|Photo by Anthony|
The Struggle for Gender Identity as a Human Right
Norwalk Human Rights Day
December 10, 2015
By Diana __________
Human Rights and equality are embedded in our history and culture, it is written in our Constitution and into our laws. However, the right to determine one’s gender is just taking hold in the U.S. and the world. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 and at that time, gender identity and sexual orientation wasn’t even an issue. It was not until the early sixties, during the civil rights movement, that the idea of determining one’s gender as a Human Right began to crystallize.
In 1969, a new revolution began, the era of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights. Most people have heard of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, but what most people haven’t heard was the details of the police raid. People think of Stonewall protesters as middle-class white gays and lesbians who rose up against police oppression. However, many of the resistors were poor trans people of color and Latinos that rebelled against New York City police.
During the police raid “Only people dressed in clothes of a different gender, people without IDs, and employees of the bar would be arrested. Everyone else would be released.” In an interview with Sylvia Rivera, a trans-woman, she said that the uprising began when “a dyke dressed in men’s clothing” resisted as the police put her into the paddy wagon.
It was then that the trans-community started to develop a voice of their own. In 1995, a group of lawyers headed by Phyllis Frye, who would later become the first transgender judge in Texas, held the “International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy” in Houston Texas. The conference wrote The International Bill of Gender Rights (IBGR). The IBGR for the first time listed the following basic rights: the right to define your gender identity, the right to free expression of gender identity, the right to secure and retain employment and to receive just compensation, along with seven other human rights. These were radical ideas and it was not until after the turn of the century that the rest of the world started to realize the need for these basic human rights for the trans-community.
That changed in 2006 when there was a human right conference in Yogyakarta (Yog·ya·kar·ta), Indonesia that met to develop a set of international human right principles for sexual orientation and gender identity. The conference was attended by human rights experts from around the world including judges, academics, and a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. When the conference ended they published the Yogyakarta Principles on sexual orientation and gender identity and they set out 29 Principles and listed sixteen recommendations.
The Principles addressed freedom from arbitrary detention, violence and torture, the right to privacy, and access to the justice system. The Principles also covered the right to employment, accommodation, social security, education and healthcare. They also listed the freedom to express one’s identity and one’s sexuality, and the right to one’s culture without government interference. The Principles were also far ahead of the times in that it also recognized the rights of persons to participate in family life something that we didn’t recognize until this year.
In December of 2008 at the United Nations, an initiative by France and the Netherlands, which was backed by the European Union, proposed a declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity. The declaration was signed by 66 nations; however, the United States was not a signatory. The opposition was led by Middle East and African nations, who opposed the resolution on religious grounds and that it infringed upon the rights of their countries. When Obama became president, the United States did sign the declaration in March of 2009. However, a setback occurred in November 2010 when African, Middle East and Caribbean nations were able to remove sexual orientation from a UN resolution condemning unjustified executions.
Here in Connecticut in 2000, the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) was asked if gender identity and expression was covered under the existing statutes and they ruled that it was covered under sex discrimination.
In 2004, Connecticut with bipartisan support expanded the Hate Crime law to include gender identity and expression and also disabilities. Then in 2011 the bill that provided protections for gender identity and expression was passed that provided protection in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit. And this year the birth certificate law was passed allowing the gender marker to be changed birth certificates without surgery.
Now the hard part needs to be done, education. We need to educate landlords and homeless shelter staff about the law. A 2011 national survey found that nineteen percent (19%) reported having been refused a home or apartment and 11% reported being evicted because of their gender identity/expression. One-fifth (19%) reported experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives because they were transgender or gender nonconforming; the majority of those trying to access a homeless shelter were harassed by shelter staff or residents, twenty-nine (29%) were turned away altogether, and twenty-two percent (22%) reported that they were sexually assaulted by residents or staff.
Last winter there was an incident at a homeless shelter here in Connecticut where a transgender woman was assaulted in a men’s shelter and that incident brought about a training initiative to train the shelter staff and 211 operators on the law and also cultural competency. Here in Norwalk we did training last month.
Finding employment is still very hard for trans people, when you are looking for a job, you never know why you never heard back from an employer; was it because that you are trans? It becomes very frustrating to be called in for an interview only to be told that they have filled the position when they see you walk through the door. We also worry about letters of recommendations from our former employers, will they mis-gender us? Unemployment and under employment is rampant in the transgender community it is twice as high as the national average. In the same national survey they found that forty-seven percent (47%) said they had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion because of being transgender or gender non-conforming. Over one-quarter (26%) reported that they had lost a job due to being transgender or gender non-conforming and ninety percent (90%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job. For black transgender people the numbers are even higher.
We need to make sure as transgender people get older that they don’t face discrimination in long term care facilities or if they have home care that they do not get harassed in their own home. Many lesbians, gays, bi, and transgender people are shunned in assisted care facilities by the residents and are forced back into the closet. Many senior centers are the state are now having a LGBT day for the transgender, bi, gay, and lesbian seniors and that imitative needs to be expanded to other centers around the state.
We have come a long ways since the UN Declaration of Human Rights was past back in 1948, but we must be vigilant to insure that our rights are not taken away. Here in Connecticut a bill was introduced in the Insurance Committee this year to strip insurance coverage from us. It would have removed coverage for us that were related to Gender Confirming Surgeries, thankfully the bill never made it out of committee. All around the nation states are trying to limit the rights of transgender people, they are trying to limit our right to express our gender identity in schools, they are trying to limit our use of bathrooms, and they refuse to let us change our driver licenses and birth certificates. We must all work to bring about change.