Transidentity raises numerous legal questions as it challenges the way the law fundamentally categorizes society in two different groups. The European legal landscape has evolved towards greater recognition of transgender people’s rights, notably in terms of legal gender recognition and non-discrimination, but many inequalities remain deeply rooted in the law. Gender identity has increasingly been recognized as a ground of discrimination by national and regional instances in Europe, and in 2002 the European Court of Human Rights acknowledged the existence of a right to legal gender recognition under Article 8 of the Convention, in the famous Goodwin v. UK case. Since then, the conditions deemed admissible or not in order to access legal gender recognition and name change have been under scrutiny, and the Court took an important step ahead in 2017, when it held that compulsory sterilization and mandatory medical interventions leading with a high probability to sterility were inadmissible conditions for accessing legal gender recognition (A.P., Garçon, and Nicot v. France). However, other criteria for legal gender recognition remain unclear. Additionally, even when European instance decisively set a principle, the difficulty lies in the implementation on the national level, as the rights of transgender people are far from respected in practice. Legal gender recognition and access to gender confirmation treatment entail particular obstacles for minors, since the debate of whether self-determination regarding legal gender change and access to gender confirmation treatment should prevail over other public and private interests is even more pressing when children are concerned. Many further obstacles remain, notably in the domain of parenthood and employment, access to transition-related treatments, and their reimbursement by health insurance. Additionally, transphobic hate crimes are rarely identified as such by national criminal legislations, and very few states collect statistics on the matter. It remains difficult to draw general conclusions on transgender policies in Europe, as domestic laws are diverse and do not always match with international law, and national practices do not always comply with domestic and international law—with transgender people often being caught in a labyrinth of incongruent rules and practices.
Transgender-Specific Politics and Policy in Europe
Camille Vallier and Djemila Carron
Gender, Law, and Judging
Susan Haire and Laura P. Moyer
Increased diversity among participants in the justice system, particularly judges, has fueled debates about the values and perspectives that women bring to the law. Difference theories advanced by social psychologists and feminist scholars argue for the premise that men and women in the legal system approach questions of justice differently. By contrast, empirical scholarship offers only limited support for the expectation that the sex of the judge is related to behavioral outcomes. Although most research has not uncovered differences in voting between men and women judges, one area in which consistent differences has been found is in sex discrimination cases. Recent studies suggest, however, that individual differences between men and women judges may emerge if the focus shifts to the litigation process. In one study of trial courts, cases assigned to women judges were more likely to be settled. In another study of appellate courts, women judges were more likely to pen majority opinions that adopted a compromise position. These findings suggest the promise of shifting the analytical focus away from behavioral outcomes to consider whether, and how, women and men in the legal system shape litigation processes. Doing so will require additional data and triangulated approaches that employ both quantitative and qualitative methods. Additional research is also needed to explore how shifts in the gender composition of the bench affect organizational norms and practices in the legal system at the federal, state, and local levels. Some work suggests that gender diversity affects deliberations on small appellate panels and consensual norms on larger courts. As the number of women and minorities appointed by recent Democratic and Republican presidents has increased, scholars are also now well positioned to conduct empirical research with larger numbers to investigate how women of color on the bench differ from white women and minority men.
Transgender Law and Policy in the United States
Transgender people have a complicated history in U.S. law and policy. Once thought of as a symptom of homosexuality, gender nonconformity has long been the subject of social disapprobation and legal sanction, including criminalization. Beginning in the 1950s, an emergent interest by the medical community in individuals suffering from “gender dysphoria” precipitated an identity politics primarily organized around a goal of access to competent medical care and treatment for transsexual individuals. In ways both significant and ironic, this medicalization both promoted a binary ideology of gender, most obvious in concepts like male-to-female or female-to-male transsexualism, and created space for more transformative concepts of gender fluidity and transgender identity to emerge. Long conceptualized as a kind of subsidiary of the gay and lesbian rights movement in the United States, a status that entailed considerable turmoil, the transgender movement, especially since the 1990s, has emerged as a vocal and relatively effective rights lobby in its own right. The advent of the Trump administration presents a pivotal moment that will likely test not only the durability of recent policy gains but also whether those gains can be expanded in any significant measure.
