Friday
Jun202014

Retrocesos y Avances en Derechos LGBT

(Con María Mercedes Gómez en alternos)

El 7 de mayo, el Tribunal Constitucional del Perú emitió un fallo que pone en evidencia el desconocimiento de los asuntos trans en Latinoamérica. El Tribunal negó a una mujer que ya había cambiado legalmente de nombre, la posibilidad de registrar su sexo en el documento nacional de identidad. Con esto, condenó a la mujer –identificada como P.E.M.M.– y por extensión a todas las personas trans, a vivir bajo el riesgo permanente de ser víctimas de violencia y discriminación.

Seamos clar*s: por orden del máximo tribunal del Perú, P.E.M.M. tendrá que declararse trans en situaciones de supervivencia diaria porque su documento la registra con sexo masculino, mientras lleva aspecto y nombre de mujer. En países como el Perú, el documento de identidad es necesario para acceder a los servicios básicos de salud, educación, trámites bancarios y atención policial, entre otros; por eso, la decisión que nos ocupa expone a esta mujer a la constante violación de su privacidad, a la discriminación y a la violencia. En la región con mayor número de asesinatos de personas trans en el mundo, la sentencia en el caso P.E.M.M. es, en la práctica, una potencial condena a muerte.

Desgraciadamente, las autoridades peruanas no son las únicas en demostrar incomprensión e intolerancia en América Latina. En Colombia, organizaciones como Colombia Diversa, Santamaría Fundación y Caribe Afirmativo reportan frecuentes asesinatos de mujeres trans sumidos en la impunidad, y múltiples formas de abuso policial dirigidos en particular a quienes se dedican al trabajo sexual, o a quienes son percibidas como trabajadoras sexuales por el simple hecho de ser trans. Hay pocos procesos, mucho menos detenidos, y miopía en la recolección de datos por parte del Estado. Lo que sabemos, lo sabemos, ante todo, por la documentación que hacen los defensores de derechos humanos. En consecuencia, el asesinato de personas trans es el crimen perfecto, porque no importa cuán brutal y común sea, es con la misma frecuencia invisible.

Las reiteradas omisiones a investigar estos delitos y la violación de los derechos humanos de las personas trans han hecho parte de la información presentada ante los comités de derechos humanos y de mujeres de las Naciones Unidas por varias organizaciones de la sociedad civil entre ellas la Comisión Internacional de Derechos Humanos para Gays y Lesbians (IGLHRC). Nuestra información prueba que los Estados han fallado en reconocer, atender y solucionar la violación de los derechos de las personas trans. Algunos Estados insisten en patologizar la identidad de género como una condición médica para acceder a los derechos fundamentales; otros crean obstáculos en los procesos de registro civil y emisión de documentos de identidad y, por lo tanto, niegan el acceso a servicios fundamentales. En América Latina parece ignorarse la terrible lección del siglo XX, que nos enseña que a las atrocidades contra una población específica preceden la estigmatización y la privación efectiva de la ciudadanía.

Sin embargo, también hay gestos de esperanza. Por ejemplo, en el mencionado caso peruano, la burda opinión de la mayoría contrasta con el salvamento de voto, pues, éste muestra la predisposición y los estereotipos en los que se basa la decisión y reitera el derecho de las personas a auto-definirse.

En Argentina hay un esfuerzo pionero en los derechos trans e intersexuales, a pesar de alguna ambigüedad en las protecciones legales con respecto a l*s menores trans. En mayo de 2012, la Argentina emitió la primera ley de identidad de género en la región. En junio de este año, el Congreso de Chile tendrá su debate final sobre un proyecto de ley similar. La ley argentina asegura que las personas adultas puedan definir su identificación de género de manera autónoma y sin someterse para hacerlo a la patologización de los discursos médicos o a la discrecionalidad del Estado a través de los funcionarios judiciales. Avances de este tipo no transforman de manera inmediata los prejuicios sociales, ni eliminan automáticamente la violencia, pero aseguran ciertos derechos y ayudan a construir una sociedad más justa.

Estos procesos legislativos, el activismo de los defensores de derechos humanos, y el valiente voto de la minoría en el Tribunal peruano, son avances fundados en el reconocimiento de nuestra humanidad compartida. Son –qué duda cabe- puntos de luz en un panorama de intolerancia y violencia. Es una tarea constante hacer que crezcan y derroten las sombras.

