Written by: Liam Isić
For the first time in history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, transgender rights were discussed in the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina on May 17th, 2017. I talked, from personal experience, about problems that transgender persons are faced with due to chaotic law regulations that fail to provide rights and freedoms anticipated in Convention on protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, which is being directly applied in Bosnia and Herzegovina and whose acts have priority over all other laws.
Although discrimination of transgender persons was de facto prohibited in 2009 by the Law on discrimination prohibition, human rights of transgender persons are still inadequately protected, especially their right of self-identification in terms of free identification of their gender, in reference to gender identity. The right of transgender persons to self-identify includes the following: 1.) life with a gender identity that does not necessarily follow medical reassignment of biological sex. 2.) medical sex reassignment, i.e. sex reassignment in accordance with personal gender identity.
Activism does not mean fighting for only the personal rights and freedoms, but fighting for rights and freedoms of us all. May 13th, 2017 was very meaningful for me as someone who delivered the speech to the Parliament, but also for all transgender persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was the first time that lives and problems of transgender persons and the rights they deserve were discussed at an institution of this kind. In my opinion, the most important thing about this speech was that the existence of transgender people was brought up publicly for the first time. I am certain that the audience at the conference was surprised, because a transgender person decided to personally deliver a speech, since the visibility of this particular minority group is at an all times low, which makes people think they do not even exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Although many people argue that due to small numbers of transgender people in the country, changes and implementation of new laws are not necessary if they are only there to serve one or two persons. I did not want my speech to focus entirely on numbers. It is inexcusable to talk about numbers, when we are talking about lives, rights, and freedoms of these people. I only used numbers when addressing the survey results provided by the Sarajevo Open Centre in 2015 that offered a glimpse into why these laws on the rights of transgender people are necessary in order to protect their physical and psychological integrity, and their right to dignified life.
My speech touched on the key points such as nonexistent or chaotic laws, which are the cause of problems transgender persons are faced with daily. Inability to change your sex marker and ID number in personal documents, because it is conditioned by full medial sex reassignment that cannot be done in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the costs of transition, which has to be done abroad, and whose costs are not covered by medical insurance, make problems when passing the borders, in institutions where it is mandatory to give personal documents, problems in the employment process, and problems in accessing health institutions and services. Additional problem is the fact that transgender identity is pathologized, which means that is on the list of mental illnesses, known as gender dysphoria.
Out of the total number of transgender survey participants, 30% had problems with identification documents (ID, passport, index, health care documents, etc.), and all participants (100%) were faced with the problem of changing their personal documents, and determination of their gender identity during the use of health care services, passing the borders, and renting the apartment (75%), at educational institutions, and determination of gender identity in employment process (50%). When asked ‘’would you change the sex marker in your personal documents if it was possible?’’, 88% of participants answered “yes”. The need to align identification documents with the real situation is necessary, which is obvious in this survey, because the regulation of identification documents would fix the quality of transgender persons’ lives, and would stop resulting in discriminatory and potentially dangerous situations.
Presented and recommended models of law regulate the right to self-identify, prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sex, sex characteristics, gender, gender identity and gender expression, legal recognition of sex reassignment or life in another gender identity, the frame for giving the same rights and possibilities to persons whose gender identity is different in reference to biological sex, persons who are in the sex reassignment process, persons who made a sex reassignment in accordance with their gender identity, consistent with the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina and international and European standards on human rights and freedoms protection. Detailed explanation of this law is available in the following publication: Trans*formation of rights – models of legal regulation of sex reassignment in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I consider this a big step forward in the field of transgender activism, because this was not only the first time that a transgender person delivered a speech on transgender rights, but also the awareness of the existence of transgender persons was raised, and we put an end to a routine where our missing rights are discussed by people who actually have them , and our specific problems are presented by people who do not have these problems. On May 17th, 2017, we proved that we exist, our lives matter, and we deserve equal rights and freedoms like all other citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.