LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia


The definition: what is trans?

What is on your to-do list for today? Filling out a job application? Maybe a trip to the bank? Need to finalise some university paperwork or call into the doctor’s surgery to make an appointment for next week? We all have a list of everyday chores that must be tackled but imagine having to reveal deeply personal information during every one of these encounters. All of these appointments could require a trans person to come out to complete strangers, multiple times a day.

Trans is an inclusive umbrella term referring to those people whose gender identity and/or a gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is how we see ourselves; an internal and personalised perception of our own gender. This may differ from the sex we were assigned at birth or how society might label us.

The term trans includes, but is not limited to: men and women with transsexual pasts, and people who identify as transsexual, transgender, transvestite/cross-dressing, androgyne, polygender, genderqueer, agender, gender variant or with any other gender identity and/or expression which is not standard male or female and express their gender through their choice of clothes, presentation or body modifications, including undergoing multiple surgical procedures.

What is the current situation for trans people in Europe?

Sadly, trans people’s human rights are violated on a daily basis. Discrimination can happen in schools, at the doctor or in the work place. Depending on where they live in Europe, trans people can face inhumane treatments if they want to have their preferred gender recognised. Being diagnosed as mentally ill, forced divorce and sterilisation are just some examples.  Additionally trans people fight against of stigmatisation and transphobia – both from their daily life, but also from within the LGBTI community.

In their ‘Being Trans in the EU’ report, FRA discovered that within the LGBT community, trans people were most likely to encounter discrimination, harassment or violence. The report, released in late 2014, notes that 54% of trans respondents to the FRA survey felt harassed or personally discriminated against because they were perceived as trans. This compares to an average of 47% within the LGBT community generally. Trans respondents also reported discrimination when accessing healthcare services twice as often as the LGB people surveyed; one in five (22%) trans respondents confirmed that they had felt personally discriminated against.

The FRA’s 2012 EU-wide LGBT Survey revealed a shockingly high level of violence against trans people. One in two trans people indicated that they had been attacked or targeted, either with physical violence, threats or insults. This was twice as high as the incidence rates for lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents.

In general, people are more vulnerable to discrimination on the grounds of gender identity, in comparison to sexual orientation. Even fewer European countries have legislation covering trans people with regard to hate crime, hate speech and asylum. Find the latest data on our Rainbow Europe module.

What are the European institutions doing?

Gender identity is not explicitly recognised as a ground of discrimination in any EU treaty. However, this lack of a specific provision does not mean that the European institutions are ignoring trans issues. Trans people are partially protected against discrimination in the areas of employment and goods and services on the ground of “gender reassignment”. Gender identity is increasingly being recognised in different pieces of EU legislation. For example, gender identity and gender expression have been explicitly recognised as grounds in the Directive on the rights of victims (2012). Gender identity only is recognised in the Asylum Procedures Directive and the Reception Conditions Directive (2013).

In the area of health, the EU has taken a position in favour of the depathologisation of trans identities the next WHO ICD edition. The current edition (ICD-10) is currently under revision.

The Council of Europe is increasingly putting gender identity on its agenda. The Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers from 2010 on measures to combat sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. It was the first ever intergovernmental agreement to include gender identity as a ground.

In 2009, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights launched an Issue Paper on “Human Rights and Gender Identity”, which was also ground breaking and first of its kind to come from a European high official.

In 2015, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) passed a wide-ranging trans rights resolution drafted by Rapporteur Deborah Schembri. It was the first report on trans issues by the Assembly to reflect fully the needs and perspectives of trans people in Europe. The document takes a strong human rights-based approach and clearly set out the discriminatory obstacles currently faced by trans people in unequivocal terms.

Both the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights have regularly made judgments based on gender equality legislation in order to protect trans people (gender reassignment) against discrimination.

How does ILGA-Europe work on trans issues?

ILGA-Europe aims to mainstream trans issues across our work. This means we incorporate the concerns of trans activists and their allies into our ongoing advocacy projects on issues like health, education and family.

That said, ILGA-Europe also carries out advocacy on specific trans issues, in particular:

  • Advocating with EU institutions and European governments, encouraging them to explicitly recognise gender identity as a ground of discrimination in law. In recent years, this work has led to the explicit inclusion of gender identity in the EU’s asylum legislations and the directive on the rights of victims of crime.
  • Working with European policy-makers to put law into practice. EU law, such as the specific directives on workplace discrimination and access to services, does provide protection for trans people but this may not translate seamlessly into practice. The rights enshrined in EU law need to become a reality for trans people and their families.
  • Supporting litigation in the European courts. Our strategic litigation work covers a wide variety of issue, including: legal recognition of gender reassignment ; the right of a trans person to contract a different-sex legal marriage and insurance coverage for medical expenses related to gender reassignment.

Within our movement building work, we continue to support trans activists and groups who attend capacity building trainings and study visits. Within our Advocacy and Documentation Fund [link], we also seek to support documentation on the rights and the needs of trans people.

All of the work we do on the human rights of trans people is done hand in hand with trans organisations and activists, and in particular with Transgender Europe. We see our role as amplifying the voice of the trans movement and complementing each other’s work. In practice, this means that we join forces, wherever possible, to carry out joint advocacy with European institutions and to raise awareness about the reality of life as a trans person in Europe today.