Wednesday
Jun112014

UN Expected to Consider New Resolution on Discrimination Against LGBTI Persons

@RHRealityCheck

On June 10, the UN Human Rights Council started a three-week session, where—rumor has it—a new resolution addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity might be discussed.

Here’s how that development is simultaneously timely and late.

On June 5, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States adopted a resolution condemning violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex persons.

That resolution is one of several recent international developments to codify the notion that all human beings have equal rights, regardless of our sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or any other qualifier. In late May, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights passed a resolution, condemning violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Also late May this year, seven United Nations agencies issued a joint statement in support of transgender and intersex people’s right not to be forced to be sterilized, a sentiment the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had discussed a couple of years earlier. Last year, the United Nations’ two regional economic commissions for Asia and the Pacific and for Latin America and the Caribbean, respectively, expressed the need to address the exclusion and rights of people of diverse sexualities in order to achieve development.

Of course, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared all “men” equal in dignity and rights already in 1948. Setting the gendered aspect of this wording aside, it is clear also that, more than five decades later, not all human beings in practice enjoy equal rights. Exclusion is multilayered and complex, but it is fair to say that discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and intersex status is rife most everywhere.

For starters, there are the more than 76 countries, often cited, that criminalize adult same-sex sexual conduct in some shape or form. While it usually is a specific sexual conduct that is criminalized on paper—such as, for example, sodomy or anal sex—the effect is to punish gender expression and perceived sexual orientation more broadly.

State-sponsored discrimination targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or intersex persons also takes other forms, many of them as punitive as if sexual orientation or gender identity had been criminalized directly. For example, Russia does not criminalize same-sex conduct itself, but a law outlawing “gay propaganda,” which was signed into effect in June 2013, has contributed to a situation where violence against those who are known or appear to be gay or lesbian is quite normalized.

And even broader than that, states’ failure to deal with higher drop-out rates for LGBTI youth, employment discrimination, and lack of access to housing, leads lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people predictably to be overrepresented among the poor, the homeless, or the otherwise marginalized. Recently, a ruling from Peru’s Constitutional Court condemned a trans woman to a life in perpetual fear, by noting that while she was free to enter her female first name on her official identification card, her papers would continue to identify her as “male.” Anyone reading statistics on violence against trans persons will know that constantly having to “out” oneself as trans, regardless of context, is not a good way to stay safe.

This is why all eyes should be on the UN Human Rights Council this week. The council adopted its first resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity in July 2011, in which it commissioned a study on the effects of discrimination and promised to stay engaged on the issue. Now, three years later, information has been gathered, and several inter-governmental bodies, including most recently the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, have declared themselves in favor of equality and rights.

The rumored Human Rights Council resolution would join the growing mass of global documents that declare, unequivocally, what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights implied some 50-odd years ago. We are all equal; and when we are not treated as such, it is time to step up.

Friday
Mar282014

Enough With the Bathrooms: Stigma, Stereotypes and Barriers to Trans Equality

@HuffPostGay

Recently, attempts to effectively implement the right to non-discrimination for trans people in the United States has been met with fear-mongering about inappropriate use of public bathrooms.

In Maryland, a lawmaker reportedly expressed concerns that predators and pedophiles might enter women's bathrooms if that state passes a bill, currently under consideration, to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. In Arizona, some parents were worried about trans children choosing the most appropriate bathroom for themselves, lest this "infringe" on other children's "privacy." And opponents of a non-discrimination law in California, already in effect, are gathering signatures to have the law repealed, because, they say, it violates the rights of those students who may be uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with a person who is trans.

In fact, integrated public bathroom use seems to be the top objection raised in the United States to advancing equal rights for trans people, especially children. There are 3 main reasons for this.

First, there is a general discomfort among many Americans with co-ed social interaction as anything other than (straight) "courting." Over the age of 5, co-ed sleepovers are seen as inappropriate by many, and school dances as early as 5th grade push the notion that you really should only show up with a "date" of the opposite gender. What children take away from these overly gendered (and hetero-centric) rules of interaction is anyone's guess, but it is clear that many parents view co-ed friendships with suspicion.

