Archive for the 'Transgender' 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:


Previous related posts:

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


Previous related posts:

Being transgender in Belgium: Mapping the social and legal situation of transgender people

May 30, 2010

IVGM logoVia email from the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IGVM), news of the publication of one of the few comprehensive large-scale research works undertaken anywhere on the situation of trans people in one country:

The research report Being transgender in Belgium gives an overview of the social and legal situation of transgender people in Belgium. The aim of this research was to map the discrimination and inequalities in practice, policy and legislation faced by transgender people. The research consisted of various phases, each with a specific methodological approach: a detailed literature review exploring terminology, prevalence, social position in various spheres of life and the legal position; an extensive online survey aimed at transgender people, followed by focus groups; a case study relating to the position of transgender people at the ground level. The research results are translated into policy recommendations in the concluding section of the report.

The brochure can be downloaded via the website of the Institute for the equality of women and men (go to Publicaties/Publications > Transgender/Transgenres), or can be ordered in print. It is also available in Dutch and French.


Direct link to a copy of the 205 page (1.8 MB) PDF file cached on this site)


Curtsey to Geraldine at IGVM for the heads-up


Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia

Indonesia: Fundamentalist group attacks transgender human rights workshop

May 13, 2010

Via email from Kamilia, Excecutive Director of Institut Pelangi Perempuan (Indonesian Youth Lesbian Center) comes the disturbing news of three recent attacks by members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) on transgender human rights workshops and HIV/AIDS seminars in West Java.

Dear all,

I just got an information, last night May 11, Islamic Defender Forum again attacked HIV/AIDS seminar in Bandung West Java. One of the participant wrote on mailing list said that they all fine at this moment and just stay in the hotel room for their safety. Within a month, it’s been 3 times they attacked LGBT groups in Indonesia.

The last incident happened several days ago in Depok West Java, transgender group hold a human rights workshop attacked by Islamic Defender Forum. it was actually organized by National Human Rights commission and one of the speaker is the commissioner, and they could not do anything at that time. It is too ironic even police asked the National Human Rights commission to leave the workshop. You can see this video of how fundamentalist groups attacked LGBT people on ILGA Asia conference in Surabaya Indonesia and Transgender group workshop in Depok West Java.

YouTube link:

YouTube link:

Sass Rogando Sasot, who forwarded Kamilia’s email, adds:

According to the news:

Dozens of members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) stormed a human rights training program intended for transgender individuals at a hotel in Depok, West Java.

The program, organized by the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM), had just begun when dozens of FPI members forced their way (past police) into the room.

The FPI is the same fundamentalist group that forced the cancellation of the ILGA-Asia Conference in March.

BBC profiles FPI in the same light as other radical groups in Indonesia.
Here’s the link:

For the news coverage about this incident, please visit:

  2. –> this is the video of how FPI raided the workshop (as you will see the police just allowed it to happen!)

Qatar: TS/TG people – human beings or behavioural deviants?

April 27, 2009

Qatari flagCompared with certain other Arab states – Saudi Arabia, for example – Qatar might appear to have relatively liberal laws, even though it’s still not as liberal as some other Persian Gulf countries. However, since the mid-1990s, Qatar has been undergoing a period of liberalisation and modernisation which brought many positive changes. For example, Qatar became the first Arab country of the Persian Gulf to extend suffrage to women. Nevertheless, the country still lags behind the UAE or Bahrain in terms of more westernised laws and though plans are being made for more development, the government is cautious. (Via Wikipedia)

Regrettably, with regard to TS/TG people, in some areas this caution seems to manifest itself in a rather old-fashioned but nonetheless toxic form of transphobia, as can been seen from a recent report in the Gulf Times (link here):

[…] Dr Saif al-Hajari, the deputy chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, described the emerging trend of “manly women” and “womanly men” as a “foreign trend” which, he said, had invaded the Qatari and Gulf communities as part of the “globalisation winds”.

Interestingly, the terms ‘manly women’ and ‘womanly men’ could have come straight from the pages of a reparative therapist’s manual and they are almost common currency amongst those transphobic cis women radical feminists who, believing that gender is absolutely a social construct, insist that trans people can only be deluded dupes and pawns of the patriarchy for undergoing medical transition when all we really need is a good talking-to, and perhaps a nice cup of tea.

