A new report by Thomas Hammarberg, the commissioner for human rights for the Council of Europe, examines the legal and social situation
for queer people in Europe.
The report, “Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation
and Gender Identity” is a whopping 134 pages long. It is the largest study ever done on discrimination on the grounds of sexual
orientation and gender identity in the 47 member states of the Council of
Just let me clarify quickly: the Council of Europe is
separate from the European Union (EU). It is an international organization with
47 member countries (the EU has only 27) that was set up to promote democracy
and protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe.
The report is not particularly uplifting and, not
surprisingly, it raises concerns about the situation of transgender people.
Homophobic and transphobic attitudes were identified in
all member states, although attitudes varied significantly among and
within the countries.
It also pointed out that “biased, outdated and incorrect
information, as well as stereotypical portrayals of LGBT persons in the media
and in textbooks contributed to the shaping of negative attitudes.”
The invisibility of queer people is a recurring theme as is the lack of a serious discussion about “their” human rights.
When it comes to discrimination, trans folk are not
explicitly protected under the existing laws. Where they are protected the laws
are not explicit enough or are only available for a narrowly defined group.
If you are trans it is also extremely difficult to have your
preferred gender legally recognized.
“Most member states fail to provide for legal gender
recognition of transgender people, be it by completely absent legislation or
cumbersome and unclear procedures. A majority of 30 member states require
individuals seeking to change documents to undergo gender reassignment surgery,
a heavily invasive treatment of often questionable quality and serious health
And what if you are married and trans? Well, that’s a
whole different problem. Sixteen member states require that trans people be
single. So if you are married, you have to get divorced in order to be
recognized as trans.
Getting access to gender reassignment treatment also poses a problem —
nearly half the states did not have the infrastructure suitable for gender
The news is not great, but the report has been done. It is
thorough and provides 36 policy recommendations for the members of the Council
Richard Köhler, co-chair of Transgender Europe says, “The
Commissioner addresses human rights violations transgender people are facing in
a very clear language. There is no way for member states to turn a blind eye on
research findings or recommendations. It is on them now to demonstrate
political will and follow the example of Thomas Hammarberg. Who wants to end
discrimination, needs to show face.”