Secondly, there is a common conflation of nudity and sex in US media and public discourse. It is telling that the discomfort around trans people's public bathroom use is about potential sexual interactions rather than actually using the toilets.

As a logical proposition, the argument that bathroom use must be strictly divided on the basis of genitalia in order to prevent public sex has always confused me. For starters, experience shows that such interactions can and do happen without any connection to trans people. Most of us remember the 2007 bathroom stall incidentthat ultimately had Senator Larry Craig of Idaho resign, and news of cis straight couples having sex in public bathrooms surface with monotonous regularity. Moreover, it would be impossible to police genitalia-based bathroom use without engaging in precisely the kind of "peeping Tom" activity those opposed to non-discrimination protections for trans people claim inevitably would follow the adoption of such measures.

Third, and most importantly, the linkage between trans equality and public bathroom use surfaces the stereotyped notion of trans people as somehow over-sexed, "perverted" or perhaps just "making it up." I have previously written about the comment reportedly made by a lawyer who was arguing against a 6-year-old trans girl's right to use the girl's bathroom at her school, with reference to the notion that the girl might be lying about her gender identity and really just want to see other girls go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, such preconceived notions about trans people just making it up or being over-sexed are not isolated to this case.

To be clear: gender identity is not about sex, it is about who we are. The founder of the website "We Happy Trans," Jen Richards, recently wrote a great piece about the fact that the trans community is as diverse as any other. Shocking, I know (not). The truth of the matter is that everyone has a right to non-discrimination, and that trans people pretty much everywhere face unique barriers to exercising this right because of stigma, stereotypes and legal obstacles to changing gender markers.

It is ridiculous that one of those barriers consistently should be someone else's discomfort with sharing a bathroom with people whose genitalia may or may not look like their own. Especially because the main point of those opposed to non-discrimination measures is that no one should be looking at anyone else's genitalia in the first place.

I say, enough with the bathrooms. No one should not have to pay for someone else's prudish illogic.

Friday
Jan312014

On Stigma and How to Make Safe Abortion Services Scarce in the U.S.

@SheRights

This week, Indiana saw several developments that could help or hurt women’s ability to access the medical care they need when they need it, especially if what they need is an abortion.

On Tuesday, a federal court fixed a time for its evaluation of the constitutionality of Indiana Senate Bill 371 (SB371). And on Wednesday, another bill—Indiana Senate Bill 292 (SB292) was debated in the Senate health committee.

SB371 seeks to limit access to abortion by stigmatizing comprehensive reproductive health clinics as “abortion clinics,” while SB292 seeks to limit access to abortion by stigmatizing medical providers as “abortion doctors.”

At heart of both SB 371 and SB 292 is the notion that clinics and medical providers who provide abortions somehow are different and therefore merit calling out.

Yet, as the very public schism between Susan B. Komen and Planned Parenthood in 2012 made clear, abortion is just one of the health services a comprehensive clinic provides. In the case of Planned Parenthood, only 3 percent of the services provided nationwide are abortions. So if one were to name Planned Parenthood clinics after the services most frequently provided, it might be the “HIV and Cancer Prevention Clinics” or, appropriately, the “Planned Pregnancy Clinics.”

Likewise, defining a doctor or midwife who is willing to perform abortions (surgical or not) as an "abortion doctor" or "abortionist" is equivalent to describing your most well-stocked local grocer as the “Gluten Free Bread Dealer.” Sure, it may be near impossible to obtain gluten-free bread in your neighborhood, and for most it won’t matter. But if you have celeriac disease, it is significant that someone is willing to take valuable shelf-space up with the one kind of bread you can eat without getting a stomach-ache.

But of course the point of Indiana’s bills is not to accurately describe what goes on in reproductive health clinics, or to dignify medical providers with descriptors that go to what they actually do. The point is to stigmatize abortions as bad, and the clinics and doctors who provide them as worse. The corollary of this thinking is that such “bad” clinics and people must be subject to more stringent government oversight. The ultimate objective is to make it very hard for anyone to provide or obtain a legal and safe abortion.

And it works. When Texas imposed more stringent rules on “abortion clinics” in 2013, at least a dozen clinics closed down. New restrictions allegedly proposed in Louisiana could take away any possibility for obtaining a legal and safe abortion in that state.  This week, Mikki Kendall recounted how Illinois laws allowing for the separation of service providers into those who do and those who don’t provide abortions almost cost her her life.