And, at the same time as Dr Saif al-Hajari talks of the ‘globalisation winds’ that have ‘invaded’ the country, the Qatar Foundation’s own website (link here) makes much of its mission to prepare the people of Qatar and the region to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world.

There’s more than a hint of small-c conservatism about Dr Saif al-Hajari’s words, which seem curiously at odds with the wider trend towards a more liberalised society. And the rest of his comments don’t inspire confidence that he thinks TS/TG people should be treated fairly and with respect:

“This is an issue which can harm all our social and religious values.”

I would suggest that a society whose social and religious values can be threatened – in an unspecified way – by a tiny minority of people who self-identify in a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, is a society which has far deeper fissures in its foundations than anything that could be caused by the existence of TS/TG people.

“It needs some sort of bravery to address it.”

Oh please, Doctor: just listen to yourself. Perhaps if you did some work on the subject, you would realise that the real bravery is exhibited by those TS/TG people who live in another gender role, in a country where kneejerk transphobic reactions – like yours – are not only tolerated, but given airtime on national television.

“I have never imagined that one day I can see such behavioural deviations in our streets, schools or universities.”

This is simply a rather embarrassing display of an irrational fear of any gender presentation that exists outside a rigidly defined, artificial – and, frankly, archaic – binary. ‘Behavioural deviations’, indeed. Such things are defined by human beings and can easily be redefined to include, as to exclude. From where I sit, the phrase ‘behavioural deviations’ comes very close to hate speech, and is all the more cause for concern when it emanates from a country with a long and proud history of interacting with a multitude of races, peoples, languages and religions.

Not content with out-and-out transphobic hate speech, Dr Saif al-Hajari then proceeds to introduce xenophobia and paranoia into his arguments:

“These cases of behavioural deviations we have are not working alone. They co-ordinate with similar groups on regional and international levels,” he added.

The implication seems to be that there is some sort of international conspiracy to influence otherwise fine, upstanding, morally correct citizens into becoming some sort of threat to the established order by means of questioning their gender identity and presentation. Even a moment’s research would expose this assertion for the laughable fallacy that it represents. We transition to survive; not to overthrow governments.

To a question whether foreign education institutes established in Qatar are responsible for the spread of the phenomenon, Dr al-Hajari said that Qatar Foundation, which is the umbrella of foreign universities in Qatar, should set up a mechanism to protect young people in such universities from “invading behaviours”.

“We need to educate the administrative and teaching staff of these [foreign education institutes] on the special traits of our society.”

Hmm. Socio-cultural rehabilitation, anyone?

We are expected to accept the phrase ‘the special traits of our society’ without question. I’d be very interested to know how Dr Saif al-Hajari defines those ‘special traits’, and where he obtains his authority to make such definitions.

As for “invading behaviours” – has Dr Saif al-Hajari never heard of mukhannathun? There have been TS/TG people across the Arabian Peninsula – across the entire world – for as long as there have been humans. This is not a new phenomenon, a ‘trend’ to be reversed or a conspiracy to be repressed: it is an established and internationally recognised condition with a considerable body of medical evidence to support its existence.

“Some foreign schools and universities hire staff hailing from communities that do not see any problem in what we think of as deviations. This is a problem that should be dealt with.”

Again, it is unclear precisely why Dr al-Hajari believes that TS/TG people are a ‘problem’ to be ‘dealt with’.

It must surely be a matter of concern for anyone with even a passing interest in equality and human rights that such a forward-looking country should apparently tolerate such regressive and repressive views being expressed by so senior a person as the deputy chair of one of Qatar’s best known private, chartered, non-profit organisations. Dr al-Hajari, it is time to leave behind these proposals for the inhuman treatment of gender variant people – you may not understand us, but you can at least accept us as the fellow and equal human beings we are, in all our glorious diversity.

Everyone Matters

March 17, 2009

Alishia is a firefighter. Enoch is a university professor. Dana is a software engineer. Jesse is an HIV prevention educator. Each makes invaluable contributions in the work place and in the community. And each faces the threat of losing a job, being denied housing or health care, and suffering violence and harassment simply for being transgender.

