In the past year we have seen a number of countries implement laws that recognize diverse gender identities and expand the rights of transgender people. Uruguay is one such example. In October 2018, Congress passed a law setting out legal gender recognition through self-determination, defining gender-affirming surgery and hormone therapy as a right paid for by the national government, reserving 1% of government jobs for transgender people, and setting up a fund to pay reparations to trans people who were persecuted under the military dictatorship from 1973 to 1985.
We have also seen major reform on the international stage through multilateral systems and mechanisms. For example, the World Health Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, removed transgender identities from the mental health disorders classification in June 2018. The Caribbean Court of Justice ruled in November 2018 that a law in Guyana which made it a criminal offence to appear in a public place dressed in the clothing of the opposite sex is unconstitutional.
Despite these historic gains, we are also witnessing a rise in right-wing nationalism and so-called anti-gender movements targeting gender equality, advocating for exclusion of LGBTIQ people, and extreme restrictions on sexual and reproductive health and rights with far-reaching consequences. This has led to a rise in queerphobic, and especially transphobic rhetoric coming from political actors, and, in some cases, systematic attempts to roll back progress made to recognize the diversity of gender identities.
Despite these historic gains, we are also witnessing a rise in right-wing nationalism and so-called anti-gender movements targeting gender equality, advocating for exclusion of LGBTIQ people, and extreme restrictions on sexual and reproductive health and rights with far-reaching consequences.
In Brazil, for example, the election of Jair Bolsonaro brought in a new wave of anti-LGBTIQ rhetoric from government officials, including the President himself, who stated his administration “will unite people, value the family, respect religions and our Judeo-Christian tradition, combat gender ideology and rescue our values.”[i] In the United States, the Trump administration has proposed to define gender as an immutable, unchangeable condition determined by genitalia at birth. This rhetoric has undeniably turned into concrete discriminatory policy measures at a national level, such as the implementation of a ban on transgender military personnel, as well as entered multilateral spaces. During the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, for example, representatives from the United States attempted to remove the word “gender” from numerous draft resolutions, requesting to replace it with the term “woman.”[ii]
Recently, we saw these efforts duplicated at the 63rd Session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) at the UN in New York. A number of delegations negotiating the official outcome document of the CSW, including the US, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Russia, attempted to remove or limit references to gender throughout the document, instead proposing to insert narrow terms which reinforce a gender binary, excluding LGBIQ and especially T persons from the CSW's guidance to states on their gender equality efforts.[iii] At the conclusion of the CSW, Brazil stated: “Brazil dissociates itself from the use of the following language in the text…the alternate use of the expression - gender and sex. We consider that for these purposes gender is the synonym of sex and sex is defined biologically as male and female.”
Outside of negotiating rooms right-wing civil society groups staged a concerted attack on the human rights of LGBTIQ people through a number of events targeting gender diverse people with especial ferocity. The Center for Family & Human Rights and the Observer Mission of the Holy See hosted an event on ‘gender ideology’, promoting ideas that gender identity purportedly undermines the family and the biological functions of men and women. The Heritage Foundation and Hands Across the Aisle hosted an event entitled “Biology Isn’t Bigotry: Why Sex Matters to Women and Girls in the Age of Gender Identity” which continued to tout these ideas. Additionally, a group called CitizenGo launched a cyber-attack against the vice chair of the conference who was facilitating the negotiations, which included sending over 3000 text messages to her personal phone demanding that the text of the CSW not include references to abortion, sexual orientation and gender identity, or comprehensive sexuality education.
What is notable about the events that transpired during the CSW is the range of actors that continuously touted this anti-gender narrative. Not only were conservative states and right-wing, often religiously affiliated, civil society organizations at the helm of these discussions, they also include groups and individuals identifying as feminist and from among the LGBTIQ community manipulating secular feminist principles and language to advocate for transgender exclusion. We have seen this play out during London’s Pride in July 2018 where anti-trans lesbians hijacked the front of the Pride march to advocate trans-exclusion. More recently, this has also been reflected at events hosted by groups like the Heritage Foundation that included LGBTIQ-identified individuals, and increasingly online even in spaces that identify as LGBTIQ spaces. This collaborative approach provides an alarming insight into how anti-gender forces are coming together to attack gender equality and inclusivity efforts at local, national and international levels.
At the base of the anti-gender movement is an alarming alliance formed by diverse groups, religious and secular, against truly feminist principles and ideals. Ideals which are centred on the belief that the root of gender inequality is the social construction of gender roles and norms, and that these constructions produce personal and systemic experiences of stigma, discrimination and violence.
At the base of the anti-gender movement is an alarming alliance formed by diverse groups, religious and secular, against truly feminist principles and ideals.
Such efforts uphold a patriarchal system in which women and gender diverse people’s autonomy and human rights continued to be violated. Moreover, the hateful and exclusionary rhetoric online, through political platforms and increasingly the UN, gives the green light for violence against individuals who do not fit the norm advocated by these anti-gender, fundamentalist forces. Organizations monitoring the murder of trans and gender diverse people have noted a stark increase in the murder of trans and gender diverse people in the last several years.[iv]
As anti-gender actors continue to widen their hateful attacks from local, national and regional spaces into international forums like the UN, it is vital that feminist organizations and progressive governments continue to stand firm in opposition of such hateful rhetoric and strategize to ensure that we hold the line in the fight for gender equality.
It is vital that feminist organizations and progressive governments continue to stand firm in opposition of such hateful rhetoric and strategize to ensure that we hold the line in the fight for gender equality.
[i] Faiola A., Lopes M. (18 February 2019) LGBT rights threatened in Brazil under new far-right president. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/lgbt-rights-under-attack-in-brazil-under-new-far-right-president/2019/02/17/b24e1dcc-1b28-11e9-b8e6-567190c2fd08_story.html?utm_term=.6ba5cb90ac69
[ii] Borger, J. (25 October 2018). Trump administration wants to remove 'gender' from UN human rights documents. The Guardian.
[iii] Ford, L. ( 18 March 2019). US accused of trying to dilute global agreements on women's rights. The Guardian.
[iv] Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) 2018: Press Release. 369 reported murders of trans and gender-diverse people in the last year https://transrespect.org/en/tmm-update-trans-day-of-remembrance-2018/
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