For transgender people, official identity documents reflecting their gender identity are vitally important for the enjoyment of their human rights. They are not only crucial when traveling but also for everyday life; depending on the specific country, individuals may be asked to produce an official document when they enroll in school, apply for a job, access a public library or open a bank account.
--Amnesty International, The State Decides Who I Am
Legal gender recognition is important as it is a validation of who I am. When you are born you get your birth certificate and when you die you get your death certificate. People take that for granted. It follows you all through life. Nobody thinks about it. But if I go into a social welfare office and someone wants to make my life difficult [because I don’t have documents reflecting my gender identity], I have no legal rights to rely on… Legal gender recognition also validates you within the rest of the population. If you are seen to be legally recognized then you have more legitimacy within the wider community, within the non-transgender community, and that’s important.The European Court of Human Rights recognized in 1992 that failing to allow transpeople to change the gender marker on their official documents was a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Many countries instituted a requirement of invasive surgeries in order to obtain a legal gender change. Requiring such surgeries may itself be considered to violate the rights of transpeople. In addition, the course of procedures usually take years. In other instances transpeople can only obtain legal gender recognition if they agree to be diagnosed with a mental disorder, divorce their spouses or remain single, and satisfy age restrictions.
Other countries simply continue to refuse a person to have their gender marker changed.
Belgium, Denmark, and Norway are generally considered champions of equality and human rights, but they are joined by 20 other European countries which require transpeople to undergo surgeries to remove their reproductive organs (forced sterilization) before gender marker change will be considered. The Netherlands deleted the requirement just this past December.
In fact, transgender people face an invidious situation in which they have to choose some human rights at the expense of others. Enjoying all of their human rights is not an option available to them. The choices are stark. Obtain documents reflecting their gender, which would ensure their right to private life, or refuse to divorce their partners? Being acknowledged by the state and enjoying equal recognition before the law, or preserving their reproductive rights by refusing to undergo sterilization? Forcing such choices on transgender people is contrary to the states’ obligations to ensure that everyone can enjoy human rights without discrimination, including on grounds of gender identity and expression.
It is so difficult to live a life where you feel a constant discrepancy between what you are and how others perceive you.
People generally do not experience and perceive their gender identities according to one standardized pattern. Transgender people, whose innate sense of their own gender differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, also experience and express their gender identity according to a variety of patterns. Their perceptions of gender identity may also evolve over time. Some transgender people identify themselves as fully male or female; others perceive their gender identity in a continuum between the two. According to a survey undertaken in Belgium, only 55 per cent of those transgender people who were assigned the male sex at birth identified themselves as either fully or mainly female. Similarly, only 60 per cent of those transgender people who were assigned the female sex perceived themselves as either fully or mainly male. The rest identified as neither male nor female, both male and female, or “other”.
I’ve seen myself as a male since I was four. I did not even know I was born female until my cousin peed in front of me and I could see the difference in our bodies. My gender identity was firmly established at that point and has not changed over time.
It’s a bit tricky when it comes to my gender identity. Intellectually I think a third gender would fit me the best. I don’t think I belong to either the male or the female gender. It’s the same with my sexual orientation. I consider myself as bisexual. I haven’t been happy with my male body since the age of four. My family was transphobic and homophobic. I wanted to come out as a trans person but I always thought about the reactions of those who surrounded me.
I am a woman with a trans background. I perceive myself as a woman who has a little bit of a different history than other women usually do. When I was a child, I wondered about my anatomy. I felt puzzled. When I was with boys, I felt like I was in a foreign country. I learned to speak the language but I felt I was not originally from there. I was 26 when I fully realized that I was transgender.
I am a transsexual. I know that it may make people uncomfortable and that there are not many people who define themselves as transsexuals. I want to undergo genital reassignment surgery, which is important for me in order to live as a woman. I couldn’t do that with male genital organs. I have felt I am a female since the age of four or five but it took me many years to come out… I was 48.The exact number of transgender people living in Europe is impossible to determine. Estimates which were based on the number of people who have undergone genital surgery or hormone treatment, or the number who have obtained legal gender recognition generally come to approximately 30,000. Surveys of the population which include gender identity related questions, however, suggest the number is closer to 1.5 million people (0.3% of the general population).
The report documents several incidences of discrimination against transgender people. Anna was forced to leave school in Greece because of the verbal and physical abuse she was subjected to…including having two students dump gasoline on her and attempt to set her on fire. L. Cavaliero was sexually harassed by his university professor in Berlin. Louise's manager outed her to the public after she transitioned at her place of employment…and she was eventually fired.
Legal gender recognition is important because, once and for all, I wouldn’t have to battle with people [for anything] I have a right [to], like social welfare. Having a legal gender recognition certificate would make these issues easier, instead of fighting every corner, which is what I’ve had to do. I want to be recognised as who I bloody well am. It’s ridiculous that the state doesn’t recognize me as who I am.Just how International Human Rights Law applies in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity is outlined in the Yogyakarta Principles, developed in 2006 "in response to well-documented patterns of abuse".
Amnesty International performed specific analysis of conditions in Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Norway and to a lesser extent Belgium and Germany.
Recommendations to all governments:
1. Allow individuals to change their legal name and gender, including the gender markers on official documents issued by the state, through a quick, accessible, and transparent procedure and in accordance with the individual’s sense of gender identity;
2. Ensure that non-state institutions and bodies put in place quick, accessible and transparent procedures aimed at providing transgender people with documents, such as diplomas or other education certificates, that reflect their gender identity;
3. Ensure that all information concerning changes of legal name and gender is kept confidential; such information should not generally be accessible to third parties without the explicit consent of the persons concerned;
4. Remove gender identity from the classification of mental diseases and reclassify aspects relevant to the provision of health care in a non-stigmatizing health category;
5. Abolish requirements to undergo psychiatric assessment and receive a diagnosis for obtaining legal gender recognition;
6. Abolish any medical requirement, including surgeries and sterilization, in relation to legal gender recognition;
7. Abolish any requirement of single status as a prerequisite to obtain legal gender recognition;
8. Abolish blanket age restrictions to legal gender recognition procedures and ensure that legal recognition is accessible to minors, taking into account the child’s freely expressed views regarding their own best interests, in light of their evolving capacities;
9. Provide explicit legal protection against discrimination on grounds of gender identity and expression in all areas;
10. Ensure that gender identity and expression are explicitly included as grounds for prosecution of hate crimes;
11. Ensure that medical practices, especially the provision of medical care for transgender people, do not perpetuate stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. Ensure that health treatments are accessible to transgender people on the basis of their informed consent;
12. Take steps to raise public awareness of transgender identities and the discrimination experienced by transgender people.