Litigating Transgender Employment Rights in the United States
Susan Gluck Mezey
Discrimination against transgender or gender nonconforming individuals in the workplace affects hiring, firing, promotions, salaries, and benefits. Most states have no laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on gender identity, and, in the absence of federal law, transgender workers have turned to the courts to seek equal rights on the job. Transgender plaintiffs often file suit under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the law prohibiting sex discrimination in employment. The defendants argue that since the statute does not explicitly ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity, Congress did not intend to include transgender or gender nonconforming individuals as members of a class protected by Title VII. The cases revolve around the question of whether the ban on sex discrimination in the law should be narrowly construed to apply to men and women as determined by their biological status or whether it should be broadly construed to prohibit discrimination against individuals because of their gender identity or gender expression. Prior to 1989, suits brought by transgender plaintiffs were dismissed by judges who agreed with employers that Congress did not intend Title VII to guarantee their employment rights. In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989), the Supreme Court held that the statute forbids an employer from making a negative employment decision because an employee’s behavior does not conform to stereotypical norms of behavior. Hopkins set the stage for the next several decades of litigation over the employment rights of transgender employees, and, although the courts were initially reluctant to allow transgender plaintiffs to benefit from Title VII, within a few years, most broadened their interpretation of the law. Over time, the courts adopted two theories: first, the gender nonconformity approach in which discrimination based on sex stereotyping violates Title VII; second, the per se approach in which discrimination on the basis of gender identity is equated with discrimination under Title VII. In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) adopted both theories of Title VII in Macy v. Holder (2012). In 2014, the Justice Department formally committed itself to interpreting Title VII to apply to gender identity. In October 2017, the department shifted its position on Title VII, negating the per se theory of gender identity and emphasizing that the statute only applies to employer actions based on biological differences between men and women. In addition to Title VII claims, transgender plaintiffs have filed job discrimination actions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the law prohibiting discrimination against individuals because of their disabilities. Although the statute explicitly excludes gender identity disorder, two federal district courts have interpreted it to cover transgender persons with disabilities, with a third disagreeing. Tying claims to the ADA has benefits as well as drawbacks.
LGBT Discrimination, Subnational Public Policy, and Law in the United States
Christy Mallory and Brad Sears
LGBT people in the United States continue to experience discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, despite increasing acceptance of LGBT people and legal recognition of marriage for same-sex couples nationwide. This ongoing discrimination can lead to under- and unemployment, resulting in socioeconomic disparities for LGBT people. In addition, empirical research has linked LGBT health disparities, including disparities in health-related risk factors, to experiences of stigma and discrimination. Currently, federal statutes in the United States do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or public accommodations, leaving regulation in this area primarily to state and local governments. This creates a limited and uneven patchwork of protections from discrimination against LGBT people across the country. Despite public support for LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws across the country, in 28 states there are no statewide statutory protections for LGBT people in employment, housing, or public accommodations. To date, only 20 states and the District of Columbia have enacted comprehensive non-discrimination statutes that expressly prohibit discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity in all three of these areas. One additional state has statutes that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, but not gender identity discrimination, in these areas. One other state prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and housing, but not in public accommodations. In states without statutes that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, there are other policies that afford LGBT people at least some limited protections from discrimination. In some of these states, state executive branch officials have expanded non-discrimination protections for LGBT people under their executive or agency powers. For example, in three states, state government agencies have expanded broad protections from sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination through administrative regulations. And, in 12 states without statutes prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, governors have issued executive orders that protect state government employees (and sometimes employees of state government contractors) from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, local government ordinances provide another source of protection from discrimination; however, these laws are generally unenforceable in court and provide much more limited remedies than statewide non-discrimination statutes. In recent years, lawmakers have increasingly attempted to limit the reach of state and local non-discrimination laws, which can leave LGBT people vulnerable to discrimination. For example, some states have passed laws allowing religiously motivated discrimination and others have passed laws prohibiting local governments from enacting their own non-discrimination ordinances that are broader than state non-discrimination laws. While most of these bills have not passed, the recent increase in the introduction of these measures suggests that state legislatures will continue to consider rolling back non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the coming years. Continued efforts are required at both the state and federal levels to ensure that LGBT people are fully protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the United States, including federal legislation and statewide bills in over half the states.
