Speaking ahead of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17 May, a group of United Nations and international human rights experts* urge States and other stakeholders to protect trans and gender diverse** children and adolescents effectively from discrimination, exclusion, violence and stigma and to foster supportive family environments for trans and gender diverse people.
“We urge States worldwide to adopt a legal and policy framework, with comprehensive implementation measures, to protect the rights of trans and gender diverse youth, respectful of gender diversity, and to enable the realisation of their fullest potential.
Of paramount importance are the principles of equality and non-discrimination, right to life, survival and development, best interests of the child and respect for the child’s views. Families have a crucial role in creating a safe and loving environment – a safe haven – for trans and gender diverse children and adolescents.
Sadly, in some families, trans and gender diverse children remain stigmatized, ostracized, marginalized and rejected. Many of those children remain at risk of physical, sexual and psychological violence in community settings and within their own families, including crimes committed in the name of so-called ‘honour’.
Trans and gender diverse children and adolescents are also more vulnerable to school-related violence (bullying) and exclusion in the classroom, playgrounds, toilets and changing rooms, on the way to and from school, as well as online (cyberbullying).
A hostile environment can regrettably force trans and gender diverse students to drop out of school and push them out of their families at early ages. They become vulnerable to homelessness, informal job markets, criminalized economies, police profiling, and leading to a cycle of poverty and marginalization and further discrimination and violence as a life-long predicament.
We call on States to adopt and implement effective measures prohibiting violence, anti-discrimination laws covering gender identity and expression -real or perceived- as well as sexual orientation as prohibited grounds for discrimination, to develop inclusive curricula and learning materials, training for and support to teachers and other school staff, education and support programs for parents, safe and non-discriminatory access to bathrooms, and awareness-raising programmes nurturing respect and understanding for gender diversity.
Rejection leaves trans and gender diverse children and adolescents vulnerable to mental health problems, including feelings of isolation and depression, and can lead to self-harm and suicide. It is, therefore, crucial to create safe and affirming spaces where these young people can be directly supported to help them address the prejudice and discrimination they may face.
On another front, the mere existence of laws or by-laws criminalizing gender expression including through offences of “cross-dressing” or “imitating the opposite sex” and other such discriminatory regulations impact on the liberty and security of these young people and tend to foster a climate where hate speech, violence and discrimination are condoned and perpetrated with impunity.
Criminalization and pervasive discrimination in such context lead to the denial of health care, including to safe gender affirming procedures, and to the lack of access to information and related services. Pathologizing trans and gender diverse people – branding them as ill based on their gender identity and expression – has historically been, and continues to be, one of the root causes behind the human rights violations against them.
We reiterate our call for States to decriminalize and depathologize trans and gender diverse identities and expressions, including for young transgender people, prohibit “conversion therapies” and refrain from adopting new criminalizing laws and pathologizing medical classifications, including in the context of the upcoming review of the International Classification of Diseases. We also call on States to provide equal access to health care and access to gender affirming treatment to those who seek it.
In most countries, transgender people are refused legal recognition of their self-defined gender, which can lead to further human rights violations in education, employment, healthcare, and beyond. Many States that do permit the modification of gender markers on identity documents impose abusive requirements, such as forced or otherwise involuntary surgery, sterilization, mental health diagnosis, psychiatric interventions or other coercive medical procedures.
Many of these practices violate the physical and mental integrity of individuals and related rights, amounting to ill-treatment or torture, and infringing their inherent dignity.
We call on States to facilitate quick, transparent and accessible legal gender recognition and without abusive conditions, guaranteeing human rights for all persons, respectful of free/informed choice and bodily autonomy. Coercive medical interventions/procedures should, therefore, never be employed. Regardless of their legal gender markers, young trans and gender diverse people should be allowed to use their own names and pronouns, and to dress according to their self-defined gender identity and expression.
Despite widespread abuses and lack of guarantee for their human rights in several settings, young trans and gender diverse people frequently lack access to remedy for the violation of their rights. It is thus critical that States investigate violations, hold those responsible to be accountable, and protect the rights of victims, including in regard to remedy, redress and compensation, effectively.
On the occasion of the 2017 IDAHOT, we remind States of their obligation to combat transphobia, which leads to violence and discrimination against young trans and gender diverse people, call on Governments to embrace human diversity, reflecting the universality and indivisibility of human rights, and underline the need for holistic implementation measures, including responsive laws, policies and practices. A universal, rights-based analysis of gender should address social constructions, practices and customs that tend to reinforce gender stereotypes.
We also call on States to encourage faith based organizations not to send negative messaging on trans and gender diverse persons. There is also a much welcome link with the Sustainable Development Goals to which all are committed, as the global impetus to ensure peaceful, just and inclusive societies to ‘Leave No One Behind’.
States should thus repeal legislation and related measures that criminalize gender expression and/or which affect trans and gender diverse people negatively, and provide accessible and non-discriminatory legal gender recognition procedures without abusive pre-conditions, including for young transgender people.
They should design and implement inclusive measures against violence and discrimination, complemented by pro-active promotion of public awareness, understanding, acceptance and respect for gender diversity worldwide.”
(*) United Nations and international human rights experts:
- UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRC/Pages/CRCIndex.aspx
- UN Committee against Torture (CAT): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CAT/Pages/CATIntro.aspx
- UN independent experts: Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ms. Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Mr. Dainius Pῡras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx
- Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR): http://www.iachr.org
- African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR): Mr. Lawrence Murugu Mute, Chairperson of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa http://www.achpr.org/
- Council of Europe: Mr. Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights: https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/home
(**) The statement refers to trans and gender diverse children and adolescents in an inclusive manner to include children and adolescents whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth, as well as those for whom their gender identity is not limited to binary concepts of being either a man or a woman and/or whose gender expression is not limited to being either masculine or feminine. This includes those who identify with third and other alternative genders, or a combination of genders.