Recently Poland's Anna Grodzka was in the UK to give the annual Kaleidoscope Trust IDAHOT lecture. Grodzka is currently the only transgender member of parliament in the world.
[M]y high visibility illustrates a strange paradox that we as transgender people experience daily. We are highly visible and yet almost invisible at the same time.
Individually you often can't miss us. On a bus or in the street many trans people stand out, even if we would like to pass as a woman or a man. And because we are easy to spot, we are easy to bully. I have lost count of the number of times I have been shouted at in the street or felt threatened by unwanted attention from drunk men who think it's funny to ridicule someone who looks different from the norm. Most of my trans friends report similar treatment.
There were a total of 1123 reported killings of transpeople in 57 countries from 2008 to 2012.
Despite estimates that 2-5% of the population is transgender (ie experience some kind of gender dysphoria) the violence against, and even murder of, transgender people is rarely discussed.
Where the human rights of ethnic minorities, gay and disabled people are now taken very seriously, and in the case of the former, rising fast up the international agenda, the rights of transgender people remain an afterthought.
I put this down to the unsettling challenge transgender people can represent to norms of masculinity and femininity, which many hold dear. The fear and discomfort we can engender sometimes results in mockery and contempt from those with power, including from some well-known media commentators.
Georgina Beyer of New Zealand was the world's first known transgender Member of Parliament, serving from November 1999 until February 2007. She is currently suffering from extreme kidney failure as she awaits a transplant. She has been on welfare since 2010.
Vladimir Luxuria was a transgender member of parliament in Italy from 2006 until 2008. She lives exclusively as a female but does not perceive herself as either male or female…so I apologize for the pronouns.
Carla Antonelli serves in the Assembly of the Community of Madrid in Spain. Shabnam Mausi was a member of the Madyah Pradesh State Legislative Assembly in India from 1998 to 2003. Valentina Verbal is currently running for a legislative seat in Chile.
Grodzka authored an essay in the Guardian to coincide with the event. She also sat down with Labour's shadow minister for equality Kate Green, a meeting that was attended and reported on by transgender writer and activist Jane Fae.
Grodzka is a member of the left-leaning Palikot Movement. She has introduced measures to provide for equal marriage and to recognize gender identity. Both pieces of legislation are currently blocked.
She says that the gender recognition measure is influenced strongly by the UK's 2004 Gender Recognition Act.
This is not ideal. If I had free range in this, I would introduce the Argentinean model.
The UK model views transgender as a medical condition and is henced surrounded by medical and psychiatric gatekeepers who decide who is and who is not "genuinely trans"…i.e. gender is determined by so-called "experts." The Argentinean perspective is that transgender is a condition of human existence better understood by individuals who have the condition than by "experts" who do not, and hence is not in need of external control.
In Argentina, it is the right of every human being to be themselves: your identity, including your gender identity, is your property and it is not up to the state to set rules and regulations around it. The system now in place is based on individual self-awareness, and is not subject to psychiatric intervention.
Equally, the demand for intervention through gender re-assignment surgery is not subject to such stringent medical conditions: it is far more a matter of managing funds relative to demand.
Green was recently involved in the same-sex marriage legislation debate in the UK. The 2004 legislation did not foresee same-sex marriage as becoming a reality and hence forced people seeking a gender recognition certificate to be divorced before they could do so. One block on acquiring a GRC was objection by an existing spouse who might have survivor pension rights drastically affected. Green introduced amendments to deal with these issues, but dropped them all in order to get the same-sex marriage bill passed.
There is consternation in the transgender community, however, that one's gender should be subject to partner objection, payment of fees, and the interference of faceless bureaucrats in the process.
Public opinion has moved very fast on equal marriage. Ten years ago, it was unthinkable that we would be seeing anything more than civil partnerships for same sex couples for the foreseeable future: yet here we are now, on the eve of passing legislation to allow same sex marriage. It seems likely that the day will come when we look more closely at the Argentinean model.
Grodzka wishes Poland's problems were as relatively simple to solve.
There is much talk of tolerance, and how that is growing in Poland. But I am not interested in tolerance. I want acceptance: for that, above all else, is key.
More from Grodzka:
There is an unmistakable shift in social attitudes across the western world as more and more countries embrace liberal social policies such as gay marriage. The challenge for transgender people is to ensure our rights are included in this wider shift, and that we become visible for the right reasons.
The right to be yourself encompasses also the right to sexual and gender identity. Nobody should be despised, excluded or discriminated on the grounds of their gender or sexuality.
Alas, we are still living in societies, where there exist systems of social segregation based on gender and sexual norms. Such systems are a source of suffering and violence.
The system of gender segregation affects transsexual people as well. In my country none of the stages of sex reassignment procedure are refunded. Transsexual people fall victims to violence and hatred. Trans people have until recently been largely absent in social awareness and they are still invisible in the body of Polish law. Can transsexual people be themselves in such a country?
I do not demand tolerance, I demand equal rights. I demand acceptance for every human being who does not do any harm with his actions to anyone else. I demand acceptance for every human being, because it should be the right of all persons.