From the 28th of June till the 1st of July, 300 transgender activists from all over Europe are meeting in the Belgian city Antwerp for the annual European Transgender Council. This year is the seventh edition of TGEU.
The organisation of TGEU calls the conference a place to provide a space for healing, learning, (un)learning and empowerment.
Transgender issues became more an more visible in the last years. In most countries across Europe role models stood up and new -more progressive- laws were introduced. “We observe a shift from trans people being portrayed in a medicalised, sensationalist manner to a better understanding that human rights are at stake: the requirement to be sterilised for a change in ID documents is increasingly ostracized, shifting towards non-medicalised self-determination.”
“The World Health Organisation just affirmed that being trans is not a mental illness. But not all trans people profit equally from these advancements. The numbers of reported murders of trans people globally is not decreasing and remains at an alarming high rate.”, according to a spokesperson of TGEU.
Rémy Bonny asked 6 of the participants of the conference what the main issues for transgender people are in their countries. (Using material from this article is possible under the conditions outlined at the bottom of this page)
Kavarn (The Netherlands & Jamaica)
This activist took part for the first time in the conference. At the conference she represents a Dutch organisation. Her organisation works for and with migrants being a member of a sexual minority. They strive for legal recognition by the Dutch government of this people.
Kavarn migrated from Jamaica to The Netherlands in 2015. “When I arrived in The Netherlands it was quite easy for me to get all the paperwork done. Getting asylum based on your sexual orientation or gender identity can be difficult to prove. But in my case it was obvious. I was openly involved for years in the LGBT+ community in Jamaica. But for instance gay people who are more masculine than me have a much tougher job to convince the Dutch authorities about their sexual orientation.”
She describes the situation in Jamaica as hostile. “Fortunately my parents accepted me. But in general, transgender kids get thrown out of their houses by their parents. Parents say they do that to protect the child from angry and aggressive neighbours, but in essence they only protect themselves. If you defend your trans child, you are perceived as a LGBT+ activist in Jamaica.”
“If it comes to sexual orientation gay people have a much harder life, than lesbians in Jamaica. Our men don’t really care about what women do with each other. Some of them might even find it sexy to see lesbians.”
Another first timer at TGEU is Svetlana from Turkey. For years, she is involved in the organisation behind the Istanbul Pride. Attempts to organise a Pride in Istanbul were blocked by the local authorities in the last years. Nevertheless, her organisation continues to fight for equality for the whole LGBT+ community in Turkey.
Cosmopolitan cities like Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara are good cities to live, according to Svetlana. “LGBT+ people, and especially transgenders, live in a bubble. We have our own neighbourhoods. We never leave these safe places. I can wear drag on the streets without any problems. From the moment I would leave my neighbourhood I’d experience harsh transphobia.”
Svetlana was also disappointed with the re-election of Erdogan last week. “The left-wing candidate was a very strong candidate and we had his support. I truly believed he had a chance against Erdogan. Unfortunately, he only got 30% of the votes.”
Yasmine represents the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transidentität und Intersexualität (DGTI) at TGEU. She already works at the organisation for one year. So this is her first time at TGEU as well.
She describes the situation for transgenders in Germany as rather positive. “Society accepts transgender people. Our situation on the ground is good. But that doesn’t mean we still have a lot of work to do. The law concerning transgender people dates back to 1981. An update to that law is necessary. If you want to change your name and gender, you have to go to court now. This costs a lot of money. It should be possible to do it by an administrative procedure.”
The activist is not very hopeful that the current German government will change a lot. “During the election campaign, I hoped the left was going to win. The government in power right now is a big coalition of all major parties in Germany. This means that their is no real ideological direction. Transgender rights are just not on the political agenda right now.”
Heyhine (Belgium & Armenia)
After several years of activism, with one of Armenia’s major LGBT+ organisations -Pink Armenia- she migrated to Belgium. The psychological pressure by the Armenian society became too much for Heyhine. But moving to Belgium did not solve all her problems.
While she is feeling welcome in Belgium by the people living there, she is unsure about her asylum procedure. “Despite the fact that I can prove my sexual orientation, the authorities don’t give me a lot of hope. Even the psychologist of the Belgian Asylum Administration (DVZ) told me that there is no place for Armenians in Belgium. The current Belgian government does not care about migrants. In Armenia I fear for my life. There is no other option for me.”
“The situation in Armenia can be summarised in one word: awful. LGBT+ people are being discriminated on a daily basis. There is no legal protection for us. Two months ago their was a regime change in Armenia. We hoped that things would become better for the LGBT+ community. Unfortunately, it is not. The Armenian government wants to introduce a new anti-discrimination law. While you may think this is something good for the LGBT+ community, it is not. The new draft law explicitly excludes sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination.”
Miles (Sweden & Zimbabwe)
Miles fled from Zimbabwe to Sweden. From Stockholm he runs a magazine to help trans people all around Africa (queerstion.org). It is his first time at the TGEU conference.
“In Zimbabwe being transgender is perceived in the same way as being gay. The political homophobia is based on old colonial laws. Since people did not speak in these times about transgender people, they only refer to homosexuals. Nevertheless, current judges and politicians use them to prosecute transgender people.”
Tomas represents the major LGBT+ organisation in Lithuania. It is his first time at TGEU.
As a former part of the Soviet Union, Lithuania is considered as one of the most conservative member states of the European Union. But according to Tomas, the conservative attitudes towards transgenders are changing: “Transgender rights are more and more on the political agenda is Lithuania. In April 2017 the Parliament made a draft law to revise the procedure to change your name and gender.”
“We already have a long history of dealing with issues concerned to gender identity. Latvia -another Baltic state- was the first to do gender surgery in the world. Some may think that the medical perception of transgenderism is a good thing, but I don’t totally agree with that. Because of this medical perception, a lot of people think transgenders are sick.”
The overall situation for LGBT+ people in Lithuania is good, according to Tomas. “Society becomes more an more progressive towards LGBT+ people. Our government introduced an anti-propaganda law against homosexuals and transgenders in 2010, but this law hasn’t been enforced since 2014. I think they will soon withdraw from it.”