By Jack Telford
On 20 November, people around the world united to honour all of those who have been killed as a result of transgender hate and prejudice. International Transgender Day of Remembrance serves to highlight the historic and continuing discrimination facing transgender people, and calls for better treatment of the minority group.
This discrimination takes place all around the world, even in so-called ‘developed’ nations, and means that many suffer in the simple act of expressing their identity.
International Transgender Day of Remembrance was initiated in response to the brutal murder of an African American transgender woman, Rita Hester, in a suspected transgender hate crime. Gwendolyn Ann Smith, managing editor of genderfork.com writes that:
“The Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honours the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred.”
Transsexual people (those born into the wrong biological gender), transgender people (those who do not conform to gender roles) and intersex people (those born with ambiguous biological gender) are forced to endure a great amount of suffering and humiliation because of their inability to fit into neatly defined gender stereotypes. Nothing exemplifies this humiliation more than the fact that in the UK a psychiatric assessment is required in order for transgender people to legally alter their gender. In addition, it is impossible for people under the age of 18 to correct the gender on their birth certificate, even when their entire lives are lived in their true gender.
These legal difficulties have damaging effects on self-esteem, and on society’s ability to understand and respect individuals. If people are not legally recognised as the gender they identify with, they are exposed to unnecessary discrimination.
The difficulties facing transgender people have been illuminated by studies such as the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey. This survey found that due to discrimination in the workplace, American transgender people frequently live in extreme poverty, and are four times more likely than the average person to have a household income of under $10,000 a year. Furthermore, a staggering 41% of transgender people admitted attempting suicide due to the difficulties they faced. This group people were also far more likely to fall victim to harassment, sexual assault and physical violence due to their differences.
The study concluded that:
“Transgender and gender non-conforming people face injustice at every turn: in childhood homes, in school systems that promise to shelter and educate, in harsh and exclusionary workplaces, at the grocery store, the hotel front desk, in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, before judges and at the hands of landlords, police officers, health care workers and other service providers.”
The shocking treatment of transsexual people is further illuminated by a 2014 Amnesty International study which found that in more than 20 European countries, children born transsexual or intersex are routinely made to undergo surgeries to remove their reproductive organs. These surgeries leave children permanently sterile, and consigned to a gender which may not be in their best interest.
The 2014 Amnesty International study also highlighted the humiliation caused by the mandatory psychiatric evaluations forced upon those who choose to legally alter their gender. The ordeal which transsexual people endure when discovering their true identity is only compounded by such legal obstacles to gender alteration. Amnesty International also point out the sad truth that in many European nations, it remains impossible to legally change your gender.
The discrimination that people face in the United States from expressing their gender are highlighted by the American Civil Liberties Union. Peoples struggles range from the denial of basic rights such as employment and healthcare, to the disrespect for their gender rights. American transgender people are often denied access to an appropriate toilet or the correct gender-specific legal documents, as well as being forced to dress in a traditional gendered way to allow themselves acceptance and opportunities in life. The legal obstacles facing transgender people – such as their ban on military service – demonstrate the American government’s restricting of transgender liberation.
The ACLU writes that:
“Truly eliminating LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] discrimination depends on eradicating gender stereotypes, and fighting gender identity discrimination does that directly.”
Frequently in the United States, the ex-spouses of transgender people utilise their ex-partner’s gender transition in an attempt to block or restrict custody of people’s children. It is claimed in these cases that transgender people are legally unsuitable as parents. This attack on transsexual people has led to the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Centre for Transgender Equality publishing a guide for parents and lawyers facing this discrimination.
Around the world, transgender people are routinely forced to change the way they dress, the way they act, and even to alter their bodies to be accepted by society. In Iran homosexuality is punishable by death, whereas it is recognised that people can be trapped inside the wrong body. Due to this, many homosexual people are forced to go through gender alteration in order to be safe from persecution. This gender alteration can involve major surgery and often takes years to be completed, robbing people of their personal autonomy and freedom of identity. Gay people in Iran are routinely forced to live in a false gender, and are left thoroughly confused about their own identity.
Many pieces of legislation have been passed in the UK in the last 20 years in an attempt to protect transsexual, intersex and transgender people. These include the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, which was expanded in 2008, as well as the Equality Act 2006 and the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Despite these steps being taken, many still suffer. This often results from unlawful prejudice in work and social life, as well as through the remaining legal obstructions to people altering their gender.
The discrimination in work, education and social life which people endure the world over puts transgender people at great risk, forcing many to deny their true identity either to fit in, to allow themselves opportunities, or for their own safety. Many also suffer due to the legal obstacles to gender alteration in developed nations.
Accepting that many will not fall into traditional gender roles, and allowing people free choice over their own bodies will counter the discrimination which many endure, and show society that it should accept people for who they really are.
Jack Telford is Global Minorities Alliance’s Media and Investigations Volunteer. He can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.