have both proven, capitalism can not be trusted to do even basic care to prevent a disaster if there is the shortest of short term profits involved. And the rest of us will pay the price, again.
A couple of months ago I reported on the Irish Government’s decision to drop its challenge to a High Court declaration that Irish law on transgender rights is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The challenge had originally been brought as long ago as 1997 by Dr Lydia Foy and in June 2010 she finally won her battle for legal recognition as a woman, and for a birth certificate that reflects that reality.
Now the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, has published a Human Rights comment on the final settlement of the case in Ireland, welcoming the decision of the Irish Government to introduce legislation recognising transgender persons in their preferred gender, including the provision of new birth certificates
Commissioner Hammarberg goes on to highlight issues of concern for many transgender people in Europe, such as the need to be diagnosed with an mental disorder, or being forced to be steriliszed and divorced in order to obtain official recognition of their legal status.
Ireland is not the only country where transgender persons have faced obstacles in obtaining legal recognition of their preferred gender. Some Council of Europe member states still have no provision at all for official recognition, leaving transgender people in a legal limbo. Most member states still use medical classifications which impose the diagnosis of mental disorder on transgender persons.
Even more common are provisions which demand impossible choices, such as the “forced divorce” and the “forced sterilisation” requirements. This means that only unmarried or divorced transgender persons who have undergone surgery and become irreversibly infertile have the right to change their entry in the birth register. In reality, this means that the state prescribes medical treatment for legal purposes, a requirement which clearly runs against the principles of human rights and human dignity.
All countries need to develop expeditious and transparent procedures for changing the name and gender of a transgender person on official documents, in accordance with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.
The full text of Commissioner Hammarberg’s comment may be found at this link
Curtsey to Richard at TGEU for the heads-up.
It’s a year now since I first wrote about the mistreatment of trans women by prison staff at the Twin Falls County Jail in Idaho, specifically the human rights abuses to which Nastaran Kolestani was subjected, and as reported by Antonia Lara (link here).
By then Ms Lara had pretty much disappeared from the media spotlight so this article in On Top Magazine offers the chance to catch up. Sadly, but perhps not unexpectedly, it seems that Ms Lara has fallen on hard times since the publication of her story last year:
The day after having her story published, Lara was fired.
“I was fired from my job before I even walked in the door,” Lara told On Top Magazine. “My employer had no clue I was transgender.”
A year on, Lara says she remains unemployed, has been forced out of Twins Falls and is homeless.
“I felt like I was black balled from employment in the area, when the economy is already bad. I was discriminated against by law enforcement and forced to move out of the state with threats of harm to myself and my family.”
Lara, who began her transition at the age of 18, says she’s studying for a degree in medical administration.
While saying she does not regret standing up for the rights of transgender people – “I am proud to be trans, proud to be a woman and proud to be a Chicana” – she admits the incident has altered her life.
“Right now, I would flip burgers and wash windows,” Lara says. “Honestly, I don’t know what’s next, right now it’s just focus on my education, try to eat and stay alive everyday, and look for work.”
As Denise Leclair, executive director of the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), points out elsewhere in the article, not only is such discrimination commonplace, but – because it’s not even illegal – many employers don’t even bother to deny it. What Ms Leclair doesn’t mention is the sheer number of intersecting oppressions faced by Ms Lara: she experiences discrimination for being a woman, for being a woman of colour, for being trans and for being a trans woman of colour. Additionally, her story hints at other discriminations in trying to find food, shelter and employment.
Survival, in a word.
It all illustrates with heartaching clarity how the processes of marginalisation and Othering play out for far too many trans women in this so-called developed world of ours.
Council of Europe adopts recommendation on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity
Via the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers (link here):
Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity
(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 31 March 2010 at the 1081st meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)
The Committee of Ministers [...] Recommends that member states:
- examine existing legislative and other measures, keep them under review, and collect and analyse relevant data, in order to monitor and redress any direct or indirect discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity;
- ensure that legislative and other measures are adopted and effectively implemented to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, to ensure respect for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and to promote tolerance towards them;
- ensure that victims of discrimination are aware of and have access to effective legal remedies before a national authority, and that measures to combat discrimination include, where appropriate, sanctions for infringements and the provision of adequate reparation for victims of discrimination;
- be guided in their legislation, policies and practices by the principles and measures contained in the appendix to this recommendation;
- ensure by appropriate means and action that this recommendation, including its appendix, is translated and disseminated as widely as possible.
The Recommendations establish how international human rights standards should be applied and contain specific measures for Member States on how they should improve their legislation, policies and practices. Additionally, the Recommendations require Member States to ensure that national human rights structures are clearly mandated to address discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. They also encourage Member States to address multiple discrimination experienced by LGBT people.
That 47 European countries have unanimously agreed to adopt such a comprehensive list of recommendations through common action is without precedent: it’s the world’s first intergovernmental agreement of this nature. The potentially far-reaching implications of this are hard to imagine but do offer a significant hope for the future; now we need to see some practical action to begin implementing these adopted recommendations Europe-wide as soon as possible.
The Attorney General of NSW has pressured the NSW registery of Births, Deaths and Marriages to revoke the Sex Not Specifed status of Norrie May Welby. The inhumane actions and total lack of understanding by the Attorney General in this matter has led to the lodgement of an offical complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission under the 1984 Sex Discrimination Act. [Via]
Both Norrie and SAGE issued statements yesterday, March 18, 2010, at a press conference held at the Offices of the Australian Human Rights Commission where a complaint was lodged against the NSW Attorney General’s Office for sex discrimination under the 1984 Sex Discrimination Act. (Direct link to PDF copy of the statements here).
From norrie’s statement:
I am devastated by the news. It is a hideously humiliating position to find myself in and makes a mockery of my human rights that I feel have been completely violated by the Attorney General’s Office.
I am being discriminated against because my sex is not the same as the average male or female but I am still a human being and entitled to protection under the law.
My complaint also cites breaches of Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nation’s Charter of human Rights of which Australia is a signatory. My right to socially differentiate myself is being interfered with by the state. Also I am being harassed by the Rudd Government because of my sex. I will continue to fight for my right through the courts to identify myself in society as the person I truly am ‘Sex Not specified’
Tracie O’Keefe’s statement for SAGE suggests that this is nothing other than “a cruel, viciously and politically motivated attack on [norrie's] identity by the Attorney General to woo right-wing voters in a year when the Rudd Government proposes to fight an election” and adds:
In 2009 the Australian Human Rights Commission released its report on the legal disadvantages of sex and/or gender diverse people in Australian society – The Sex Files – and made recommendations for changes in government policy and laws. The government has done very little to implement these changes and still sex and/or gender diverse people are often stuck in a legal disadvantaged situation that would not apply to any other sector of society.
In the report the AHRC recommended that people like Norrie be allowed to have identities that do not specify their sex/or gender. However it seems the Attorney General has dismissed these recommendations and human rights are way down his list of priorities, far below appeasing right-wing Labor party supporters. This is a scandalous abuse of power.