☰ Menu

Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Transgender People

Marloes Schoonheim, GFMER, Switzerland


For transgender people the birth-assigned sex doesn’t match the gender identity. Transgenderism doesn’t imply a sexual orientation: some transgender people identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, others don’t. Transgender people include (but are not limited to):

  • Transsexuals – used as a synonym of transgender or to refer to people who have undergone sex reassignment surgery (also known as gender reassignment) and/or hormone treatment in order to acquire the psychical characteristics that match their gender identity.
  • FTM/MTF – female-to-male and male-to-female transgender people.
  • Cross-dressers – people who occasionally wear clothes traditionally associated with people of the other sex (the term transvestite can be considered as derogative). See Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
  • Genderqueer people – umbrella term or stand-alone identity for people with a non-normative gender (for example androgyne, non-gendered or gender-fluid people). See Genderqueer identities.
  • Intersex people – people born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male, caused by a variety of conditions. See the Intersex Society of North America.
  • People identifying with institutionalized third-gender roles, like Two-Spirit people among Native Americans (see Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits) and hijras in South Asia (see Androgyne online).

"‘Transgender’ is an umbrella term often used to refer to people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth. However, people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth may not self-identify as transgender; some may identify as transsexual, trans, genderqueer, a person of transgender experience, etc."

Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation

Demographics of transgender people

Precise numbers of transgender people don’t exist because there’s no consensus on the definition of a transgender person. Besides, most population surveys don’t include questions on gender identity. Analysis of the 2007 and 2009 Massachusetts Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey suggested that 0.5% of adult respondents identified as transgender (see a publication of the Williams Institute of Law, UCLA). In the Netherlands percentages of people with an ambivalent gender identity (4%) were published in 2012 (see Transgender Netwerk Nederland).

Transgender rights history

In 1994 Gender Identity Disorder (GID), also known as transsexualism, was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Around the same time the disorder was incorporated in the Mental and behavioral disorders chapter of WHO’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision (ICD-10) . By then the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) had, since its foundation in 1979, advocated for understanding for and treatment of what they referred to as gender identity disorders.

The objection of a part of the transgender community is that diagnostic policies psychopathologize gender diversity. Activists have advocated for the depathologization of “gender identities, gender expressions or bodies that do not conform to birth-assigned gender stereotypes, while at the same time providing some kind of diagnostic coding for access to medical transition treatment for those who need it.” Diagnostic criteria based on distress and impairment, rather than difference from cultural gender stereotypes, would therefore be regarded as a considerable progress by many transgender people.

Sexual rights of transgender people

The following laws and policies, listed by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ILGA, directly affect the sexual rights of transgender people:

  • Ability to change gender on official documents (which can be prohibited, allowed of allowed after sex reassignment surgery)
  • Laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity
  • Asylum on the basis of gender identity
  • Bias against gender identity is regarded as an aggravating circumstance in hate crimes
  • Sex reassignment treatment and/or sugery is under legal control
  • Transgenderism is (not) classified as an illness

Reproductive rights of transgender people

The reproductive rights of transgender people are first and foremost affected by compulsory sex reassignment surgery and/or sterilization. Civil Codes can require transgender people to take hormones and undergo surgery to alter their bodies and be permanently and irreversibly sterilized before they can have their gender legally recognized. These requirements violate transgender people’s rights to personal autonomy and physical integrity, and deny them the ability to define their own gender identity, Human Rights Watch stated.

Keeping track of transgender rights

Different organizations and authorities track status of and changes in transgender rights.

  • The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) has developed an interactive world map with information about more laws and policies for LGBTI people worldwide. ILGA also published the Rainbow Europe Country Index , rating each European country’s laws and administrative practices that protect or violate the human rights of LGBT people according to 24 categories (like anti-discrimination legislation and criminal law).
  • The European parliament published an overview of trnsgdender persons' rights in the EU member states in 2010.
  • In 2011 the UN published its first report on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, discussing the way international human rights law can be used against LGBT discrimination.