Alexia Pardo is a trans woman in Spain whose ex-wife has refused to allow Alexia to see her son when she started hormones. The Spanish Constitutional Court has refused a hearing to discuss the case and Alexia has vowed to take her case to the European Court. One has to feel sorry for Alexia. Even if she wins, the case will take time during which she won’t see her son grow up.
Internationally this may be an important case and set precedents across Europe.
Given that transsexuals make up such a small fraction of the population, the regularity of murders demonstates the high homicide risk – especially for trans women. The latest victim is Minja Kočiš who was found dead in her Belgrade flat at the weekend. She had been stabbed twice in the stomach. There was no sign of robbery so the Serbian police are working on the basis that the murder was probably somebody she knew.
Human Rights Watch are calling for an investigation into the murder of Cynthia Nicole who was shot and killed on 9th January 2009. Cynthia was a leading activist fighting for transgendered rights in Hondurus, working closely with many transgendered sex workers. Cynthia was shot three times in the chest and head and it seems likely that she was deliberately targetted and that her murder was not a random event.
The situation for trans people in Honduras is volatile. Human Rights Watch report:
Nicole’s murder comes as violence targeting Honduras’s transgender community appears to be on the rise. In November and December 2008 there were attacks, two of which were fatal, against five other transgender people by unknown assailants. On November 20, an attacker killed Yasmin, a transgender sex worker and colleague of Nicole. The next day, on November 21, an attacker shot Bibi, another transgender sex worker, while she was working in the Obelisco, a park in the center of Comayaguela. On December 17, an attacker stabbed Noelia, a third transgender sex worker, 14 times. In addition to these attacks, on December 20, members of the police assaulted a transgender activist doing HIV/AIDS outreach work in Tegucigalpa.
For more details refer to the full HRW article here. Frontline has a few more details and a picture of Cynthia.
In September, Ali Bracken reported on the human rights situation in Honduras. Her full reportis worth reading but an extract of the words of the pre-op transsexual Nicole Moreno paints a clear picture of life for trans women in Honduras:
My family didn’t want to know me. They don’t accept my sexuality. I got a job selling beauty products but it didn’t earn much. No-one else will give a transsexual a job. So I’m back on the streets again. I earn $5 for a blow job, $10 for sex in a car and $20 for going to a motel. I always tell customers I’m a transsexual, otherwise they might get violent. It’s very homophobic here, so it’s dangerous. I’m saving up for my sex change operation. I’ve spoke to a surgeon and he’ll do it for $3,500. He’s never done it before; no-one in Honduras has. I’d be the first. It costs about $15,000 in the US. I’ll probably go back there to work as a prostitute and then come back here to get my surgery. I think about it every day. It’s all I want from life.
As we write of things like the sectioning of trans people, it’s easy to see that as past, finished, something which could never happen again. Lest we forget, it’s important to remember that as recently as 2007 the British Government reaffirmed that in and of itself gender identity disorder(GID) can be grounds to section and individual. This was set out in appendix 1a of the fifteenth report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights in a letter dated 1 April 2007 from Rt Hon. Rosie Winterton MP (Labour), Minister of State, Department of Health. It includes sections like these:
The Government’s understanding, therefore, is that gender dysphoria and transvestic fetishism potentially constitute “a disability or disorder of the mind” in the terms of the Mental Health Act 1983 (“the 1983 Act”) and a “true mental disorder” for the purposes of Article 5(1)(e) of the Convention, where they reach a sufficient level of clinical significance. The issue has not arisen as far as the Government is aware, and the Government does not think it is possible, in the absence of case-law, to take a definitive view.
On the other hand, if a person did meet the criteria for detention as a result of gender identity or transvestic fetishism (or any other equally unlikely disorder) and needed to be detained for their own sake or to protect others then it is right that mental health legislation should enable appropriate action to be taken. But for that to happen there would have to be wholly exceptional – and very hard to envisage – circumstances.
