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  • Writer's pictureDebra DeLaet

International Day of Transgender Visibility: Transgender Rights are Human Rights

International Day of Transgender Visibility: Transgender Rights are Human Rights By Debra DeLaet (Executive Director, Iowa United Nations Association)


International Transgender Day of Visibility is celebrated on March 31 each year. This day provides an opportunity to give voice to the experiences of transgender and non-binary people everywhere. Recognizing the humanity of transgender people in our communities is not merely a matter of celebrating diversity or tolerating difference. Fundamental human rights are at stake.


While most people have a gender identity that aligns with the biological sex that they were assigned at birth, many people do not. Globally, an estimated two percent of people identify as transgender, non-binary, gender fluid, or other cultural expressions of gender diversity. In many cultures, diverse expressions of gender diversity have deep historical roots. The concept of third gender can be traced back to ancient history. The tradition of hijras in South Asia has been shaped by Hindu holy texts going back more than 2,000 years. In some indigenous cultural traditions, the concept of two-spirit is used to describe a person who embodies both a masculine and a feminine spirit. A wide range of other cultural expressions of gender diversity exist, including fa'afafine in Polynesian culture, meti in Nepal, muxes in Mexican culture, waria in Indonesia, and travesti in South America.


As these cross-cultural examples of gender diversity demonstrate, a wide range of human rights issues are involved, including gender equity, religious freedom, cultural self-determination, and the fundamental civil, political, economic, and social rights of individuals who identify as transgender. Trans people experience widespread violence and discrimination in countries across the globe. They are more likely to be victims of violent assault and murder than other people. Trans youth are more likely to be bullied in their communities. In Iowa, a recent study evaluating data from the 2018 Iowa youth survey showed that bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity was correlated with higher risks of feeling sad or hopeless and attempting suicide. Trans people face socioeconomic discrimination in the workplace, in schools, in the healthcare system, and in other social settings. Governmental policies and laws that codify discrimination amplify social hostility towards trans people that increases the risk that they will be subjected to violence and discrimination. Trans people have been subjected to forced sterilization, practices that the UN has condemned as torture, and forced divorce. They often face barriers to everyday activities that many people take for granted, such as opening a bank account with a government-issued id, applying for jobs, or traveling internationally.


The UN Free and Equal Campaign advocates for fundamental human rights for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and intersex people everywhere. As part of this broad campaign, the United Nations urges human rights advocates everywhere to stand up for trans equality and visibility. In the face of recent state legislation in Iowa restricting the rights of trans youth and their families, we urge Iowans to stand up and advocate for trans rights as human rights.


There are numerous actions we can take to advocate for trans rights as human rights. We encourage our members to educate themselves on the issues. The Human Rights Campaign offers numerous resources, including educational and advocacy resources as part of its Trans Justice Initiative. You can advocate for the Yogyakarta Principles, a set of guiding principles developed by international human rights experts to advance human rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity. You can learn about how to stand up for transgender rights by exploring the UN Free and Equal Campaign’s Celebrate Trans Visibility resources. Action steps include using people’s preferred pronouns, gender, and names, not revealing a person’s gender identity without their permission, refraining from asking invasive questions about a person’s body, and speaking out when others use harmful, discriminatory, or violent language.

We also encourage our members to continue to communicate to their representatives to demand legislation—at the state and national level—that codifies trans rights as human rights. We can advocate for policies that prosecute and punish human rights violence and discrimination against trans people, for the inclusion of gender identity and expression as protected categories under hate crime laws, for the legal recognition of diverse gender identities in legal documentation, for equal access to health care, and for changes in medical classifications that pathologize diverse gender identities. We can advocate for access to gender-affirming care for gender diverse children to support parents working with medical professionals to act in the best interest of their own children rather than allowing politicians to limit both parental rights and children’s rights.


In Iowa, you can support other advocacy organizations that advocate for trans rights as human rights, including One Iowa, the ACLU of Iowa, and Iowa Safe Schools. The Trevor Project offers resources and support, including 24-hour access to counseling every day of the week. If you are in crisis, the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative offers numerous hotlines for mental health support and suicide prevention.


On the International Day of Transgender Visibility, the Iowa UNA wants all transgender and non-binary people in our community to know that we see you. We will not stop advocating for your rights as fundamental human rights. We will continue to advocate for your right to live your life openly as your true self. #TransRightsAreHumanRights #FreeandEqual #StandUpForEquality #CelebrateTransVisibility




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