New WHO Report: Decriminalize Sex Work, Drug Use to Prevent Spread of HIV

July 31, 2014

A World Health Organization (WHO) report issued this month details guidelines to address policies on and treatment of HIV among vulnerable populations including transgender people. Notably, the report urges governments to decriminalize behaviors to more comprehensively and competently address the spread of HIV:

“Countries should work toward decriminalization of behaviours such as drug use/injecting, sex work, same-sex activity and nonconforming gender identities, and toward elimination of the unjust application of civil law and regulations against people who use/inject drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender people​.

Improving policies that aid in HIV prevention and improve treatment requires, as the report notes, a combination of efforts. These efforts include making access to contraception, testing, and health facilities available to vulnerable populations; ending violence and stigma against vulnerable populations like transgender people and sex workers; and eliminating laws and policies that criminalize behaviors, which instill fear in these populations and deters individuals from seeking care.

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Hillary Clinton Talks About Transgender Rights on NPR’s “Fresh Air”

June 12, 2014

In a wide-ranging interview today, Fresh Air host Terry Gross asked Hillary Clinton about her work protecting transgender people while she was the Secretary of State. The U.S. State Department has been instrumental in addressing transgender human rights abroad while also ensuring transgender Americans can update the gender on their passports.

19th International AIDS Conference Convenes In Washington

Responding to Terry Gross’ question on addressing transgender equality, Clinton said:

“It was part of the overall efforts to try to treat people with dignity and equality. And certainly the Obama Administration made some of its own moves at the same time with respect to the larger federal employee pool. And when I had responsibility for the well-being of the 70,00 people or so employees around the world who worked for the State Department and USAID, I had the opportunity through executive action to recognize that there were barriers and vestiges to discrimination that had no place in a modern American workplace, and so I acted.”

Listen to the segment of the interview below.

Listen to the full Fresh Air interview here.

Seven UN Agencies: Surgery as a Condition of Legal Recognition is Forced Sterilization

June 6, 2014

WHO Report CoverIn “Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization – An interagency statement,” the World Health Organization (WHO) and several other UN agencies have recognized that sterilization without the “full, free and informed consent” of an individual is a violation of that person’s human rights.

The UN Health (WHO), Human Rights (OHCHR), Women’s (UN Women), Development (UNDP), Population (UNFPA), Children’s (UNICEF), and AIDS (UNAIDS) agencies issuing the statement recognized that transgender people have been historically, and are currently, discriminated against through policies requiring surgery, often resulting in sterilization, in order to obtain legal documents reflecting their gender identity and other forms of legal and social recognition. As the statement observes, “According to international and regional human rights bodies and some constitutional courts, and as reflected in recent legal changes in several countries, these sterilization requirements run counter to respect for bodily integrity, self-determination and human dignity, and can cause and perpetuate discrimination against transgender and intersex persons.”

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UN Paper: Trans Health, Rights Must Be at the Center of Development Work

January 27, 2014

A discussion paper on Transgender Health & Human Rights, published by The United Nations Development Programme on January 6, intends to serve as a resource for the UN to better know and serve the interests of transgender people in regard to its work in health, HIV, the rule of law, and development. The paper is intended to ensure that UNDP’s international development work is informed by and advances the health and human rights concerns of transgender people, including issues such as legal gender recognition, violence, discrimination, and transition related health services.

The document is intelligently broken into 8 sections that hold the hand of the reader until giving them the responsibility to act – beginning with terminology, trans history, and statistics, and ending with legal gender recognition, and trans social/cultural inclusion.

The best part of this paper is its recommendations for specific actions UNDP programs should take to be support the rights and health of trans people. These actions range from “Give people the choice to share their preferred name and pronoun in community consultations,” “If previous name or sex details must be used to verify someone’s identity, guarantee they will be kept confidential,” to “Recognize that effective, sustainable responses to HIV should address human rights violations against trans people and enable access to gender-affirming health services,” and “Facilitate dialogue between trans groups and government agencies.”

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United Nations Panel Issues Declaration of LGBT Rights

September 27, 2013

NCTE recognizes yesterday’s United Nations (U.N.) statement, written in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. The declaration, which was announced at the first-ever meeting of the United Nations’ LGBT Core Group, comes almost two years after the U.N.’s first official report on the human rights violations faced lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Foreign ministers from 10 Member States called for the end of violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

They wrote:

“We, ministers of Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, France, Israel, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and United States, and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – members of the LGBT Core Group at the United Nations – hereby declare our strong and determined commitment to eliminating violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

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Report from the Conference on the Rights of LGBT People in Europe

April 17, 2013

I was privileged to represent NCTE and join lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex activists from across Europe, as well as a few fellow North Americans, last month in Paris at the “Conference on the Rights of LGBT People in Europe”, hosted by the governments of France and Poland.

