1st study on LGBT situation in Council of Europe area – situation of transgender people is of great concern
June 23 2011
for immediate release
Nearly exact to the date 2 years after his issue paper “Human Rights and Gender Identity”, Thomas Hammarberg again sets standards for the rights of transgender people in Europe. His new report “Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Europe”, launched today, examines thoroughly the legal and social situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Transgender issues are highlighted throughout the report, its country reports and the recommendations. Though, the researchers often faced great difficulty in establishing a fact base, the report lays certainly the ground for assessing status quo and future improvements. These are greatly needed as the report confirms that the human rights situation for transgender people throughout the continent is highly problematic.
The study compliments an earlier report for the area of the European Union with new field research in the remaining 20 member states and is meant as “tool for dialogue with the authorities of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe” and as a “base line study for further action in both legislative and policy fields”. Transgender Europe and its member organizations have contributed to the comprehensive report as well as country studies on issues related to gender identity.
The report provides 36 policy-recommendations towards member states to prevent and address homophobia, transphobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity and groups them into thematic areas:
Attitudes towards transgender people
The report finds that transgender persons continue to face a particularly medicalised and prejudiced environment. Education and dialogue with a view to challenging negative attitudes towards LGBT persons should be promoted as across Europe negative stereotypes need to be counterbalanced.
When it comes to anti-discrimination legislation it remains in most member states unclear whether and how transgender persons are protected under existing law. Where transgender people are included in the scope of protection, it is often not explicit or protection is only available for a narrowly defined group. The Commissioner says it is urgent for member states to act and to introduce ‘gender identity’ as an explicit protected ground in non-discrimination legislation. Governments should also improve efforts to combat hate-based violence and crimes. When it comes to granting asylum, member states should draw inspiration from relevant UNHCR Guidelines concerning the international protection of LGBT asylum seekers, to have “gender identity” also recognized as grounds in asylum claims.
Legal Gender Recognition
“Transgender persons face significant problems in their efforts to have their preferred gender legally recognised.” Most member states fail to provide for legal gender recognition of transgender people, be it by completely absent legislation or cumbersome and unclear procedures. A majority of 30 member states require individuals seeking to change documents to undergo gender reassignment surgery, a heavily invasive treatment of often questionable quality and serious health consequences. More than a third of member states (16) require the transgender person single. This entails mandatory divorce if the person is already married. Hinting at recent legislative reform in a few member states and pointing towards the respective Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers on measure, the report confirms that there is an urgent need for member states to review and adapt their legislation.
The Commissioner found in 13 member states that infrastructure suitable for gender reassignment treatment is either non-existent or insufficient to receive treatment. He is very critical that a person has to fit a strict ‘one set fits all’ list of requirements, which include the diagnosis of gender dysphoria. As in his issue paper, the commissioner calls again for a “fundamental shift towards a human rights approach for transgender persons to address the excessively medicalised practices of today”.
Privacy issues and disclosure of personally sensitive data and are named among other particular problems that transgender people face when accessing the labour market.
TGEU co-chair, Dr. Julia Ehrt, comments: “The fact-finding standard and policy suggestions established in the report are highly relevant for trans people in Europe. We hope that trans communities will use this report to remind their governments on their commitment steaming from the Committee of Ministers recommendations to combat discrimination against transgender people.”
“The Commissioner addresses human rights violations transgender people are facing in a very clear language. There is no way for member states to turn a blind eye on research findings or recommendations. It is on them now to demonstrate political will and follow the example of Thomas Hammarberg. Who wants to end discrimination, needs to show face” says co-chair, Richard Köhler.
On June 23 the report is launched in the presence of representatives of member states, the European Union, OSCE, United Nations and civil society at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. In two panel discussions the implementation of the Commissioner for Human Rights’ recommendations and how to address data gaps will be discussed. As main partners to the study the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, Transgender Europe and ILGA-Europe comment the report.
The report is online at http://www.coe.int/t/Commissioner/Source/LGBT/LGBTStudy2011_en.pdf. Reports on the 47 countries can also be found at http://www.coe.int/t/Commissioner/