Some bloggers have been noting several recent advances in transgender rights around the world, and have been declaring that these countries are so much more advanced than the United States. But one really must take the whole picture of how transgender people are treated, not just one or two factors. Yes here in the good ol’ U-S-of-A we are lagging behind in several areas of transgender acceptance – but we also do have a basic legal structure and set of Constitutional protections which many countries which seem much more open to transgender persons appear to have.
For example, my friend Shoshana sent me this link to advances made recently in India, where Indian’s Supreme Court has in a landmark ruling recognized transgender people as a third gender. Quoting:
“It is the right of every human being to choose their gender,” it said in granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.
It ordered the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities, as well as key amenities.
But remember, homosexuality is still a crime in India, and so this brings into play a troubling issue – are transgender persons only allowed to have sex with men and women, but not other transgender persons?
And note that the transgender persons of India, many (but not all – this is important) of whom are hijra, are not exactly living happily there. Even a cursory study of the lives of the hijra finds that they are still and may well be for decades an oppressed underclass. Also from the BBC article:
Their fall from grace started in the 18th Century during the British colonial rule when the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 categorised the entire transgender community as “criminals” who were “addicted” to committing serious crimes. They were arrested for dressing in women’s clothing or dancing or playing music in public places, and for indulging in gay sex.
After Independence, the law was repealed in 1949, but mistrust of the transgender community has continued. Even today, they remain socially excluded, living on the fringes of society, in ghettoised communities, harassed by the police and abused by the public. Most make a living by singing and dancing at weddings or to celebrate child birth, many have moved to begging and prostitution.
Stepping back to the CNN article on the subject (linked below), they report that several countries have passed laws to protect the rights of transgender persons, including Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Portugal. Meanwhile, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have also worked hard to improve transgender rights. So yes there is a lot of progress here, but the United States has been advancing rapidly as well on innumerable transgender fronts. I like to tell the audiences I speak to that transgender rights have advanced more in the last 5 years than in the last 500, and I feel that might even be underselling the situation somewhat.
It still can really suck to be transgender in America, but it sucks less than ever before.