LGBTQ Family Law and Policy in the United States
There is a growing body of research on law and policy concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) family law and policy. LGBTQ families have existed for centuries despite laws and policies that criminalize their relational practices. However, the legal landscape has shifted a great deal over the past few decades, in large part due to the increased visibility of LGBTQ kinship networks and new constitutional protections for same-sex marriage. With this said, legal protections for LGBTQ families vary widely by state, especially parental, adoption, and foster care rights. Historically, family law and policy has fallen within the realm of state power, with some important exceptions (e.g., the Supreme Court has recognized a fundamental right to parent for legal parents). For this reason, there are broad protections afforded to LGBTQ kinship networks in some states, especially those with large urban and more liberal populations, and barriers that stand in the way of LGBTQ parental rights in other states that are more conservative or rural. The legalization of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges did standardize some protections for same-sex couples in traditional relationships across the United States. Yet the case also presents new problems both for LGBTQ families that are more heteronormative and those that are not because it fails to recognize a fundamental right to parent for LGBTQ people who create non-biological families and live non-traditional lives. In addition to these legal and policy changes, social scientists have used both qualitative and quantitative methodologies to shed light on the problems faced by LGBTQ families politically and legally. Researchers have examined how LGBTQ families attempt to protect their ability to parent in family court, how LGBTQ kinship networks identify innovative legal and political strategies aimed at overcoming barriers to legal recognition, and how LGBTQ identity is both constituted and made invisible through family law. Furthermore, scholars have produced a wealth of research refuting the myth that LGBTQ people are inadequate parents since the late 1980s and this research has been used in court cases across the United States to facilitate the legal recognition of LGBTQ families. Despite this research, gaps in both scholarship and legal recognition remain. Scholarship remains startlingly sparse given the legal and political barriers that stand in the way of LGBTQ family recognition, especially for LGBTQ people of color and trans and queer people. In order to address this gap, scholars should devote more resources to research on families that include LGBTQ people of color and trans and queer people, research on non-traditional queer kinship networks, and research on the unique ways that LGBTQ families are responding to political and legal barriers at the local level.
Courts, the Law, and LGBT Rights in Asia
Courts have played an integral part in advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities in many parts of Asia. Yet courts in other parts of Asia have entrenched LGBT subordination. A vast expanse separates Asia’s most progressive LGBT judicial decisions from the most oppressive. This divergence stems from various factors, including differences among Asian courts’ judicial philosophies and cultural backdrops. Judicial developments in Asia have disrupted conventional narratives in Anglophone literature about LGBT rights. Conventional wisdom says there is a standard sequence for developing LGBT rights. It is commonly believed that countries will protect sexual orientation rights before gender identity rights; that they will legislate against discrimination before legalizing same-sex marriage; and that legal protections of LGBT rights begin in the West, and then the rest of the world subsequently imports these legal constructs. Developments in Asia have, however, challenged these narratives. While many Asian courts have galvanized reforms to protect LGBT rights, it is important to remember that these courts are nonetheless constrained in their ability to effectuate change. Case studies from Asia demonstrate that protecting LGBT rights often requires political branches of government to cooperate with courts. Political actors may resist implementing court-ordered reforms, especially if public opinion does not support the reforms.