What is doubly concerning is that when passing the Mental Health Act 2007 the Government specifically excluded learning difficulties as a mental disorder but, despite being urged to do so, retained the classification of GID as a “true mental disorder” which means transsexual people can be sectioned or forced to undergo treatment – for instance a transgendered adolescent could be forced by a pysch to undergo gender-reparative therapy.
There are less critical implications, which are nevertheless potentially serious to transsexual people such as the ability of Family Courts and adoption agencies to take a mental disorder into account when considering cases involving trans people.
It is also worth remembering that the Gender Recognition Act 2004(GRA) forces those who have undergone gender reassignment to secure a diagnosis of GID (ie of a mental disorder which could see them forcibly detained) even though it is, in practice, possible to receive hormonal treatment and surgeries to alter sexual characteristics without needing a GID diagnosis. This is surely wrong.
More positively, the suggestion that transvestism may also be regarded in law as a mental disorder means that transvestites (who have received no protection under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975) may have rights under the Disability and Discrimination Act 1995.
In conjunction with Galop and Gaydar Girls, the Metropolitan Police in London have launched a survey on women’s experience of transphobia and homophobia. You may be asked to fill this in if you are visiting an LGBT venue: it is entirely voluntary of course. It is also possible to download the survey and send it in by email – as explained here.
While worthy, the idea of a survey to discover why women don’t report hate crimes seems somewhat strange. If people don’t feel comfortable reporting a crime, are they likely to volunteer to complete a survey? While this may make sense within the lesbian community, it seems to demonstrate somewhat poor understanding of the trans community in which so many are either in the closet or in stealth. Indeed, the whole idea of a gendered survery will be objectionable to many in the trans community. These flaws are compounded by presenting trans in terms of MTF or FTM, terms which only apply to those transsexual people undergoing gender reassignment and wouldn’t, for instance, apply to a TV who experiences transphobia while out as a woman? This feels like a survey that was designed within the LGB community and extended to cover transphobia without real understanding of trans issues. It could reduce the likelihood of trans people reporting crimes to the police and that would be unfortunate as the police are generally more trans aware than this flawed survey suggests.
There are further problems. The question “Are you a disabled person?” is difficult within the trans community. Legally anybody who has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria is disabled according to the definition in the Disability and Discrimination Act, but many TS people do not feel themselves to be disabled. For the trans community the question should therefore have been asked as “Do you consider yourself to be disabled?”
The question, “To what extent are you ‘out’ as a lesbian/gay or bi woman or trans. person?” is also somewhat insensitive. It is one of the key differences between many trans people and lesbians. A non-passing trans person has no choice about being out. An FTM who is awaiting top surgery and still has a large chest may find it impossible to be anything other than out, as may an MTF with a masculine face and heavy beard growth.
The survery isn’t transphobic. There is an intention to do the right thing. But it does forcibly demonstrate a very poor understanding of trans issues. As he intention is to help, it may still be worth completing the survey, but if you feel that the many flaws are evidence of the problem, you may wish to contact the survey organiser to register a complaint – Susan Paterson of the Metropolitan Police at 11th Floor Empress State Building, Lillie Road, London SW6 1TR.
As a trial I’ve added a news feed towards the bottom of the side bar on the right which shows transphobia news items reported in Google News, Yahoo! News or MSN News by doing combining the feeds, doing a search on “transphobia”, sorting by date and chucking out any items which aren’t unique. It seems to be working OK but there’s only one way to find out for sure …
I don’t have time to report on everything but hopefully that means any stories I don’t blog will still be here for you in the newsfeed. If you find it useful I’d appreciate a comment on this post as it takes up a lot of space in the sidebar so it has to earn its keep!
For the technical among you, it uses Yahoo! Pipes. If you click on the link it’ll take you to my Pipes home directory. There you can either get the RSS feed URL so you can add it to your own site or news reader if you prefer, or add it to a Blogger blog using a badge. It could be customised to search for homophobia (or really anything) fairly easily. I can get that done if you ask nicely!
As Lawrence Mute reports in a long article at AllAfrica.com, the entitety of Anglophone Africa failed to back the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity. It is perhaps surprising that South Africa abstained as that is a country which does recognise changes of recorded gender.