Posted on 26. June 2011 in Work with Institutions

Launch of Commissioner Hammarberg’s report on Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Europe


“This can only be a beginning”

Strasbourg – People are streaming into room number 3 on the second floor of the Council of Europe building in Strasbourg. Way more than expected. The comfortable red chairs are filling up quickly and new chairs have to be brought into the room. So many people coming to an event like this in Strasbourg is rather unusual, but it shows the impact of Human Rights Commissioner Hammarberg’s work in the last years and as well the momentum the sexual orientation and gender identity issues has gained on the international agenda in the last years.

Two years after the announcement by the commissioner to conduct the study the report now lies printed in the conference packs and to download online.

The study compliments an earlier report for the area of the European Union by the Fundamental Rights Agency 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”.

The study is remarkable in may ways, not only because it is the first covering all 47 member states but as well because of the way gender identity is addressed in the document. The authors showed that they have listened carefully to the trans-community and understood the challenges of trans people’s lives. Similarities and differences between sexual orientation and gender identity issues are carefully assessed. This is what makes the report unique and there can be no doubts that it will be a highly useful tool in addressing human rights in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity in the member states of council of Europe.

When the Commissioner finally opens the launching event there are still people standing and more arriving. That is great, because just right after the presentation of the findings and recommendations of the report TGEU and ILGA Europe could comment on the report in the first panel of the day, together with the Director of the Fundamental Rights Agency.

The audience consist of government officials, Council of Europe diplomats, representatives of UN bodies, equality bodies and NGOs and fellow activists.

The tow co-chairs Richard Köhler and Julia Ehrt seize the opportunity to present TGEU’s analysis of the report and firsthand experience on the lives of trans*people in Europe. They had all the attention of the audience, Dennis van der Veur, adviser to the Commissioner would later confirm and the reactions received of the participants in informal coffee break and lunch discussions proved this true as well.

During the day Julia was followed at times by the film team for the documentation of the event and in the afternoon panel. James Morton, project coordinator of the Scottish Transgender Alliance had his excellent and equally well received presentation on the afternoon panel. Several other trans activists who had been contributing to the report in the past years had been invited and funded by the commissioner’s office to attend the event.

“The way how trans activists and gender identity issues were represented in this event was only matched by how the issue is mainstreamed in the Commissioner’s report” says Richard Köhler about the event.

It is past six o’clock when Isil Gachet, Director of the Commissioner’s office finally closes the event. Some people have left already and several of the red chairs are vacant now, however more than half of the morning audience still remains in the room: “The launch can only be the beginning” said Isil Gachet. And she is right. Now the challenge is to transfer the very positive vibe that was carrying the whole launching event and the momentum that has been built up in the past months and years to the level of member states.

Tools to help facilitate the change are a series of recommendations of documents published within the Council of Europe in the last year: the issue paper “Gender identity and human rights”, the “Recommendations to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity” of the Committee of Ministers, the Gross report of the Parliamentary Assembly and the newly launched report. They are successes in itself, however remain useless if unused. The change itself has to happen on the level of states in the regions and societies in Europe. The ball now lies within the fields of the member states to take it up!

And it is upon Transgender Europe, its member organizations and its allies to constantly and persistently remind them and to push them to act. There can be no doubt: It is the obligation of all states to implement the recommendations and to protect the human rights of all people – trans* people included!

Speeches of TGEU’s co-chairs Richard and Julia for download: