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Europe: Transgender people face discrimination and inhuman and degrading treatment

4th February 2014, 14:42:23 UTC

European countries are violating the human rights of people trying to change their legal gender identities said Amnesty International in a report published today.

The report details how transgender people are forced to undergo invasive surgery, sterilisation, hormone therapy or psychiatric testing before they can change their legal status.

“It is abhorrent that people who want to change the gender they were assigned at birth are put through such invasive, degrading and inhumane hurdles,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

It is abhorrent that people who want to change the gender they were assigned at birth are put through such invasive, degrading and inhumane hurdles

Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland

“Many transgender people in Europe have to overcome enormous difficulties in coming to terms with their identity, and problems are often compounded by blatant state discrimination.”

Legal gender recognition is key for the enjoyment of human rights by transgender people. Transgender people are at risk of being discriminated against whenever they have to produce documents mentioning a name or gender-related information that do not reflect their gender identity and expression.

In Ireland, no procedures currently exist to enable people to change their legal gender.

Catherine Cross, from TransParenCI who is the mother of a transgender son, speaking ahead of the  report launch Said, “Gender recognition legislation has the capacity to enhance and make a real difference in the life of my son. It will allow him to participate in society feeling valued and recognised for who he really is. It will allow him the dignity of entering adulthood as simply male instead of constantly explaining his Trans* status. Transgender is part of who he is but not what defines him.”

In the report, Victoria, a transgender woman living in Dublin, told Amnesty International: “Legal gender recognition is important because, once and for all, I wouldn’t have to battle with people [for anything] I have a right [to], like social welfare. I want to be recognised as who I bloody well am. It’s ridiculous that the state doesn’t recognise me as who I am.”

Speaking ahead of the launch, Ben Power from TENI: Transgender Equality Network Ireland, said, “The lack of recognition is a major issue for trans people in Ireland. When there are discrepancies in our legal documents, we are outed against our will and left vulnerable to discrimination, harassment and even violence. We are denied the basic right to respect for our private and family lives and this urgently needs to be addressed.”

Amnesty International’s report, The state decides who I am: lack of legal recognition for transgender people in Europe, focuses on seven European countries. It highlights how procedures to obtain legal gender recognition violate fundamental human rights in Denmark, Finland, France, Norway, Belgium and Germany. And how in Ireland no procedure yet exists at all.

“States must ensure that transgender people can obtain legal recognition of their gender through a quick, accessible and transparent procedure in accordance with the individual’s own sense of their gender identity. It should preserve their right to privacy and without imposing on them mandatory requirements that violate their human rights,” said Colm O’Gorman.

“People have to make an odious decision. –Either they allow themselves to be subjected to a raft of degrading steps and measures for the state or they are forced to continue to live with a gender based on the sex they were assigned at birth – even if that contradicts their appearance and identity.”

It is estimated that there could be as many as 1.5 million transgender people in the European Union.

In many states there are strict conditions under which individuals can change their legal gender. 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 resulting in irreversible sterilization, and have to prove that they are single. The whole process can take years.

In Ireland legal gender recognition legislation is planned and a General Scheme of a Bill was published in July 2013. Last month the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection published its report on the planned legislation, proposing some important improvements on the Scheme including that it be applicable to 16 and 17 year olds. Whilst this represents significant progress, the final Bill has not yet been published and there remains no clear indication of when this will happen.

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