Archive for the 'Kyrgyzstan' Category

“Not even a beast would do such things” – one woman’s experience of transphobic violence in Kyrgyzstan

August 3, 2010

Screen grab from "Violence against transgender people in Kyrgyzstan", 2008It’s nearly a month since I last wrote about the injustices and danger faced by trans women in Kyrgyzstan and in the meantime, Anna Kirey, Senior Advisor and Board Member at Labrys Kyrgyzstan and I have exchanged a few emails. Although I don’t want to go into too much detail in this public forum, I will say that it’s been a very instructive exchange for me, and I hope we are able to continue it and that I can write further about it soon.

In the meantime, in her latest email, Anna sent a link to a 4-minute long YouTube video (made by Labrys in collaboration with the Global Fund For Women) which I’m posting here. It records one woman’s experience of transphobic violence in Kyrgyzstan.


Trigger warning: The video and its subtitles contain graphic descriptions – including of rape and violence – of the experiences of a trans woman, and her subsequent mistreatment by the authorities when she and a representative of Labrys tried to report the attack.

If you feel this might be triggering for you, please do not play the video.


(Direct link:


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Kyrgyzstan: “No penis, no passport”

July 6, 2010

It’s nearly two years since I wrote about the complete erasure of Kyrgyz trans women by Human Rights Watch in their report These Everyday Humiliations: Violence Against Lesbians, Bisexual Women, and Transgender Men in Kyrgyzstan (direct link to 48-page PDF). I emailed the Advocacy Director of HRW’s LGBT Rights Program querying why there was no mention of trans women and was told that:

[HRW] relied on information and contacts, provided by our colleagues from the Kyrgyz LGBT organization Labrys. They could not find trans women who were willing to give testimony.

And yet, if we assume the NHS estimate that 1 in 4,000 people is receiving medical help for gender dysphoria is both reasonably accurate and generally representative (yeah, I know, big assumptions), then for a country with a population of some 5.4 million people (via Wikipedia) it doesn’t take a lot of prodding at a calculator to come up with a guesstimate that there may be around 1350 trans people in the Kyrgyz Republic today.

In addition, we know from the HRW report that there are Kyrgyz trans men and, again drawing on the NHS estimates, the ratio of trans women to trans men is reported to be 5:1. Another quick jab at the calculator would suggest therefore, that there could be around 1125 trans women in Kyrgyzstan.

So where are they? Why don’t they show up in NGO and governmental reports and statistics? Why are Kyrgyz trans women so completely invisible to the world at large?

Perhaps this article at eurasianet offers some clues. As the writer, Dalton Bennett (a freelance journalist based in Bishkek), points out, there are real obstacles to transitioning:

Though, legally, Kyrgyz citizens have the right to change their sexual identification, “there are no mechanisms for implementation of this law. The lack of relevant documents that define this process is a barrier to exercise this right,” says Erik Iriskulbekov, a lawyer at the Adilet Legal Clinic in Bishkek and member of the Ministry of Health’s working group.

Under existing legislation, transgender individuals are required to submit a medical form to their local civil registry certifying them as “transsexuals” in order to change their documents. But the form in question does not exist, activists complain. The process thus leaves their gender ambiguous.

This was confirmed by Anna Kirey, Senior Adviser at Labrys Kyrgyzstan during a telephone interview with HRW researchers in 2007:

Ministry of Health policy allows transgender people in Kyrgyzstan in principle to undergo sex reassignment surgery (SRS), and afterward they may legally change their gender in official identity papers. However, SRS is not now performed in the medical system in Kyrgyzstan—and complete SRS is a condition for legal identity change. A Ministry of Health representative told Labrys in May 2007 that it recognized the need for improved procedures for legal identity change and that it was developing a more streamlined process. In the meantime, transgender men (and women) experience tremendous hardship as a result of having a legal identity in limbo.

And this quote from the eurasianet article only emphasises the seemingly Kafkaesque nature of obtaining parity between one’s core sex identity and legal status:

“One person denied the right to change his documents was told in court, ‘No penis, No passport,’ and the judge struck his gavel. They said this in court!” exclaims Akram Kubanychbek, a member of the Ministry of Health’s working group. Kubanychbek is a transgender man who changed his passport’s gender marker with the help of an inexperienced yet compassionate bureaucrat.

Recent UNHRC recommendations have been accepted by the Kyrgyz government. As yet, they haven’t been implemented; nevertheless Anna Kirey hopes this acceptance will eventually lead to a much greater understanding of the rights of trans and GLB issues:

“It’s unusual for a Central Asian country to accept any [recommended approaches] to sexual orientation,” Kirey says. “I feel the new government is going to give us a lot more space for bringing LGBT issues into a more mainstream human rights agenda.”

I hope that the human rights of the hundreds of invisible trans women will be included in this process of change and that serious efforts will be made to reach out to them; although I don’t think anyone is under any illusion that the much-needed changes in Kyrgyzstan are going to happen overnight. A profound shift is needed in the attitudes of the general population too, and that is going to take time. The question is whether Kyrgyz trans women are able to survive the wait.