In Everyone Matters: Dignity and Safety for Transgender People – a new video produced by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders(GLAD) Transgender Rights Proejct, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coaltion (MTPC), and MassEquality – Alishia, Enoch, Dana, and Jesse talk about their jobs, their family, their hopes, and their worries. Framed by hope and optimism, their stories nevertheless show how vulnerable transgender people still are, and highlight the need for comprehensive laws to ensure that people can obtain and retain employment, remain safe on the streets, and have access to health care and housing.

Everyone Matters allows the viewer to hear from transgender people first-hand about their lives, and makes a powerful case for the passage of transgender-inclusive anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws in Massachusetts and beyond.

Please support the passage of transgender-inclusive non-discrimination and hate crimes legislation. For more information visit

Human Rights Violations on Kenya’s TS&TG Community

January 28, 2009

Flag of KenyaSokari at Black Looks has posted a paper by Audrey Mbugua called Human Rights Violations on Kenya’s Transgender Community.

It’s a solidly-researched and impassioned piece which includes a request by the Kenyan TS&TG community to the government there to make suitable provisions in the New Constitution. I recommend reading the whole thing, but here are a couple of quotes that particularly struck me.

Because of the conflation of transgenderism and homosexuality, the common fallacies that come out when we look into the history of “transgender hate” oppression is that it’s mostly labeled as “gay hate” oppression. But, on a closer look, a vast majority of these “gay hate” crimes are actually atrocities done on Kenya’s transgender community.

Transgendered people in Kenya have always been part of the Kenyan society since time immemorial. Transgenderism and transsexualism like homosexuality are a source of great phobia in our society. Although the Kenyan Constitution does not criminalize transsexualism and transgenderism, there are both institutionalized and non-institutionalize forms of discrimination pervading in Kenya.

When we don’t raise our voice against these thoughtless acts of human degradation, we knowingly allow perpetual oppression of transgender individuals.

While you cannot force people to love you, you have the right to be treated with dignity and respect by those around you irrespective of any condition you might find yourself in.

Link: Human Rights Violations on Kenya’s Transgender Community


(Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia)

Honduran trans rights activist murdered

January 13, 2009

Honduras flagLast October I wrote about a report by Human Rights Watch (press release here), in which I was (and remain) critical of what I called the organisation’s “stony indifference to the suffering of Kyrgyz trans women”.

So I’m heartened to see this piece on their website in which Juliana Cano Nieto, a researcher with HRW’s LGBT Rights Program, calls for a full investigation of the murder last week of Cynthia Nicole. Ms Nicole was a Honduran trans rights activist and a leader of Colectivo Violeta (an organisation working for the rights and health of transgender people).

“Cynthia Nicole fought tirelessly to secure basic rights protections for transgender sex workers,” said Juliana Cano Nieto. “The authorities need to find and prosecute the perpetrators of this and previous attacks against the trans community”.


Serious violence against transgender people in Honduras has been going on for years. Activists in the country have called this to the attention of domestic authorities, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and UN special rapporteurs, with no response from the Honduran government.

Cynthia Nicole’s murder is the fifth in Honduras in the past two months and the figures support HRW’s claim that “violence targeting Honduras’s transgender community appears to be on the rise”:

  • January 9: Cynthia Nicole received three shots in the chest and one in the head in a drive-by shooting
  • December 20: members of the police assaulted a transgender activist doing HIV/AIDS outreach work
  • December 17: an attacker stabbed Noelia, a transgender sex worker, 14 times
  • November 21: an attacker shot Bibi, a transgender sex worker
  • November 20: an attacker killed Yasmin, a transgender sex worker and colleague of Cynthia Nicole

It’s my view that hate crimes like these must not deter trans people and our allies from working in whatever ways we can to bring about national and international recognition of, and support for, our entitlement to the protection of not only our fundamental human rights but also our very existence.

MPs call for Commons committee to consider representation of… well, just about everyone but trans people, apparently

November 16, 2008

Via Pink News:

Facebook trans logoA Labour MP has said a new special parliamentary committee that will examine ways of making the House of Commons more diverse should include gay, lesbian and bisexual people as an under-represented group.

The House agreed yesterday to establish a Speaker’s Conference.

