Committe on Human Rights
Chaired by Benjamin Stephenson (NL)
As Ursula von der Leyen once stated “Being yourself is not your ideology. It’s your identity”. Transgender1 and gender2 non-conforming people are facing an increase of violence directed at them, all over Europe. As prejudiced transphobic hate speech3 sadly becomes more and more common, violence has also seen a correlated increase. Moreover, the EU has a long history of defending human rights at the transnational level, and this is most certainly not a time to stop. There is no justification to defile someone based on any part of their identity, or their existence as a whole. Transgender people in the EU have a right to live, like any other person does, without fear of violence, or their fundamental rights and freedoms being taken away due to someone’s caprice; and if the Member States will not guarantee it, then who will?
- Trans people face unproportionally high violence;
- Transphobia is becoming more common;
- Trans people are statistically more likely to be put in a vulnerable situation prone to violence;
- Transphobic violence is caused by transphobia and by extension cisnormativity;
- Trans people underreport violence against their community.
On August 27th, the German city of Münster held a Pride event which was to be a safespace4 for LGBTQI+ people. That very safespace, however, was broken by a man who started threatening a group of women, all while verbally harassing them with homophobic slurs. Then, Malte C., a 25 year old transgender man who was active in local queer5 groups, intervened. With the utmost unfortunate turn of events, Malte was brutalised by the assailant, and was beaten into a coma. Malte suffered a cerebral haemorrhage from the incursion, and passed on the following Friday. Malte was a victim of a hate crime. Tragedies, like this, do not exist in a vacuum. Transphobia is a snowball, crimes such as these can empower other transphobes. The growing transphobic sentiment across the EU is fueled by hate crimes like these.
The case of Malte C. displays how the violence does not appear out of nowhere – the assailant was spousing anti-queer rhetoric before he got violent. If his initial anti-queer rhetoric was curbed then Malte C. would still be around today. For transgender people to be liberated from facing this kind of violence, we must figure out how to holistically tackle transphobia. In order to properly tackle transphobia, the roots in anti-queerness and cisnormativity6 must be addressed.
Transgender people are over four times more likely to be the victims of violent crime. This phenomenon cannot be viewed in a vacuum; The high rate of violence that transgender people face is not pure luck, it is the byproduct of transphobia and cisnormativity. Transphobia materialises itself as anything from microaggressions7 to violent hate crimes. The increased rates of violence cannot be approached unless the underlying transphobia and cisnormativity is addressed. Simultaneously, transgender people have a higher chance of being coerced into more vulnerable situations like poverty, homelessness, unemployment or sex work, which makes them more apt to be the victim of violence. The issue of violence against transgender people is intertwined with all of the discrimination that trans people face, making the addressing of the issue all the more difficult.
Transgender Europe (TGEU)
Transgender Europe is a non-governmental organisation with a focus on protecting the rights of trans people. It was founded in 2005 during the first European Transgender Council. TGEU runs a “Trans Murder Monitoring” project to record how many people a year are killed in anti-trans violence. TGEU aims to make a Europe where gender diversity is celebrated, and where trans people are valued.
European Transgender Council
The European Transgender Council exists alongside TGEU. It is the biggest event for trans activists in Europe with over 200 participants. It functions as a forum to discuss the agenda for trans politics but simultaneously to celebrate the trans community.
International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association of Europe is an independent, international, non-governmental umbrella organisation with around 600 subsidiaries. They receive most of their funding from the EU and they redirect most of their funding to their subsidiaries. ILGA-Europe has a focus on LGBTI people, not necessarily only trans people.
Trans United Europe
Trans United Europe (also known as Trans European BPOC8 network) is a Trans non-governmental organisation with a focus on BPOC individuals, and mainly sexwork. They believe that the social and economic status of Trans BPOC people makes them especially vulnerable9.
Police and Criminal Justice Agencies
The Police and Criminal Justice Agencies are crucial in stopping violent crime against trans people. Transgender communities tend to lack trust in the police and underreport transphobic hate crimes. To stop transphobic crime, police and criminal justice agencies need to work on building a better relationship with the trans community.
Legal Framework/Measures already in place
Transgender people should be just as protected by the law as cis people. Moreover, as people living in the EU, they should be protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights has been affirmed by the European Court of Human Rights to protect trans people from unjustified discrimination. The Council of Europe called for Member States to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, which, unfortunately, is not something all Member States have done.
Across the EU, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has also been a major player, but not flawlessly. Cases such as P v S and Cornwall County Council have been massive jumps for trans rights and created a baseline for the treatment of trans people. Unfortunately, the CJEU has not been very all encompassing. The CJEU has failed to include non-binary individuals entirely and only view trans people through a medicalised lens, where equal protection is only required post gender reassignment surgery. This excludes all trans people who cannot, or do not want gender affirmation surgery/therapy. For trans people to be better protected by the law, it is required that they have the recognition they deserve.