No one, however, should be under the misapprehension that making abortion less accessible will make it less prevalent. In countries where abortion is illegal, for example, women and girls who need to terminate their pregnancies still find ways to do so—usually unsafely. Researchers from the World Health Organization have called unsafe abortion “a preventable pandemic,” and estimates suggest that approximately 68,000 women per year die from complications caused by unsafe abortions. Yet abortion, when provided early in the pregnancy, is one of the safest medical procedures around, with less than 0.05 percent risk of complications needing hospital care.

In other words, it is not that abortion is an unsafe medical procedure. It is that laws limiting access to abortion—such as the laws debated in Indiana this week—make it unsafe. Instead of stigmatizing doctors who will provide abortions, we should stigmatize those who won’t.

Monday
Nov112013

Dress Codes and Other Sorry Excuses for Policing Identity

@HuffPostGay

Last month, the fifth grade parent group at my daughter's school had the first of many conversations about how to mark our children's transition to junior high. Unfortunately, the issue we discussed -- whether the kids would be wearing caps and gowns at the end-of-year celebration -- sidelined a much more important issue: what the kids would be wearing under these gowns. (My daughter's school had sent out a notice to parents that boys must wear one thing and girls another.)

For many children, a gendered dress code may be just another imposition by adults, and to some it may seem small compared with decisions related to bedtime, computer usage, and the precise meaning of the phrase "clean up your room." But to others it is a big deal. Indeed, clothing is such an essential expression of who we are that international law recognizes it as a human right to wear what we want, barring reasonable restrictions for the purposes of safety or to protect the rights of others.

And it is precisely because clothing can project our identity so concisely that the clothing associated with particularly stigmatized populations is vigorously policed around the world. For example, several European countries and some North American jurisdictions place restrictions on head coverings. These restrictions are closely linked to discomfort with Islam and are based on the negative and erroneous stereotype that Muslim women are "oppressed" and "submissive." In fact, even where headscarves are not explicitly prohibited by law, women can be fired for wearing them, and many are discriminated against even before landing a job.

Likewise, many jurisdictions enforce strictly gendered dress codes in public by eitherrequiring specific attire or criminalizing cross dressing. These restrictions are tied to stereotypes about sexuality and sex. Cross dressing is conflated with transgenderism, which again is conflated with an insatiable, predatory, or "perverted" sex drive. A good example of this is the comment reportedly made by a lawyer who was arguing against a 6-year-old trans girl's right to use the girl's bathroom at her school. "How do you know if someone is really thinking this way or not?" the lawyer is quoted as saying. "How do you know if someone just wants to go in the restroom and be a peeping Tom?"

The suspicion directed at trans people, cross dressers, or anyone whose gender expression is not traditional finds its most extreme expression in violent crimes committed against individuals who visibly do not conform to gender norms. But it is fueled by the little injustices in our daily lives. Being forced to wear clothing associated with an identity that we do not share or cannot align with is a powerful reminder that our true sense of self must be hidden to be safe.

Moreover, dress codes facilitate abuse, first by enforcing the notion that there is a "right" and a "wrong" way to dress, and that transgressers can and should be punished, and secondly by normalizing the punishment. Where we face sanctions and exclusion for being who we are (such as being thrown out of a public bathroom, being expelled from school, or being fired, for example), it is hard to avoid the basic feeling of being somehow "wrong." Over time, this feeling of "wrongness" can contribute to depression and the conviction that violence and discrimination is inevitable.

But it is not.

There is no legitimate reason for gendered dress codes, or for dress codes that enforce or prohibit a specific faith. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly noted that gender identity, including the right to dress according to who we feel we are, is one of the most basic essentials of self-determination. In the Americas, this sentiment finds legal expression in the adoption of several new laws that seek to protect everyone against discrimination, regardless of their gender identity.

We, the adults, need these laws because many of us have internalized gendered dress codes, which we have to unlearn. Not so for our children: They learn dress codes from us. So I, for one, will be telling my daughter that she can wear whatever keeps her warm, comfortable, and happy under her graduation gown (if she chooses to wear one).