The conference, attended by government ministers and human rights activists from around the continent, is part of a series of international meetings focused on elevating these issues within the global human rights framework. An Asian regional meeting was held earlier in March in Kathmandu, Nepal, and a Latin American regional meeting will be held this week in Brasilia, Brazil, concluding in mid-April with a global summit in Oslo, Norway, hosted by the South African and Norwegian governments.

NCTE was invited to attend as a member of the Council for Global Equality, together with Council staffer Mark Bromley, and I was very honored to be asked to speak on one of the workshop panels regarding legal gender recognition as a human rights issue. The conference was a tremendous opportunity to meet colleagues from Transgender Europe (TGEU), the Organization Intersex International, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association of Europe (ILGA-Europe), and other ILGA-Europe member organizations. These activists are doing fantastic work across Europe and beyond. No country today can boast a perfect record when it comes to the human rights of LGBTI people – though some have further to go than others – and these activists along with others around the world are doing incredible work from which US activists should draw inspiration and insight.

I was particularly honored not only to attend but to participate as a speaker in a workshop on “Liberties – Fighting Discrimination Against LGBT Persons,” which focused on the topics of gender recognition and attacks on the rights of expression and assembly. The following are my prepared remarks from the workshop:

I would like to outline for our discussion this afternoon the issue of gender recognition and its connection to fundamental rights.

The designation of one’s gender by the state is a constant presence in everyday life today. For most it is experienced as perhaps benign and hardly noticed, but for millions of trans people today it is a source of ever present anxiety, humiliation, and fear, because our official documents and records announce a gender at odds with our core personal identity. This means that, for example, a trans woman like myself must display a male gender marker every time she seeks to:

  • apply for employment
  • enroll in school
  • open a bank account
  • travel
  • apply for public benefits
  • or even seek help in a crisis

Lack of gender recognition, and the ever present documentation of the wrong gender identifier not only “outs” individuals involuntarily in numerous and often vulnerable situations; it not only thrusts one’s trans status into the forefront in every part of social and economic life; it does even more than that. Lack of gender recognition also has the effect if conveying to everyone we encounter the stigmatizing message that we are not who we say we are, and implicitly that our core identity is a kind of fraud, to be disregarded or regarded with disdain.  In effect, lack of gender recognition imposes a mark of inferior social status.

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UN Report: Forced Sterilization of Trans People “is Torture”

February 27, 2013

On February 1, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture (SRT) issued a report on abusive practices in health care settings that has important implications for LGBT people and people with intersex conditions.

The report calls for repealing laws allowing “genital-normalizing” surgery on children with intersex conditions, and ending practices whereby LGBT patients or those with intersex conditions are subjected to unethical experimentation or made a subject of medical display without consent. The report also condemns the practice of so-called “reparative therapies” or “conversion therapies” that purport to change an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Especially notable for transgender people was the Special Rapporteur’s call for ending forced or coerced sterilization of transgender people as condition of recognizing their gender identities.

Section 39 of the report says, “…Medical care that causes severe suffering for no justifiable reason can be considered cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and if there is State involvement and specific intent, it is torture.”

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NCTE Meets with Ecuadorian LGBT Activists

October 25, 2012

NCTE Director of Policy Harper Jean Tobin with the delegation of Ecuadorian LGBT Activists.

Last Tuesday, I was thrilled, along with colleagues from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, to meet and discuss LGBT activism with a group of incredible LGBT activists from Ecuador. The U.S. State Department regularly facilitates visits by distinguished community leaders and human rights activists from around the world to meet and exchange knowledge with their counterparts and other experts in the US. In recent years, the State Department’s exchange programs have increasingly connected international LGBT activists with U.S.-based activists, and the results have been enriching for all involved. As part of this all-LGBT, all-Ecuadorian visit, our guests were meeting with leaders and activists here in the nation’s capitol and elsewhere.

While we Americans can often be very, very US-centric in our focus, we have a lot to learn from our counterparts around the world. This was first driven home for me years ago when I wrote a scholarly article on gender identity recognition around the world, and discovered that some nations such as the United Kingdom and Spain were, at least by some measures, well ahead of the United States when it comes to the rights of transgender people. In recent years there has been a tremendous amount of LGBT and specifically transgender activism throughout much of Latin America, including major developments in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina to name a few.

Watch: Proyecto Transgenero’s video educating Ecuadorians about trans people and the identification challenges trans people face.

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