A Speaker’s Conference is convened by the Speaker of the House of Commons following an invitation from the Prime Minister.

Under the impartial leadership of the Speaker, MPs from both the major and minority parties are brought together to consider issues within the electoral system. It must report before the end of this Parliament.

Speaker’s Conferences are rare. The last one took place in 1977-78 and there were only five conferences in the 20th century.

Commons leader Harriet Harman told MPs it would “make recommendations for rectifying the disparity between the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons and their representation in the UK population at large.

“As Members of this House, we represent 646 different constituencies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, it is not enough to have a geographical representation.

“For people in this country, their identity comes not just from where they live, but from whether they are men or women, whether they are disabled, whether they are black or white and whether they are gay or lesbian.

“Society has changed and we must recognise that the House of Commons needs to change, too.

“As women in this country, we now regard ourselves as equal citizens, yet we are not equal in numbers in this House. We are out-numbered by men by five to one.

“This country is ethnically diverse now—indeed, it has been for many decades—but of 646 Members, only 15 are black or Asian. To be representative of our population, we should have more than four times that number.”

Ms Harman said that she hopes at least one gay MP is appointed to the committee and expressed a hope that gay equality organisation Stonewall would “make an important contribution” to its work.

17 MPs and the Speaker will consider how to achieve greater diversity in Parliament and then make recommendations.

Backbench Labour MP Emily Thornberry at least mentions bi people – but still excludes the T-word:

“The proposed Speaker’s Conference should expand its remit to consider the increased representation of lesbians, gay people and bisexuals, because to have only one out lesbian in this place of 1,300 politicians is not sufficient to be able to speak about the lived experience of Britain’s 1.8million lesbians.”

But note that Harriet Harman – the MP calling for this – excludes mention of either bi or trans people:

“For people in this country, their identity comes not just from where they live, but from whether they are men or women, whether they are disabled, whether they are black or white and whether they are gay or lesbian.”

Note also that the LGBT Labour Co-chair, Katie Hanson, is the only person quoted in this report to use the acronym LGBT:

“Labour has lead the way in making the Commons more diverse and more representative – but there is still a long way to go. LGBT Labour welcomes the Speaker’s Conference as a way of moving this forward, and we support the call from Labour backbencher Emily Thornberry for the conference to include LGBT representation as part of its remit.

Also from the report itself:

Ms Harman said that she hopes at least one gay MP is appointed to the committee and expressed a hope that gay equality organisation Stonewall would “make an important contribution” to its work.

The involvement of Stonewall means that there is unlikely to be any inclusion of trans people because, as we know, they only look out for GL…[b] people.

And also, as we know, PFC – the group ‘traditionally’ charged with looking out for trans people – appear to dismiss out of hand anyone who doesn’t toe the conformist party line (“those kind of people”?) – so even if PFC *was* involved, it is unlikely anybody from the grass roots trans community would even be consulted anyway.

I’ll stop now before I really get into rant mode.


ETA, Monday 17 November: See also:


ETA #2, Monday 17 November: So I concocted a letter and emailed Harriet Harman (Leader of the House of Commons), copied to Michael Martin (Speaker).

I can’t help but feel it won’t make the slightest difference, but I guess I should be used to that by now. But you have to try.

“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”, as somebody said a long time ago.

Dear Ms Harman,

Proposal to hold a Speaker’s Conference

I refer to the recent proposal to hold a Speaker’s Conference to address the under-representation of minority groups in Parliament.

As you observed in your announcement of 12 November, “For people in this country, their identity comes not just from where they live, but from whether they are men or women, whether they are disabled, whether they are black or white and whether they are gay or lesbian. Society has changed and we must recognise that the House of Commons needs to change, too.”

Whilst I welcome the broadly inclusive nature of the comment, I am concerned that there seems to be no specific reference to gender nonconforming people. I am a trans (transsexual) woman and believe that people like me are not only chronically under-represented but also institutionally marginalised and routinely subject to the effects of prejudice and bigotry from other members of wider society. Therefore I believe it is vital that we are properly represented by those for whom we have voted.

I should be grateful if you would confirm that people like me will be included in this process, and that we will be permitted to make individual representations to the Conference.

I look forward to receiving your reply in the near future.