Monday, October 26, 2009

UN takes a stance on defining gender, expands trans' travel rights

These past months have lead to some interesting gains and losses for civil rights based on gender-identification, due to the seemingly unrelated debate on travel and border security.

On August 15th, the transgendered community and its allies felt pushed aside when the Transportation Security Administration put out new travelling requirements that required passengers to provide full name, date of birth and gender when booking flights. Transgendered people found themselves in an uncomfortable situation, having categorize themselves in concrete terms without any options directly applicable to them. It's disgusting how this either/ or policy oozes with a lack of sympathy. It does not take into consideration the difficulties and uneasiness a person goes through trying to match past federal documents with current self-identification.

A couple of months later, strides have been made. The UN and Rapporteur Martin Scheinin made their opinion known in the recent "Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism" report. The UN made sure to take a conscious, sensitive and realistic approach by defining the security issues without being biased in religion, race, sexuality and gender. The report contained this purposefully vague definition of gender:

"Gender is not synonymous with women but rather encompasses the social constructions that underlie how women's and men's roles, functions and responsibilities, including in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, are defined and understood. This report will therefore identify the gendered impact of counter-terrorism measures both on women and men, as well as the rights of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. As a social construct, gender is also informed by, and intersects with, various other means by which roles, functions and responsibilities are perceived and practiced, such as race, ethnicity, culture, religion and class. Consequently, gender is not static; it is changeable over time and across contexts.Understanding gender as a social and shifting construct rather than as a biological and fixed category is important because it helps to identify the complex and inter-related gender-based human rights violations caused by counter terrorism measures; to understand the underlying causes of these violations; and to design strategies for countering terrorism that are truly non-discriminatory and inclusive of all actors."
Thankfully, the UN has exposed the usually hushed gender-travel links and their disproportionately effects to a person's safety. The studies reveal the disgusting scrutiny innocent transgendered people face when crossing boarders. Many transwomen are subject to tougher indentity documentation clearances and face harassment due to a history of men dressing up as women to attempt to escape a heavy bomb/weapon search.

Critics, like that of Fox News, say that the UN over analysed political correctness and minorities' security (those of women, gay, trans, intersex, etc...) by unnecessarily forcing a progressive definition of gender on the public.

However, here at FMF, we know far too well the reality of humiliation and harassment that "minority" populations face due to security policy. Those least protected under the law are (shock!) those who are most vulnerable to civil rights violations at checkpoints.

We are so proud that the UN could look past previous gender-biases and honestly work towards ensuring safe travel for ALL.
photocredit: transguyjay from

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