Finally, when viewing individual Member States, every Member State should, in theory, protect trans people under their own non-discrimination frameworks. However, many Member States have reported no judgements or opinions relating to the unequal treatment of transgender people, indirectly making themselves complicit in the discrimination of transgender people. There’s, domestically, an absence of case law regarding transgender people also causing the prosecution of transphobic violence to be exacerbating. There are, however, some Member States who are much more progressive, and who have institutions such as self-determination, allowing adults to decide their own gender without medical or civil requirements. The most prominent NGO measure in place is TGEU’s Trans Murder Monitior. The resource not only displays the number of trans people murdered in each member state but it also provides up-to-date relevant information on the state of trans rights respectively.
At their core, the source of all the problems stem from transphobia. Our societies were built on cisnormativity which is the source of transphobia. Deductively so, if one wishes to tackle transphobic violence then both transphobia and cisnormativity, as a whole, must be considered, and reevaluated. Although it is not possible to rebuild society from the bottom-up without transphobia, there is definitely progress which can be made in curbing the prevalence of existing transphobia and cisnormativity. Unfortunately, since transphobia and cisnormativity are cultural, tackling them becomes much more complicated and could take generations before any significant progress is made.
Another key challenge, which is linked to the former challenge, is the vulnerable position that a lot of transgender people are put in that makes them prone to experiencing violence such as poverty, homelessness or sexwork. To liberate transgender people from the violence would require that the resources they need are provided for them. As long as they are continually coerced into vulnerable situations, they will be significantly more at risk of violence than the general population.
One more conflict that intertwines with the prior two challenges is the difficulties reporting to the police. The police, specifically police officers, are not viewed as being the most progressive when it comes to transgender rights. Unless there is trust built between the trans community and the police, transphobic crime will continue being underreported. There is a significant unresponsiveness or hostility from the behalf of the legal authorities when contacted by queer people so, consequentially, many trans people are averse to the police and would prefer to not report. The police must become more cognisant that transgender people are vulnerable, so that they do not overlook transphobic crime and so trans people do not underreport transphobic crime.
Moving forward there is a lot of work that needs to be done surrounding tackling violence against transgender people. As a general point, Member States should work to create hate crime legislation, based on gender identity on par with ethnic hate crimes. Transphobia needs to be more explicitly deplored by the Member States.
This requires that transgendered people have the basic human rights granting them visibility, and the self determination they need in order to be considered as their preferred identity, and thereby transgender. If transgender people are not recognised as such then transphobic crime will not be properly dealt with.
Combined with that, there needs to be a focus on assisting the most vulnerable people in the transgender community, including not only trans youth and BPOC but also trans sexworkers and homeless people. There needs to be resources available to these individuals, to protect them, and to remove them from situations which could lead to violence. The plight of trans people has gone on far too long and on its current trajectory, it does not appear to be headed in a good direction. However, the trans struggle is not already lost. There is a foreseeable future where trans people become accepted by society, if the EU can manage to liberate them from their oppression.
- Fatal Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in 2022 – An article by the Human Rights Campaign about violence against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming community in the USA.
- Understanding and supporting the transgender community | CNN – An article by Christopher Dawson to help the general issues that transgender people face.
- Violence Against Black Trans Women Is One of the US’ Deadliest Epidemics – YouTube – A video by VICE of the impact of violence against Black Trans Women on Black Trans Women.
- Trans Women and Intimate Partner Violence: Fundamentals for Service Providers (vawlearningnetwork.ca) – A Canadian Infographic about Trans Women and Intimate Partner Violence.
- Transgender Rights: A Decades-long Struggle for Equality | Retro Report – YouTube – A video by Retro Report about the history of Trans people facing violence and discrimination.
- Transgender (often abbreviated to trans) refers to a person whose gender identity does not correspond to their sex assigned at birth. Transgender is an umbrella term to refer to transmasculine, transfeminine, non-binary, or gender queer people.
- Gender is a socially constructed categorisation of certain characteristics including the norms, behaviours and roles associated with each gender.
- Transphobia is the irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against trans people.
- A safe space is a space that provides a physically and emotionally safe environment to a (typically marginalised) group of people.
- Queer is an umbrella term to refer anyone who is not cisgendered and/or heterosexual.
- Cisnormativity is an ideology built on the idea that cisgender is and should be the norm and that cisgender should be privledged above other gender identities.
- Microaggressions are verbal, behavioural or environmental slights, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative attitudes toward typically stigmatised or culturally marginalised groups.
- A self-determined designation of and for people who are black or a person of colour.
- The importance of intersectionality: All forms of oppression are interconnected, trans people cannot be liberated from violence unless all trans people are liberated from violence. This includes BPOC trans people, disabled trans people and impoverished trans people.