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EXPERT VIEWS - Transgender rights around the world

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 16 Nov 2011 10:56 GMT
Author: Rebekah Curtis
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LONDON (TrustLaw) – More than 100 transgender people murdered worldwide this year will be among those commemorated during Sunday’s international Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR).

Here activists and members of the transgender community, from around the world, talk to TrustLaw about the state of transgender rights today.


Liesl Theron, South Africa
Theron is executive director of transgender rights organisation Gender DynamiX, Cape Town

What are your impressions of transgender rights globally?
Transgender people face the worst challenges, regardless of which country they are coming from or situated in. The type of challenges might vary from country to country due to the political and social environment in that country, but usually trans people are on the fringes of society, and the most marginalised.  

In most parts of Africa the main ‘oppressor’ indirectly and directly stems from religion and conservative customs and traditions

… Besides societal dangers trans people face a huge amount of challenges due to medical access and the way the country they live in legalises gender markers in their documents/ birth certificates. If a person, for example, is by no means able to legally change their name and gender in their ID book, they cannot find employment. If they are never able to be employed, they have no income, have to make use of other means or no means. This excludes the person from accommodation, livelihood, basically exercising any citizenship rights.

What is the state of transgender rights in your own country?
In South African trans people still get (regularly) unfairly dismissed at work the moment the employer (is) informed by the trans person ‘coming out’. This is in direct contradiction with our constitution.


Katherine Cummings, Australia
Cummings, 76, is transgender and an information worker at The Gender Centre/author in New South Wales

What are your impressions of transgender rights globally?
There seems to be improvement in the lot of the Indian hijra...  America, as ever, seems to be a cauldron of contradictions, so that gross injustices are committed in some States, while others progress towards understanding at different rates.

…Several European Union countries have made great strides forward…I feel, on the whole, however, looking back over the past few decades, that matters are improving slowly.

… China, which formerly refused transgender operations have now authorised reassignment surgery and set up a training program for surgeons. 

What is the state of transgender rights in your own country?
A lot of progress has been made in the past ten years, including the right to specify one's gender on one's passport (with medical evidence presented).  Progress is also being made to allow passport revision for expatriates, particularly from Britain. A recent High Court decision suggests that it will be possible to have birth certificates revised – certainly for (FTM) female-to-male, and possibly for MTF (male-to-female) – without mandatory surgery.


Eva-Genevieve Scarborough, United States
Scarborough, 56, is transgender and a TDOR event organiser in California

What are your impressions of transgender rights globally?
Places like Argentina are very progressive when it comes to transgender rights and I think places like Brazil and Thailand are too – they all still have other problems but transgender folks seem to be much more accepted, and even Cuba now has health care that covers transgender SRS (sexual reassignment surgery)... Canada has a good health care system that provides for transgender people too.

What is the state of transgender rights in your own country?
It is sad that the United States used to be a world leader in human rights and civil rights but we have lost that edge to many others … Here we seem to be having a resurgence of very closed-minded views of humanity and the ultra-religious fanatics seem to have the biggest voice these days in the fight against acceptance of all humans as equals and our health care system is still really closed to and ignorant of trans issues unless one has lots of money. Our Medicare system certainly is not supportive.

…Though I do experience some harassment from time to time I spent far too long hiding my feelings…Life is just too short to stay hidden and miserable.


Morgan Page, Canada
Page, 24, is a community services coordinator at The 519 Church Street Community Centre for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender people in Toronto

What is the state of transgender rights in your own country?
Trans Day of Remembrance is important to me, not only as a young trans woman, but especially as a former sex worker … In Canada, specifically, one of the most important struggles for trans rights currently is the ongoing court battle over the decriminalisation of sex work. While not all trans people are or have been sex workers, a significant portion of the community are, and these members of our community are the most marginalised.

They face not only poor labour conditions on the job, a disproportionate amount of violence including sexual violence, much higher risk levels for HIV and other STIs (sexually transmitted infections), but also a criminal justice system that makes it almost impossible for them to maintain stable housing.

There is also a lack of competent basic health care for trans people in Canada. The few places that exist often have waiting lists over two years in length.

… One very positive change that has happened in Canada is that there have been no reported murders of trans people in this country for nearly a decade.

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