On November 20, 2017, the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is marked annually in memory of trans* persons who have lost their lives to transphobic violence, the Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus Regional Office, within the framework of the three-year EU-funded action “Solidarity Network for LGBTI in Armenia and Georgia”, which is being implemented since 2015 in partnership with the Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG) and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) in Georgia, as well as two other partner organisations in Armenia, held a round table meeting on issues of legal gender recognition (LGR) in Tbilisi.
Currently, in Georgia, sex-reassignment surgery is a mandatory prerequisite to updating the gender marker on identity documentation, thus, representatives of the Ministries of Labour, Health, and Social Affairs (including representatives from the Health Care Department, the Labour and Employment Policy Department, and the Department of Social Affairs), as well as the Ministry of Justice, who were present at the meeting, are the key actors in the process to advance legal gender recognition and secure the separation of its legal and medical aspects. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the Public Defender’s Office, a number of key NGOs working on the issue, high-profile sexologists and community members.
The meeting was opened by the EU Project Coordinator, Anne Nemsitsveridze-Daniels, who provided a brief description of the progress achieved so far within the framework of the EU action and the long-term advocacy strategy document that was developed in a participatory multistakeholder process on the basis of the findings of two key studies on homo/bi/transphobic societal attitudes, and the legal situation of LGBTI persons in Georgia, produced by the project partners, WISG and EMC.
Eka Aghdgomelashvili, expert researcher from WISG, proceeded by showcasing the studies on trans* health in Georgia conducted by WISG; indicating that, based on study findings, transphobic attitudes were found to be more prevalent than homo/biphobic ones, and that there were more negative attitudes towards trans* women than towards trans*.
Ms. Aghdgomelashvili continued her presentation by expounding on the lack of official statistical information about hate-motivated violence against trans* persons, frequent instances of re-victimisation, and the lack of adequate information and awareness among professionals/specialists due to the fact that the formal education system in Georgia does not cover trans-specific issues. She also focused on the depathologisation of transsexuality in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), where the phrase “gender incongruence” is to be used as a less stigmatising term. Ms. Aghdgomelashvili once again reiterated the significance of trans-specific health care services (post-surgical care, issues related to transition, etc.) and the absence of clinical guidelines/protocols. She concluded her presentation by describing the difficulties trans* people face in employment, education, medical and other services due to the fact that identity documents do not comply with their gender identity.
Keti Bakhtadze, lawyer with WISG, then proceeded with a detailed presentation on the legal cases that have taken place in Georgia concerning trans* rights and legal gender recognition (forced sterilisation and forced unsolicited medical procedures), access to trans-specific services, transphobic hate crime/femicide, and illegal detention. She also highlighted the fact that two cases have been lodged by WISG with the ECHR and are now pending.
The floor was then given to the invited expert, Prof. Dr. Joz Motmans, the co-founder of the European Professional Association for Transgender Health (EPATH) and the coordinator of the Central information and Knowledge Center on Trans Issues in Belgium at the Centre of Sexology and Gender at the University Hospital of Ghent.
Dr. Motmans delivered a highly interesting presentation focusing on trans-specific care in general and a state-of-the-art overview of legal gender recognition LGR, assigned sex at birth, and the concepts of gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender roles/gender expression. He highlighted crucial socio-demographic information, the need to facilitate access to trans* health care, and gender dysphoria as a medical diagnosis of the distress a person feels due to the discrepancy between gender identity and sex assigned at birth.
Imperatively, Dr. Motmans indicated that, according to regret analysis studies, a very low percentage of persons who have undergone sex reassignment procedures regret doing so, and the small percentage that do, associate their regret not with a “change of heart” regarding their gender identity (as purported by some opponents), but is rather with the negative societal attitudes and levels of social acceptance.
In his presentation, Dr. Motmans also mentioned the recently adopted Identity Recognition Statement of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) and Resolution 2048 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on discrimination against transgender people in Europe, both of which were handed out to all participants in hard copies.
Dr. Motmans concluded his comprehensive presentation by highlighting LGR as a key non-discrimination measure and a suicide prevention mechanism, and highlighted the recommendation to advance legal gender recognition based on self-determination and to introduce third sex options at birth.
The presentations were then followed by a dynamic Q&A session, where participants of the discussion made comments about poverty as a key dimension in trans-specific issues, which once again stems from the vicious cycle of trans* people being unable to secure employment due to the incompliance of their identity documents, which would provide sufficient income for them to pursue the expensive hormonal therapy or surgical intervention, which, at the current point, are necessary prerequisites to legally change the gender marker on identity documents.
Most of the representatives of the two Ministries stated that political will was key to launching a state-backed process on regulating legal gender recognition procedures in Georgia, and the Human Rights Secretariat was identified as the agency that would assume a coordination role in the process, which requires the engagement of numerous actors and the development of a joint interagency plan.
Representatives of the Ministry of Health once again stated that the issue called for joint multidisciplinary coordination, not just on ministerial level, but also including psychologists, ethics specialists, and specific experts to produce conclusions and recommendations that could then be discussed. Once political consensus was achieved and a consolidated decision has been made, the different constituents of the process could proceed with the development of separate internal strategies.
NGO representatives pointed out that relevant studies, policy papers, conclusions and recommendations have already been developed by WISG and other organisations addressing trans-specific issues and LGR specifically. Ministry representatives then expressed their interest in receiving a consolidated package of these materials.
Ministry representatives also inquired about the possibility for the NGOs to share their proposals and identify best practices that would be best localised for Georgia, following which, a possibility to tackle these issues internally within the Ministries could be discussed.
Towards the end of the event, Ekaterine Aghdgomelashvili once again highlighted the overarching issue of the decoupling of legal and medical procedures in the gender recognition process, and the fact that these two aspects should not be interlinked or interdependent as persons who require to change the sex marker on their ID should not be required to undergo irreversible medical or hormonal procedures, a notion that was supported by prominent sexologist, Maia Tchavtchanidze.
WISG representatives voiced their readiness to provide relevant materials to the Ministries for consideration and review.
In conclusion, Dr. Joz Motmans cited Belgium’s example of NGO interaction with political parties to ensure that the latter put the issue. He also put forward a recommendation to stay in touch with country representatives at the Council of Europe.
In a positive development, Ms. Elza Jgerenaia, Head of the Labour and Employment Policy Department of MoLHSA, referred to the anti-discrimination law and the advancement of equal opportunities for all, including in terms of the improvement of labor legislation. She stated that the Ministry of Health has prepared a package of recommendations to promote equal access to employment, including in pre-contractual relations, in terms of eradicating any references to discriminatory selection procedures.
Sopo Japaridze, the Prime Minister’s Advisor for Human Rights and Gender Equality, stated that advocacy measures vis-à-vis the Parliament and the Gender Equality Council (GEC) to initiate relevant legislation are key, as well as continued meetings and cooperation efforts with the Human Rights Secretariat in order to facilitate the planning of a specific strategy and ways forward in this area of legal gender recognition in Georgia.
The round table meeting was hailed as a success by the participants as it was the first major event focusing on legal gender recognition since a peer-to-peer discussion was organised by the Human Rights Secretariat in November 2016. This year’s event was a breakthrough meeting between the representatives of the key concerned Ministries and the NGOs and provided a much-needed platform to discuss trans-specific issues and relevant networking opportunities.
It is worth noting that the organisation of the round table discussion was supported by Transgender Europe (TGEU), which sent a letter of support to MoLHSA urging Ministry representatives to take part in the meeting and highlighting its significance.