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Home / Resources / News / Trans Europa… Rights and discrimination of trans people in Europe

Trans Europa… Rights and discrimination of trans people in Europe

Alessandro Valera interviews Julia Ehrt, from Transgender Europe 

Below: Julia Ehrt.
Photo by Anja Weber

Julia Ehrt is one of the two co-chairs of Transgender Europe, a network association uniting trans* organisations in more than 20 European countries. The aim of Transgender Europe is to network among trans* organisations to share information for the well-being of transgender people living in Europe (not only in countries who are member of the EU, but also of the Council of Europe) and to be a voice of the community on a political level.

AV: What are the main forms of discrimination towards trans* people in Europe? 

JE: We need to distinguish between direct and indirect forms of discrimination. Direct discrimination is what people face on a daily basis in the streets or on the work place. Indirect discrimination is what we refer to as structural, inflicted by the state itself or by the legislation.
The main forms of indirect discrimination are the difficulties arising from legal gender recognition –the possibility to change your first name or your gender mark in official documentation. In several countries this is not possible at all.  In the countries where this is possible very often there are unreasonable requirements: people have to prove they are permanently sterile, they have to have had sexual reassignment surgery and in all country one has to present a diagnosis of transexuality or similar documentation, which basically means a diagnosis of being mentally ill.
Changing name and gender is fundamental, because without it multiple other discriminations will follow, as the person will not have papers identifying them. Simple things like picking up mail at the post office, paying with a credit card or checking-in in an airport can become impossible.
Direct discrimination is not much better. The main fields are access to the work market, hate crimes and hate violence including hate killings. We gather data in these areas through various research projects including Trans Murder Monitoring Project, which records killing of trans* people worldwide. In the last 3.5 years in Europe we had more than 41 trans* people killed.  Another research from the UK conducted with data from the TransEuro Study (2008) confirmed that 80% of trans* people receive negative comments, verbal, physical and sexual harassment in their everyday life. This means that if you are a visible trans* person you face direct discrimination every day, as that remaining 20% are those people whose trans* condition is not visible.
Access to the job market is equally catastrophic: unemployment rates are considerably higher than in the
rest of population.

AV: You are mentioning the possibility of changing gender from male to female or vice-versa. What about those people who do not associate themselves with either (or both) gender?  
JE: I see this as a two-step struggle. If you are able to change your gender from male to female without unreasonable conditions like sterilisation, this would be an important step in the right direction. However, having more options would not do harm to anyone while helping a lot of people who do not see themselves properly labelled as either male or female.
AV: What is the country in Europe in which the dignity of trans* people is best respected, both in terms of social attitudes and legal provision?
JE: It is very difficult to judge and measure social attitudes, so I would not be able to give an answer to that. In terms of policy and legal procedure in place, Scotland is the place to be or to look for.  When it comes down to legal issues, Scotland has very good gender recognition legislation and is the only country which has trans* specific hate crime legislation.  As part of the UK they also have very reasonable anti-discrimination legislation.
In terms of anti-discrimination protection, Sweden is excellent, too. In terms of gender legal recognition, Spain and Portugal are very good. However, in Portugal the law is quite new, so one has to see how the practice will evolve. Good legislation and good enforcement and practice no not always automatically go together.

Below: Yara and Sass working for trans*rights

AV: And in which country is the situation for trans *people particularly worrying?

JE: In terms of hate crimes and killing of trans* people in Turkey and Italy the situation is particularly serious, with 13 murders each in the last 3.5 years out of a total of 41 in Europe. In terms of legal provision Italy is one of the worst, too. Their legal gender recognition law is particularly bad: to change name or gender you need to be sterilised, have undergone sex reassignment surgery and be forced to divorce, if married. A court has recently ruled that sterilisation should not be mandatory, but we have to see whether the ruling will be implemented across Italy.
Ireland does not have any legislation in place to change name or gender despite losing a case with the Irish Constitutional Court on this issue. Ireland is obliged to provide a possibility to change name and gender but has been reluctant to do so.
In terms of legal gender recognition, Sweden is also surprisingly bad, as it still requires unreasonable conditions. However, such legislation is under revision and in six months, the situation could change considerably.

AV: What, if anything, is the EU doing to safeguard the interest and wellbeing of trans people?
JE: The main area where EU has competence that apply to trans* people is anti-discrimination. However, the problem is that discrimination on ground of gender identity or gender reassignment is not found in the Treaty of the European Union. However, by virtue of several Court cases, discrimination on these grounds are included under the domain of “sex”. But you have to know this and it is difficult to get hold of the rulings confirming this.  There is also a problem of implementation: several EU member states do not implement this at all, some do it partially and a few, such as Germany, do it fully.


AV: Is there anything else that the EU could do within its competences?
JE: There is a lot that the EU could do, but it would take lots of political will and courage. Discrimination could be fought by following the freedom of movement approach. When some citizens find it impossible to travel for lack of documents that mirror their gender, name and look, we are facing a violation of freedom of movement.  This political will is growing but not as a sufficiently fast pace.
Another way would be to add discrimination on ground of gender identity to the TEU. That would require a unanimous vote among all 27 member states, so it is unlikely to happen for decades.
However, there has been progress in this area. The EU Commission has published a roadmap for gender equality, in which gender identity is mentioned for the first time. This helps to convince the Commission to do something in that area.


AV: My impression is that public opinion has got it a lot more clear what gay and lesbians are asking for, with marriage equality being their more vocal and symbolic claim. What would be the number one claim that trans* people could make around Europe?
JE: This would be legal gender recognition, which is changing of name and gender.


AV: Thanks Julia, it’s been a pleasure. 
JE: Thank you.