Trans Rights are Human Rights
Trans rights are human rights. Everyone, including transgender people, are entitled to their human rights from the day they are born. Yet, all over the world and in the United States, transgender people face discrimination, systemic inequality, and violence.
November 28, 2022
By Isaac Byrd ’24
Trans rights are human rights. Everyone, including transgender people, are entitled to their human rights from the day they are born. The fight for trans rights in the United States has become easier throughout the years, but it is far from over. We are becoming more visible due to representation in the media and in daily life, but we continue to struggle to live our lives with dignity. All over the world an in the United States, transgender people face discrimination, systemic inequality, and violence. There are an estimated 2 million trans people in the United States with our own lives and struggles. We are students, workers, parents, and children. We are young and old. We are humans. We deserve to enjoy our lives with dignity and respect.
What is the status of trans rights internationally?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that all people are entitled to certain rights from birth without discrimination. However, trans people experience instances of discrimination and condemnable violence that prevent them from living their lives with the dignity and full respect for their rights. As examples, laws and policies in Ukraine, Kuwait, Japan, and Malaysia limit trans people’s rights to health, expression, and education – all which violate dignity.
While some countries permit trans people to be legally recognized according to the gender they identify as, they impose degrading processes and harmful procedures that must be followed to achieve that recognition. In Ukraine, the process for legal recognition requires individuals to endure a 45 day long in-patient psychiatric evaluation and a medical diagnosis of “transsexualism” witness by a government official. According to the Human Rights Watch, this process involves medical testing unrelated to legal gender recognition requirements along with the coerced sterilization. In addition, the process requires an extensive time commitment, travel, and financial cost. As an example, Tina, a 38 year old transgender woman, reported to the Human Rights Watch that she was forced to live in a high-security men’s ward and permitted only 45 minutes of exercise a day during her 45 day in-patient evaluation. Additionally, the restrooms did not have locks and she was prohibited from receiving her hormone replacement therapy. Tina’s treatment was humiliating, unsafe, and a violation of her dignity and rights.
In countries where being transgender is criminalized, access to adequate healthcare is extremely difficult to acquire. Transgender women in Kuwait, where there are strict gender identity and expression laws, can be refused care by medical professionals who are often required to report patients to law enforcement if they suspect they are transgender. Transgender people in Kuwait are unable to alter their gender on their government issued identification cards, effectively eradicating their access to healthcare.
Cases of transgender youth facing discrimination and violations of their rights to expression and education are prevalent globally. Transgender students in Japan who attend schools with strict uniform policies are prohibited from expressing themselves as the gender they identify as unless they receive a “Gender Identity Disorder” diagnosis and undergo a rigorous legal process. Japan’s legal gender recognition process mandates that an individual must have sexual reassignment surgery. Trans youth reported to the Human Rights Watch that these standards result in unreasonable pressure to transition before they apply for jobs or enter higher education. This pressure coupled with extreme anxiety leads to high absence and dropout rates.
Malaysia’s regulations for recognizing transgender youth are cruel and inhumane. Their Education Administration policy is explicitly harmful and discriminatory as it legitimizes physical abuse, specifically caning, as a form of punishment for transgender youth who express themselves as the gender they identify as. The policy also requires that transgender students be suspended or expelled for having “gender confusion.”
What is the status of trans rights in the United States?
Trans citizens of the United States also face violations of human rights though the form of violation may vary. While being trans is not currently criminalized, gender-based violence and discrimination against trans people is prominent in the United States. Despite more visibility and recognition in popular culture, many states, including Michigan, are attempting to implement policies that directly infringe upon the rights of transgender people including their rights to health, legal recognition, and family rights.
Florida is one of the many states that restrict access to gender affirming healthcare for transgender patients. According to NPR, in August of 2022 the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration implemented a new policy which prohibits health care providers from administering treatment for gender dysphoria to transgender patients on Medicaid. A little under 10,000 transgender people in Florida rely on the state’s Medicaid program in order to pay for their gender affirming treatments (this data set is only based on transgender adults and not transgender youth). This ban has the potential to cast a devastating effect on transgender people in Florida and parents of transgender youth who require Medicaid in order to cover treatment.
This policy directly discriminates against transgender people and their right to health and basic dignity.
NPR also reports that in September there were a number of anti-trans proposals created by the Montana Health Department collaborating with Montana Republicans in the legislature that were being blocked from passage by the state’s Supreme Court. These bills would effectively restrict transgender people from changing their gender on their birth certificate. The main stipulation is that transgender people must undergo surgery in order to have their gender changed on their birth certificates, but the type of surgery is not specified.
Everyone is guaranteed the right to legal recognition before the law, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which the U.S. has ratified). If this right was equally applied, everyone would be able to alter their form of legal recognition. There is no reason a state should not allow an individual’s legal identity to match their gender identity.
Michigan Legislature – House Bill 6454 seeks to redefine child abuse to penalize parents of transgender youth in Michigan law. If this bill were to pass, parents of transgender children and medical professionals could be sentenced to life in prison for providing gender affirming care. The Bill’s sponsors seek to change the very definition of child abuse to apply to any individual who “knowingly or intentionally consent to, obtains, or assists with a gender transition procedure for a child.” This language would prohibit not only gender affirming surgery, which is extremely rare for transgender youth to undergo, it also prohibits all forms of gender affirming health care such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy for anyone under the age of 18. Parents of transgender youth and medical professionals could face 25 years to life in prison for these actions which would be defined as “child abuse in the first degree.” The bill represents an egregious violation of the rights to health, the protection of the family, the right to privacy, and rights to equality and dignity. Further, it would greatly threaten the health and well-being of transgender youth. The Trevor Project reports that 20% of transgender youth who live in non gender-affirming communities or states attempt suicide. One of the best ways to combat this statistic is to support trans kids. Parents should be supported, not criminalized, for doing everything in their power to help their child live a life with dignity under the protection of the family unit.
These examples represent only some of the rights violations that transgender people are subjected to. Transgender people are more vulnerable to gender-based violence, sexual assault, forced sterilization, maltreatment in medical and bureaucratic spheres, and brutal murder. The risk is even higher for trans people of color, trans migrants, trans people with HIV, and trans sex workers. The Trans Murder Monitoring Project, which systematically monitors, collects and analyzes reports of homicides of trans and gender diverse people worldwide recorded almost 2,000 brutal murders between 2007 and 2014, most of which involved signs of significant torture and in some cases mutilation.
How can you help?
- Contact policymakers and ask them to pass laws that protect the rights of trans youth and their parents at local, state, and federal levels. Oppose laws and policies like Michigan House Bill 6454 that violate the rights of trans people. You can find your elected officials and how to contact them here and here.
- Support organizations that actively support trans rights and trans people like the National Center for Transgender Equality.
- Support internationally led organizations that support trans rights and trans people like Human Rights Watch and GATE (Global Action for Trans Equality).
- Register to vote and then vote for candidates that support trans rights!
Isaac Byrd is a trans student from Albion, Michigan at Albion College. They are a political science major working for the Human Rights Lab and they are deeply involved in various campus organizations including Albion College Democrats and Students for Reproductive Justice. Isaac uses they/them and he/him pronouns.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily represent Albion College