Transgender-Specific Politics and Policy in Asia
Natasha Israt Kabir and Khadiza Tul Qubra Binte Ahsan
Acute discrimination has been witnessed across Asia regardless of individual countries’ specific policies towards transgender people. As individuals, it would be reassuring to believe that Article 1 of the UN Charter, which states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” would encourage people to ignore gender differences. In different parts of Asia, even where transgender people have been officially recognized, their rights are fragile. Indeed, today activists focus more on women’s rights than on the rights of all sexual minorities, who as a consequence often live in extreme poverty and ill-health. The exclusion of the transgender community in governmental policymaking is another salient reason for their current living conditions. Even though transgender candidates participate in elections in most countries, their representation in parliaments is rare. Furthermore, violence toward the transgender community is such a common scenario that it has become normalized. Victims rarely get support because of legal loopholes and the unwillingness of the law enforcement agencies to help. Transgender and gender diverse people are not only targeted but also discriminated by law through a denial of gender marker change on official documents; the criminalization of the gender and sexual preferences of transgender and gender diverse people; the exploitation of public order, homelessness, and minor offenses; the criminalization of consensual homosexuality and intimacy; and police abuses even in the absence of a specific offense. Regardless of parliamentary legislation and other legal frameworks, policymakers and law enforcement agencies routinely operate outside the law to violate the rights of transgender and sexual minority people. Among the abuses reported by transgender persons are blackmail, extortion, public humiliation, and physical and sexual violence. If policies to socially integrate transgender and gender diverse peoples are not implemented, the state of the transgender community in Asia will not improve.
Attitudes Toward LGB Families: International Policies and LGB Family Planning
Pedro Alexandre Costa
According to recent U.S. census data, there are over 700,000 same-gender couples, of which 114,00 have children. U.K. census data further revealed over 200,000 same-gender parented families, and there is evidence that these numbers have been increasing in the last few decades. Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, research on the psychosocial well-being of LGB families was established with a focus on the potential impact of parents’ sexual orientation on the psychological adjustment of their children. Interest in LGB families was evidenced by the growing political and public attention, and became a central issue within the LGBT+ movement across the Western world, especially in Europe and the United States. However, attitudes toward LGB family policies have not evolved in a linear fashion insofar as they have accompanied the constant back and forth in LGB family policies and legislation. Negative attitudes toward LGB family policies are rooted in the negative evaluations of LGB individuals based on beliefs that LGB people are less fit as parents or unable to form and sustain healthy relationships because of their sexual or gender identity. However, these negative beliefs differ according to heterosexual individuals’ characteristics. Research has shown that men, older, less educated, non-White, politically conservative, highly religious, and authoritarian, as well as those who believe that homosexuality is controllable, strictly adhere to traditional gender roles and authorities, and do not have frequent or close contact with LGB individuals, hold higher levels of sexual prejudice toward LGB individuals and LGB family policies. As of January 2020, same-gender marriage and parenthood are recognized in around 30 countries worldwide, although some countries recognize some forms of same-gender unions, but not marriage, whereas others recognize the right of LGB individuals to have children but not to marry. LGB family policies have progressed mostly through two different pathways: (a) the judicial pathway, which has involved litigation and court rulings on specific matters related to same-gender relationships and parenthood and which was undertaken in the United States, and (b) the legislative pathway, which has relied on political discussion and policy initiatives and was undertaken in the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain). The different pathways to equality in LGB family policies have different impacts for LGB individuals. In particular, the constant negative messages regarding same-gender couples as being unable to have healthy relationships have been shown to contribute to chronic minority stress and psychological distress among LGB individuals. By contrast, the legalization of same-gender marriage and parenthood provide important benefits and protections for LGB families in addition to promoting their well-being. Examining the evolution of attitudes and legislation regarding LGB family policies is important to inform further initiatives aimed at correcting inequalities for LGB families.