Curtsey to Richard for the heads-up


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T-World: Kyrgyzstan’s First Trans Comic

July 6, 2010

The graphic pamphlet named “T-World: Kyrgyzstan’s First Trans-Comic” – created by the Kyrgyz LGBT organization Labrys – tells the story of the persecution and humiliation a transgender person faces in the Central Asian country.

Click here to download the PDF


Images courtesy Labrys


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Kyrgyzstan: These Everyday Humiliations

October 6, 2008

Via Lisa comes this link to a distressing Reuters news item about a Human Rights Watch report, These Everyday Humiliations: Violence Against Lesbians, Bisexual Women, and Transgender Men in Kyrgyzstan.

(The report itself, a 48-page document, was previously archived at the UNHCR website, but the original link I posted appears now to be defunct. So here’s a link to a copy stored locally)

It’s hard not to notice that trans women aren’t even mentioned in the title. And, as far as I can tell, the content of the report contains only occasional references to ‘transgender people’ – whereas ‘transgender men’ are referred to frequently. But not once do I see the term ‘transgender women’.

This – at best – hesitancy towards noting (and, at worst, erasure of) the existence of trans women by an organisation concerned with human rights is deeply, deeply troubling. Even the report’s conclusions continue with the same air of uncertainty and confusion, time after time:

VI. Recommendations

The most common refrain from the lesbians, bisexual women, women who have sex with women, and transgender men that Human Rights Watch spoke with for this report was the simplest: acknowledge that we exist. Such an acknowledgement means they are bearers of rights, and that their sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be used to deny those rights or subject them to violence or discrimination. […]

To the Government of Kyrgyzstan

Educate law enforcement and the judiciary about lesbians and transgender men


Improve direct services for lesbians and transgender men:

  • Establish new and financially support existing short-term crisis response centers and long-term shelters that can provide targeted assistance to lesbians and transgender men, and their minor children, either with other victims of violence or in independent facilities.[…]

To International Financial Institutions

  • The World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development should include gender-based violence and discrimination against lesbians and transgender men among the issues raised in their country strategies for Kyrgyzstan, and encourage the Kyrgyz authorities to take adequate measures to address them.


To the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

  • Include human rights and, specifically, discrimination and violence against lesbians and transgender men—including domestic violence—among the components of the OSCE Police Assistance Program for Kyrgyzstan. […]


To the European Union

  • […] Raise the issue of violence and discrimination against lesbians and transgender men in meetings with senior Kyrgyz government officials. […]

To the United States Government

  • […] Raise the issue of gender-based violence, including violence and discrimination against lesbians and transgender men, in meetings with senior Kyrgyz government officials. […]

The human rights breaches against lesbians, bisexual women and transgender men as described in this document are horrific enough, but I really don’t understand why the existence of trans women is so completely unreported.

It’s hard to believe that HRW are unaware of the existence of trans women; it’s equally hard to believe that HRW doesn’t understand the terminology.

But whatever the reasoning behind this omission, the result is the same: if trans women are excluded from this process, then they cannot benefit from any future legislative reforms and protections in the same way that lesbians, bisexual women and trans men will.


ETA, 10 October: You know how, sometimes, a thing just bugs you and all you want is a straight answer, so you can put your mind at rest? That’s how I felt about the apparent erasure of trans women from this report.

So, on 6 October, immediately after I posted this piece, I dug around and tracked down the contact details for Boris Dittrich, the Advocacy Director of HRW’s LGBT Rights Program. And I emailed him.

Dear Boris Dittrich

Having been looking through the newly published HRW report, “These Everyday Humiliations: Violence Against Lesbians, Bisexual Women, and Transgender Men in Kyrgyzstan” (, I am confused by the terminology used.

I write to ask if you would please clarify how HRW defines the term transgender men.

I am a trans (transsexual) woman ( and my understanding of the terms this report uses would seem to exclude trans women in Kyrgyzstan. If HRW and I are working to similar definitions, then I have to say that I find the omission of trans women from the report to be a very distressing oversight. I cannot imagine any circumstance where I would wish to be identified as a transgender man.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Helen G

And today I received his reply.

Dear Helen,

For our report on Kyrgyzstan we relied on information and contacts, provided by our colleagues from the Kyrgyz LGBT organization Labrys. They could not find trans women who were willing to give testimony. That’s why the report is like it is.

Thanks for reading our report.

Boris O. Dittrich

So now I have my answer, and I can draw only one conclusion: HRW couldn’t find any trans women willing to say they were victims of violence, therefore they can’t be victims of violence (because they don’t exist), and are then – obviously – not worth mentioning as being victims of violence.

It seems to me that this report and Boris Dittrich’s response not only denies the existence of trans women but, if adopted by the Government of Kyrgyzstan, will also effectively legitimise future incidences of violence (up to and including murder) against any and all Kyrgyz trans women, simply for being trans women – for existing.

And saying that Labrys (the Kyrgyz LGBT organization) “could not find trans women who were willing to give testimony” is a risible attempt by HRW to absolve itself of the terrible responsibility that will be its legacy in Kyrgyzstan. HRW’s stony indifference to the suffering of Kyrgyz trans women is breathtakingly hard-faced and, in my opinion, a huge breach of the human rights it professes to care about. Words fail me at this point.