We recognize that intersex and transgender refer to two completely different groups. We have created this specific issue category addressing both groups' concerns in order to emphasize the needs and accomplishments of the people most often left out of LGBTI rights movements, namely transgender and intersex people.
Transgender and intersex people around the world are fighting for control over their own bodies, for their rights to self-determination and physical well-being, and for dignity and equal treatment. The intersex and transgender communities face their own unique issues and challenges, including widespread stigma and violence against their members.
Most people are born with sex characteristics—hormones, genitals, chromosomes, and reproductive organs—that are immediately classified as either female or male. Based on that classification, societies expect females to dress and behave in a feminine way and males to dress and behave in a masculine way.
Transgender people self-identify and express their gender identity differently than what societies expect of them based on their sex classification at birth. Their gender expression, including clothing, speech, and mannerisms, may be the “opposite” of what is expected, or a combination or an absence of masculine and feminine traits. Some transgender people choose to use hormonal, surgical, or other medical interventions to change their sex characteristics.
Intersex people are born with atypical sex characteristics. Their sex characteristics can be a) neither male nor female, b) a combination of male and female, or c) neither wholly male nor wholly female. There are over forty intersex variations, and some are not apparent until puberty or later in life. Intersex status is not about sexual orientation or gender identity: intersex people have the same range of sexual orientations and gender identities as people who are not intersex.
Because of the stigma, secrecy, and shame intersex people face, widespread human rights violations against them are not commonly recognized. Many violations are related to unnecessary medical interventions that amount to sexual violence. Intersex infants are very frequently subjected to nonconsensual surgeries that permanently alter their anatomy, hormones, and/or capacity for sexual pleasure. Youth reaching puberty, too, are often subjected to nonconsensual interventions, and adults are often coerced into hormonal and surgical interventions.
Transgender people, too, face staggering rates of violence, much of it unrecorded and unnoticed by the public. From 2008-2014, the Transgender Murder Monitoring Project of Transgender Europe recorded over 1,700 murders. Many governments fail to prosecute the perpetrators of anti-transgender violence, or even keep records of the murders, so the actual numbers are likely much higher.
Few countries have laws protecting transgender people from discrimination in employment, education, healthcare, housing, or public accommodations. South Africa, Australia, and Malta are the only countries with anti-discrimination laws that protect intersex people. Intersex and transgender people alike have trouble getting official documents that accurately reflect their gender identity. Recently, however, a few countries have made progress on this front, particularly in relation to “gender recognition laws.” In 2012, Argentina became the first country to pass a gender recognition law driven by human rights and social justice principles. In November 2013, the government of Bangladesh announced the recognition of hijra as a third gender category in all national documents and passports. Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Nepal, New Zealand, and Australia recognize more than two genders in some way or allow individuals not to identify in any gender.
Discrimination and violence against transgender and intersex people are still a global reality, and together, we need to make sure this violence comes to an end. We need to help ensure that more countries adopt laws to protect transgender and intersex people so they can live their lives openly and free from discrimination. You can help the vital local and international organizations working to support transgender and intersex people around the world. Learn more about these organizations here.