OPINION, Dec 14 — We may have just glanced over it, but here it is again — between October 2014 and September 2015, there were 271 reported killings of transgender diverse persons, a global statistic released on Transgender Day of Remembrance, which falls on November 20 every year to honour and remember the lives lost in criminal acts of anti-transgender violence.
Malaysian activists believe that transgender persons have been killed here. However, the authorities did not recognise the murdered person’s gender identity and recognise the killing as a hate crime.
A life taken away deliberately because you are living your truth cannot be just.
Yet, we are assured that the right to life, liberty and security of person is enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) applies to ALL persons, not whom we think deserves to enjoy this right.
Even before Article 3, Article 1 of the UDHR proclaims that, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, and Article 2 of the UDHR promises that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.
In fact, as recently as September 2015 in an unprecedented initiative, 12 United Nations agencies issued a powerful joint call to action on ending violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) adults, adolescents and children.
There are several international covenants and declarations promoting rights of transgender persons.
Our Federal Constitution in Article 8 states there should be no discrimination based on gender.
However, as there are several provisions in the Penal Code and Shariah provisions that are punitive against transgender persons, activists have taken up cases to question the constitutionality of these laws.
There are even preposterous unfounded claims that to accept transgender lives is to accept paedophilia, bestiality and incest.
Outdated laws and narrow public attitudes deprive transgender persons of their right to live a life free of discrimination.
Is it wilful ignorance, fear and prejudice that breed hatred?
Is it not just as bad to be indifferent, lacking empathy for your fellow human beings who are different from the so called norm, and being victimised for simply being themselves?
Social acceptance begins with opening our minds to information, then to understanding. We can make the choice to seek for ourselves the truth about transgender persons.
For a start, transgender people are your colleagues, neighbours and friends; they are our sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers, cousins, aunts, uncles — representing all ethnic and faiths.
A transgender person’s gender identity differs from what it says on his or her birth certificate. However, their identity, who they are is natural and is instinctively a personal sense of being a woman or a man.
Some transgender persons self identify themselves as fully male or female, while others see their gender identity as a continuum between the two. Some, not necessarily all, transgender people may then seek to bring their bodies more into alignment with their gender identity.
Gender identity is different from sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is whom you are attracted to physically and emotionally; it is whom you fall in love with.
Gender identity is about one’s sense of self. Thus a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted to men would identify herself as a straight woman.
The staggering levels of discrimination faced by transgender persons ranging from humiliation to unemployment to incarceration, all pile up to further rejection and marginalisation in our society.
Will you make a stand to be inclusive, inclusive, compassionate and just?
We can all agree that transgender persons are citizens with rights accorded under the Federal Constitution. Constitutionally, not to mention rationally, all citizens are accorded the right to life and dignity, free from discrimination — and that includes the right to earn a living, the right to healthcare, the right to expression, the right not to be persecuted and the right to choose your own life. That right is for all citizens regardless of gender.
We can all further agree that violence is wrong; one cannot beat, attack, slash, spit, whip, sexually assault and kill a transgender person because he or she did not conform to our definition of what is normal.
A family member, the community and state authorities cannot deprive any person their life and liberty — through any means — including violence.
The reluctance by law enforcers to investigate and prosecute criminal acts against transgenders only further reinforces the notion that these violations are acceptable.
Many transgender persons are even afraid to come forward to report that they have been attacked for fear that they will be arrested and humiliated for their gender identity. It is indeed a vicious plight.
Starting to find out more is a first step to opening our minds and hearts.
Our silence when a member of the community is discriminated against, violated and victimised speaks more about who we are.
We can choose to respect and uphold the rights of transgender persons because lives matter, every single life matters.
* Ivy Josiah is an executive committee member of The National Human Rights Society
HAKAM-MMO Human Rights Day 2015 project
Since 1950, the world marks December 10 as Human Rights Day. It is a day to create awareness to fundamental human rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.
This year, the National Human Rights Society, in collaboration with Malay Mail Online, is publishing seven articles over seven days to bring attention to seven specific interest areas concerning human rights in Malaysia.