While a number of European nations have been praised by leading trans organisations for their commitment to improving rights for the marginalised group, others – including Slovakia and the UK – have been told they still have a long way to go.
Rights for transgender people are always a hot topic of discussion – dividing friends, colleagues and ruining the legacies of the rich and famous.
This week in Japan, the Asian nation’s Supreme Court ruled that a law requiring transgender people to have their reproductive organs removed in order to officially change their gender was unconstitutional.
The decision, made by the top court’s 15-judge Grand Bench, was its first on the constitutionality of Japan’s 2003 law requiring the removal of reproductive organs for a state-recognised gender change – a practice long criticised by international rights and medical groups.
Closer to home, the picture is not much clearer – and equally as divisive.
While a recent report from Transgender Europe (TGEU) showed the European approach to transgender rights has made positive progress, there is also a notable increase concerning anti-trans backlash from some governments and a number of media outlets.
While there has been progress in implementing more rights for trans people in Europe during 2022 and 2023, that only builds on 2022’s return to progress which followed years of decreasing levels of rights.
It’s not an entirely positive picture, though.
TGEU say the risk of regression and anti-trans backlash across swathes of the continent remains a pressing issue for the community.
Slovakia is, they say, in particular danger of further regression.
Debates there have been raging over the possibility of banning legal gender recognition.
Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Belarus and Bulgaria are also widely considered to be weak when it comes to the protection of trans people.
At the other end of the scale, countries praised for their development of trans rights were Spain, Moldova, Andorra, Finland and Iceland.
This year, Iceland managed to overtake Malta to be listed at the top of the ranking.
Spain has made huge changes too, with its far-reaching law covering employment, protections for trans migrants and discrimination based on gender expression.
That law means that the southern European nation has adopted legal gender recognition based on self-determination.
While there has been some criticism that nonbinary people were left out of the legal gender recognition change, Spain’s move means that 11 countries across Europe now have a form of ‘Self-ID’ – or, in layman’s terms, a self-determination-based legal gender recognition model.
The UK is very much seen as lagging behind more progressive countries in Europe.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of mocking trans people and his government is set to push ahead with plans to ban gay and trans conversion practices.
Senior Conservatives have spoken about their concern that the issue might split the party on the issue. Some MPs have expressed worry that an outright ban on trans conversion practices specifically could unintentionally criminalise parents or teachers who give advice to children struggling with their gender identities.
Earlier this year, Westminster blocked a bill supporting Self-ID passed by the devolved Scottish government. There have been cries of discrimination over that decision and it is currently going through the courts.
Interestingly, less secular countries including Spain and Greece have also made strides on banning so-called ‘conversion therapy’ on grounds of gender identity and Moldova has moved to protect trans people from discrimination as well as hate crimes and speech.
On the whole, it seems as if the move toward trans acceptance is going in the right direction, but as Nadya Yurinova from TGEU tells Euronews, there is still more to be done.
“Ideally, all countries should start with legal gender recognition and access to trans-specific healthcare for all, especially for further marginalised groups at the intersections with refugees, BIPOC, asylum seekers and disabled people communities. We also call for trans-informed journalism and public awareness about trans lives; the discrimination and violence trans people face on a daily basis,” Yurinova explains.
In a report seen by Euronews, TGEU criticises many EU member states as “failing to meet their obligations to trans people”.
They say nine countries – Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Romania – fail to provide asylum protection and that this is in violation of EU law. TGEU believes that by upholding rigid rules for asylum seekers from diverse – particularly trans – backgrounds, the individuals in question are immediately at a disadvantage when it comes to being accepted into a new country.
That seems to be only one issue concerning those who speak out on behalf of the trans community.
Pekka Rantala, who is the chairperson of SETA – Finland’s oldest and most prominent LGBTI rights organisation – tells Euronews the situation is bleak, even in the progressive Nordic nation.
“Based on my experience in Finland and discussing with LGBTIQA+ activists around the world the situation around hate-speech continues to be bad. Based on that, I would say the situation continues as it was in 2022,” he says.
Rantala explains that conservatism in politics and “aggressive social media approaches taken by anti-trans groups” are to blame, but believes there is hope for the future for the trans community.
“General awareness raising campaigns for the public, training for officials and media, prevention and combating hate speech and making sure proper safeguards are in place to prevent discrimination in the society are key actions to take,” he says.
“These actions would both make society more aware and understanding of the trans community but would also allow an often strained – if not severed – bond between the trans community and wider society to begin healing,” Rantala adds.
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