LGBT and Queer Politics in the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth is the international governmental organization of states that emerged from the British empire, and since 2000 it has emerged as a focus for contestation relating to the regulation of same-sex sexualities, gender diversity, and diverse sex characteristics. Following colonial criminalizations focused on same-sex sexual acts, and later formal decolonizations, there have appeared many national movements for decriminalization and human rights in relation to sexuality and gender. The Commonwealth has emerged as a site of politics for some significant actors claiming human rights in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics. This has been led by specific organizations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, increasingly with intersex people and allies, but it is also important to consider this in relation to queer people, understood more broadly here as people in all cultures experiencing forms of sexualities, biological sex and genders outside the social structure of heterosexuality, and its associated sex and gender binaries. A range of forms of activist and non-governmental organization (NGO) engagement have occurred, leading to shifts in Commonwealth civil society and among some state governments. This has required researchers to develop analyses across various scales, from local and national to international and transnational, to interpret institutions and movements. The British Empire criminalized same-sex sexual acts between males, and to a lesser extent between females, across its territories. In certain instances there were also forms of gender regulation, constraining life outside a gender binary. Such criminalization influenced some of those claiming LGBT human rights to engage the Commonwealth. Research shows that a majority of Commonwealth states continue to criminalize some adult consensual same-sex sexual activity. Yet the history of struggles for decriminalization and human rights within states in the Commonwealth has led up to such recent important decriminalizations as in India and Trinidad and Tobago in 2018. LGBT and queer activist engagements of the Commonwealth itself commenced in 2007 when Sexual Minorities Uganda and African allies demanded entry to the Commonwealth People’s Space during a Heads of Government meeting in Kampala. Activism has often focused on the biannual Heads of Government meetings that are accompanied by civil society forums. A particularly significant phenomenon has been the emergence of a “new London-based transnational politics of LGBT human rights,” evident in the creation from 2011 of new NGOs working internationally from the United Kingdom. Among these organizations was the Kaleidoscope Trust, which shaped the subsequent formation of The Commonwealth Equality Network as an international network of NGOs that became formally recognized by the Commonwealth. Significant developments occurred at the London Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April 2018; Prime Minister Theresa May expressed “regret” for past imperial criminalizations while announcing funding for Kaleidoscope Trust and other UK-based groups to use in international law reform work. These developments exemplify a wider problematic for both activists and analysts, concerning how LGBT and queer movements should engage in contexts that are still structured by imperial legacies and power relations associated with colonialism, persisting in the present.
Europe’s Supranational Courts and LGBT Rights
M. Joel Voss
Europe has some of the most powerful human rights legal institutions in the world including two supranational human rights courts—the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights and the European Union’s Court of Justice (hereafter, together—the Courts). After decades of relative quiet, the Courts have begun hearing more cases concerning LGBT rights. Judgments of the Courts have advanced some facets of LGBT rights like anti-discrimination in the workplace while disappointing gay-rights advocates in other areas, for example family life and asylum. Scholarship on European courts and LGBT rights is not as developed as scholarship on norm advocacy or policy diffusion within states in Europe. The research that does exist looks at how decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice deal with current European law, how the institutions are designed, or how the supranational courts may act as agents of change or status quo institutions in shaping wider European behavior. This lack of newer research on the Courts presents ample opportunity for new avenues of research that examines not only how decisions are made at the Courts but also how states implement decisions and how states view the legitimacy of each Court.
