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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Breakthrough on transgender rights in ... Kyrgyzstan

By Paul Canning

Global Fund for Women reports that an LGBT group in Kyrgyzstan have achieved a breakthrough on transgender rights which still eludes many Western nations.

Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked and mountainous, formerly Soviet state in Central Asia. In the last year it has suffered major ethnic rioting and a change of government. It hosts the only US military base remaining in Central Asia.

Kyrgyzstan has passed new gender marker legislation which does not require a formal document to be issued by a medical institution showing a medical intervention. The new law solves the problem of there being no such process for medical professionals to follow and no relevant government document necessary.

The law is the result of years of work by Labrys, a group working for LGBT rights in Kyrgyzstan which has existed since 2004.

“Our job was to develop legislation that would allow transgender people to be able to change their name and gender marker without any kind of medical interventions if they do not wish to do so,” said Labrys’ founder, 31-year-old Anna Kirey.

“When we started it was almost impossible to think that we would be able to cooperate with people at high levels in government. It took a lot of work, but seeing that cooperation is possible makes me very inspired.”

“Slowly and painfully, the topic of LGBT is shedding its skin of being a ‘taboo’ issue,” said Syinat Sultanalieva, a Labrys staff member.

The law was signed, without objections, by 13 various Ministries of the Kyrgyz Republic. The decree is now on the Prime Minister’s desk awaiting the final signature.

“You can work so much better when you have support from people in the government,” said Anna.

After authoring alternative reports for UN human rights bodies on violence and discrimination facing Kyrgyzstan’s LGBT population, Labrys garnered international attention, which they used to establish an official working group with the Kyrgyz Republic’s Ministry of Health.

The first of its kind, the working group is made up of health officials, medical specialists, psychiatrists, Labrys representatives, and people from the transgender community. Their goal is to develop an identity policy that upholds the rights and dignity of transgender people.

Labrys staff conducts trainings for doctors and psychiatrists on sexual orientation and gender identity. The group is now a trusted resource for Kyrgyz medical specialists.

“A lot of doctors had never met an LGBT person before,” said Anna. “It was exciting to see these new friendships happen.”

Homosexuality is legal but individuals still risk losing their jobs and becoming disowned by their families. Despite the progress, the rate of violence is still staggering: Labrys' research shows that one in four LBT interviewees experienced sexual violence and were forced into “curative” sexual situations.

In 2008, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on officials to “halt anti-gay raids,” highlighting an assault on the main office of Labrys. Police searched the premises and read private files without a warrant, interrupting a dinner party with international funders. During an earlier raid on Labrys, police threatened “they would rape everyone inside,” according to HRW.

As LGBT representatives have grown more organized and capable of defending themselves against strong-arm tactics, law enforcement officials have turned to threatening and extorting money from community members.

The group has become a leader amongst Russian speaking nations, most recently helping a fellow group in neighbouring Tajikistan submit a report to the United Nations. They train activists in other Central Asian countries on how to document human rights violations.

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