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Trans recognition is improving despite right-wing backlash around the world

Trans recognition is improving despite right-wing backlash around the world

  • Nine new countries have modernized their gender recognition laws to make them fairer for trans people but persecution continues.
Trans Pride in Lahore, Pakistan.

Nine new countries have made legal gender change possible without abusive rules on trans people in the past two years.

However, trans people continue to face widespread persecution around the world. Moreover, a right-wing backlash against trans equality is now evident in every corner of the globe.

That’s according to a major new report by LGBT+ organization ILGA World. 

The Trans Legal Mapping Report is out today. And it charts the laws criminalizing trans people as well as the legal processes to change their name and gender in official documents in 143 UN member states.

ILGA World says: 

‘Trans organising and advocacy are at a turning point. Significant advances have been made in recent years, but regressions have also occurred in every region of the world where we have been documenting legal gender recognition.’

Abusing laws to persecute trans people

The report comes at a time when trans identities are more visible and more criticized around the world.

Zhan Chiam, co-author of the report, says advances have been met with considerable backlash:

‘In every region of the world where we have been documenting legal gender recognition, regressions have occurred, often in the form of so-called “gender ideology”, the emergence of exclusionary movements, and right-wing politicians positing LGBT against national identities.’

Many see these battles over trans identities via social media. However, the report shows the very real consequences for trans people of this hate.

Trans people are more likely to be victims of violence, rape and murder around the world.

Moreover, in many countries, the authorities actively persecute trans and gender non-conforming people, rather than protect them.

Chiam notes: ‘To date, at least 13 UN member States worldwide explicitly criminalise trans persons. But a much wider range of laws is used to target them in many more countries.’

In many countries, police use laws against ‘nuisance, indecency, morality, loitering, sex work-related offences, and consensual same-sex activity amongst others’ to target trans and non-binary people.

Chiam adds: ‘The systemic targeting of trans people using seemingly innocuous laws is just as damaging as so-called ‘cross dressing’ regulations which overtly target gender expressions.’

Good news and ‘grim reality’

However, there is good news too.

In particular, the report celebrates the nine countries where trans people can now change their gender more easily. These countries have removed the need for court orders or surgery before a trans person can get documents in their true gender.

Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Greece, Luxembourg, and Portugal have made this change since 2018. Likewise, so have some states in Australia.

Meanwhile Colombia and Uruguay now have slightly better rules for trans people aged under 18. And Argentina allows for a multiplicity of gender markers. In much of Canada you can remove gender markers from official documents altogether.

Even Pakistan now allows trans people to change gender markers without prohibitive requirements. And court victories in Botswana and South Africa have recognised trans people’s gender identities in legal documents and in the prison system respectively.

By contrast, the UK government last week abandoned its pledge to update gender laws.

Meanwhile the situation in the USA varies state-by-state. Some have more progressive laws but other states put draconian and intrusive restrictions on trans gender recognition.

In many countries trans people may have to face surgical, hormonal or sterilisation interventions. They may also have to divorce their partner, be kept in psychiatric facilities, or pass a ‘real life test’ to prove their true gender.

ILGA World concludes these requirements ‘continue to be a grim reality for the majority of trans people around the world’.

No longer a mental health disorder

Jabulani Pereira, Chair of the Trans Committee at ILGA World, says: 

‘It is a difficult time for trans persons globally, which is reflected in the regression or stagnation in legal gender recognition rights in every continent.

‘We continue to push against repressive state laws. At the same time we will need many more studies that celebrate our challenges and gains in our right to self-determination, our right to gender-affirming care and to live in a world that does not systemically and physically harm us.’

Despite this, one glimmer of hope may come from the World Health Assembly.

It adopted the latest International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in 2019. These state being a trans or gender diverse person doesn’t mean you suffer a mental health disorder.

Similarly scientists declassified homosexuality as a psychological disorder in the 1970s. That made a huge difference to lesbian, gay and bisexual rights campaigns in the long term.

Now trans organizing has had greater potential to change laws on how people affirm their gender. Data like that from the new ILGA World report will help this advocacy work.