Sex Reclassification for Trans and Gender-Nonconforming People: From the Medicalized Body to the Privatized Self
Sex reclassification is a core issue of gender nonconforming legal engagements. Access to proper identification documents for trans and nonbinary people relates to lower levels of exposure to anti-trans violence, discrimination, and suicidality. In the first decades of the 21st century, the majority of global jurisdictions have seen some kind of reform with respect to sex reclassification. Nonbinary classifications, such as the X marker, are also becoming available for those who wish not to be classified as either M or F. Across the globe, five major policy streams can be found: total ban on reclassification, that is, having no law or policy in place that allows for reclassification; reproduction-related prerequisite, that is, requiring applicants to undergo sterilization or genital-related surgery; other medical intervention-based schemes, that is, requiring applicants to provide proof that they have modified their body using some kind of gender-related medical technology; corroboration requirements, that is, requiring that a third party, usually a medical professional, corroborates the identity of the applicant; and the emerging “gold standard,” gender self-determination, that is, laws and policies requiring only an expression of a desire or need to be reclassified. These streams of policy provide varying levels of access to proper identification documents and place different burdens on applicants, some requiring bodily modifications while others rely on autonomous will. Yet all these policies still demand an alignment between the internal truth of the body and external facts, resonating with the logic of birth assignment of sex itself—that is, the idea that the allocation of differentiated legal status of M or F reflects an immutable truth about legal subjects. Current laws and policies fail to address harms caused to gender nonconforming people by state mechanisms themselves. They only provide remedies ex post facto. In the early 21st century, all countries assign a differentiated legal status of either M or F at birth based solely, in almost all cases, on external genitals of newborns. This differentiated legal status is recorded on the birth certificate and becomes a part of one’s legal identity for life. This allocation of status reflects the idea that external genitals of newborns are proof of their owners’ future roles as men or women, that is, an idea that there is a pre-legal alignment between certain bodily configurations, social role, and gender performance. This mundane administrative mechanism not only justifies different treatment for men and women but also marks trans and nonbinary people as others. In order to better address the harm caused by systems of gendered distribution of resources and opportunities, there is a need to go beyond sex reclassification to question birth assignment itself.
LGBT Rights and Theoretical Perspectives
Francis Kuriakose and Deepa Kylasam Iyer
The question of LGBT rights was first examined as part of gender and sexuality studies in the 1980s, predominantly in the United States. This was a result of the LGBT movement that had articulated the demand for equal rights and freedom of sexual and gender minorities a decade before. Since then, the examination of LGBT rights has traversed multiple theoretical and methodological approaches and breached many disciplinary frontiers. Initially, gay and lesbian studies (GLS) emerged as an approach to understand the notion of LGBT identity using historical evidence. GLS emphasized the objectives of the LGBT movement in articulating its identity as an issue of minority rights within the ambit of litigation and case law. However, the definition of LGBT identity as a homogeneous and fixed category, and the conceptualization of equality rights as the ultimate project of emancipation, was critiqued on grounds of its normative and assimilationist tendencies. Queer theory emerged in the 1990s as a counter-discourse to GLS, using the individual-centric postmodern technique of deconstruction as the method of analysis. This approach opened up scope for multiple identities within the LGBT community to articulate their positionality, and reclaim the possibilities of sexual liberation that GLS had previously obscured. Subsequent scholarship has critiqued GLS and queer theory for incomplete theorization and inadequate representation, based on four types of counter-argument. The first argument is that queer theory, with its emphasis on self as an alternative for wider social interaction, concealed constitutive macrostructures such as neoliberal capitalism, as well as the social basis of identity and power relations. The second argument highlights the incomplete theorization of bisexual and transgender identities within the LGBT community. For example, understanding bisexuality involves questioning the universalism of monosexuality and postmodern notions of linear sexuality, and acknowledging the possibility of an integrated axis of gender and sexuality. Theorization of transgender and transsexual rights requires a grounded approach incorporating new variables such as work and violence in the historiography of transgender life. The third critique comes from decolonial scholarship that argues that intersectionality of race, gender, class, caste, and nationality brings out multiple concerns of social justice that have been rendered invisible by existing theory. The fourth critique emerged from family studies and clinical psychology, that used queer theory to ask questions about definitions of all family structures outside the couple norm, including non-reproductive heterosexuality, polyamorous relationships, and non-marital sexual unions. These critiques have allowed new questions to emerge as part of LGBT rights within the existing traditions, and enabled the question of LGBT rights to be considered across new disciplinary fronts. For example, the incorporation of the “queer” variable in hitherto technical disciplines such as economics, finance, and management is a development of the early-21st-century scholarship. In particular, the introduction of LGBT rights in economics to expand human capabilities has policy implications as it widens and mainstreams access of opportunities for LGBT communities through consumption, trade, education, employment, and social benefits, thereby expanding the actualization of LGBT rights.