September 06, 2009

Transgender Rights Lagging Behind in Europe

Western Europe is recognized for the progressive attitudes shown there toward LGBT people. It seems, however, that doesn't in reality apply to the T. Below is an excerpt from an essay written for the U.K.'s Guardian by Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights:

The human rights situation of transgender persons has long been ignored and neglected, although the problems they face are serious and often specific to this group alone. Transgender people experience a high degree of discrimination, intolerance and outright violence. Their basic human rights are often violated, including the right to life, the right to physical integrity and the right to health.

During my official visits to the 47 member States of the Council of Europe, I have been struck by the lack of knowledge about the human rights issues at stake for transgender persons, even among political decision-makers.

In a number of countries, the problem starts at the level of official recognition. Transgender people who no longer identify with their birth gender – as highlighted in last night's Channel 4 documentary, The Boy Who Was Born a Girl – and who seek changes to their birth certificates, passports and other documents, often encounter difficulties. This in turn leads to a number of very concrete problems in daily life when showing one's ID – in the bank or the post office, when using a credit card, or crossing borders.

Regrettably, in a large part of Europe official records can be changed only upon proof that the transgender person has been sterilised or declared infertile, or has undergone other medical procedures, such as gender reassignment surgery or hormone treatment. The individual's sincere affirmation of their gender identity is not seen as sufficient, and the suitability of the medical procedures for the person in question is not considered.

Additionally, many countries require that a married person divorces before his or her new gender can be recognised, even though the couple itself does not want to divorce. This may have an impact on children of the marriage, as, in several countries, the parent who has undergone the gender change will lose custody rights.

Even access to ordinary healthcare is a problem for transgender people. The lack of trained staff familiar with the specific healthcare needs of transgender people – or simply prejudice towards transgender them – render them vulnerable to unpredictable and sometimes hostile reactions.

Even in one of the more progressive areas of the world, a lack of understanding leads to pain and suffering, both psychological and physical, for those who are not understood. Hopefully raising awareness will help to resolve that problem.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

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