Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trans People Fare Poorly In Just Released Council Of Europe Discrimination Report

Unlike the 27 member European Union that we hear more about and is familiar to us on our side of The Pond, the Council of Europe is less so, but just as important.

It is a 47 member nation international entity based in  Strasbourg, France that is charged with promoting democracy, protecting human rights and the rule of law in Europe.

Was interesting to note that Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe recently examined the legal and social landscape for the TBLG community there.

The results were compiled in a report released on June 23 entitled 'Discrimination On Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity'  The 134 page report is the Council of Europe's largest study ever undertaken on transphobia, homophobia, and discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation and comes almost two years to the date that Hammarberg first examined the issue in EU member states with his 'Human Rights and Gender Identity' issue paper.

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 Council of Europe report provides 36 policy recommendations towards the 47 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 medicalized 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.

Anti-Discrimination Legislation
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 recognized.” 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.

Health Care
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 medicalized 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 labor market.

Commissioner Hammarberg said in his speech on the day the report was released

'Underpinning many problems LGBT persons face are deeply rooted and stigmatizing stereotypes and prejudices. LGBT persons have often been portrayed as a threat to the nation, religion, and traditional notions of gender and the family. This report identified many examples of negative attitudes held by opinion shapers, religious leaders, politicians and state authorities. Inflammatory and aggressive discourse against LGBT persons, occasionally amounting to incitement to hatred, also takes place in many member states. It is of particular concern that such discourse rarely receives official condemnation.'

'Finally, this report cannot be viewed in isolation from the wider global context. In almost 80 countries worldwide laws are in force which prohibit homosexuality. In seven countries lesbian, gay and bisexual persons may still face the death penalty because of their sexual orientation. The standards set by the 47 member states of the Council of Europe bear a direct influence on the protection afforded to LGBT persons coming from those countries where they encounter persecution, repression or even the death penalty. There is an urgent need to promote the human rights of LGBT persons in the UN system. Converging efforts by the Council of Europe, the European Union, the OSCE and the UN are essential for ensuring the full enjoyment of universal rights by LGBT persons everywhere.'

In addition to Transgender Europe releasing a statement about the report, TGEU co-chairs Dr. Julia Ehrt and Richard Köhler commented about it. 

TGEU co-chair, Dr. Julia Ehrt said: “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.”
TGEU Co-chair Richard Köhler said, "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.”
The question is will the Council of Europe do so in an expeditious manner?

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