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Marco Werman: Caitlyn Jenner’s high profile transition and unveiling on a magazine cover has generated an outpouring of support. Social media was abuzz today with applause for Jenner, but there are also calls for transgender awareness, like this one from Kyle Knight: “Call her Caitlyn, but then let’s move on to the issues affecting the transgender community.” Kyle Knight is a researcher of LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch. Kyle, tell us what those issues are, as you see them.
Kyle Knight: Well, there’s no question that the Caitlyn Jenner story is one of incredible courage. She will be a role model for many, many people, and considering the abuses and discrimination that transgender people face around the world, it’s very brave to come out. But it also stands as a reminder of the abuses that persist around the world and the severe discrimination transgender people face due to harmful policies and hateful social attitudes. For example, if you look at data that’s collected by the Trans Murder Monitoring Project, which is a global project to collect data on the homicides of transgender people, between 2008 and 2014 they recorded more than 1,600 murders in 62 countries around the world. In addition, a report yesterday released by the United Nations Human Rights Office notes that 10 states have recently introduced reforms to varying degrees to make it easier for transgender people to attain legal recognition on documents of their gender identity. But the report goes on to also note disproportionate HIV infection rates among transgender people, homelessness, violence, and discrimination that they face.
Werman: How does the US stack up against other countries when it comes to transgender rights and support?
Knight: Well, I think there’s been incredible progress, especially on the legal issues around the world. But there still are only three countries that have completely human rights respecting policies in terms of getting documents changed to reflect people’s gender identity, and those are Denmark, Argentina, and Malta.
Werman: And what have those countries actually done?
Knight: Well, so ultimately what we’re looking for is the separation. Transgender people need, in many cases, some sort of medical care related to transition. Not everyone wants it, but the access to that medical care is important. But the legal recognition process for trans people to change their documents should be completely separate from that care. So, what these countries have done is they instituted that. They’ve made the gender recognition procedure--for example, if you’re assigned male at birth and you would like to be legally recognized as a female, it is a legal process, it is a process of filling out paperwork, finding an affidavit, those types of things. It is a legal process that has no medical requirements. Of course, in other places around the world, for example Nepal, or India, or Pakistan, or Bangladesh, they’ve all started moving towards instituting a third gender category on some documents. Australia and New Zealand also have the possibility of putting an X on a passport instead of an M or an F, and the X is an indeterminate gender that is recognized by international standards, that is recognized by the International Civil Aviation Authority on passports. Whether the US is headed in a direction towards adding a third gender to documents or not, that will sort of depend on where the debates come out to. But whether it’s self-identifying as male, female, or an indeterminate gender, whether it’s called, “X,” or “other,” or something else as some of these countries have done, the ultimate principle of this is that the legal process for transgender people should be completely separate from any medical requirements, any psychiatric requirements, any divorce requirements, and these are some of the things that countries retain. And so, I think globally what we see is movement in the right direction, but it’s much too late and it cannot possibly come fast enough as we try to advocate for the fundamental rights of people to be recognized for who they are.
Werman: Kyle Knight researches LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch. Thank you very much for your time.
Knight: Thank you so much.