“Transgender People Are Equal Members of Our Society”
-NHRCK Chairperson’s Statement on International Transgender Day of Visibility-
March 31 is International Transgender Day of Visibility. It is a global day designated to raise awareness about transgender people and shed light on related agendas. Establishing a day to acknowledge the existence of the trans community paradoxically reminds us how hard it is to come out as transgender.
Transgender describes a person whose sense of gender does not match their birth sex. In 2019, the World Health Organization officially removed transgender from the list of mental disorders and made it clear that a gender identity cannot be a category of mental health conditions.
Along with shifting perceptions of trans people in the medical sector, international organizations including the UN Human Rights Council, UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies and the Council of Europe have issued resolutions, recommendations and general comments prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and calling on States to take measures to stop hate and discrimination against trans people.
Despite global efforts to achieve transgender equality, Korea has neither adopted legal or policy measures to protect the rights of trans people nor has actively addressed social prejudice or discrimination against them. As a result, transgender individuals in our society have to take enormous risks to reveal their identity.
The Commission found in its 2020 survey on hate and discrimination against transgender people that only 19% of trans people disclosed their gender identity at work. Transgender people are barely visible in government statistics and surveys. They are often depicted in the media as a victim of tragedy or a target of prejudice rather than an equal member of society, which helps reinforce stereotypes and discrimination against them.
The fact that transgender people should take courage to gain visibility itself reflects discriminatory attitudes of our society towards trans people. Recently, we morned the tragic loss of three notable trans people-playwright Lee Eun-yong, who was not afraid to reveal her gender identity in pursuit of an equal society, music teacher and politician Kim Ki-hong and confident soldier Byun Hui-su.
We also witnessed a wave of change. A group of psychological counselors released a statement of solidarity, expressing condolences over the deaths of the three trans persons and holding the society accountable for the tragedy. A hospital with medical personnel for trans people, related staff training programs and gender-neutral restrooms opened its doors and medical colleges started offering classes on the right to health of LGBTI persons. The religious community, parents of LGBTI persons and human rights and civil society groups released a statement calling for the enactment of equality law that bans all forms of discrimination including discrimination targeting LGBTI individuals.
The Commission calls upon the government and the National Assembly to join in the efforts of different sectors of our society to combat discrimination against the LGBTI community. To fight discrimination and exclusion of LGBTI persons, the Constitutional principle of equality before the law should be applied in the legislative and policy-making processes. The National Assembly should act swiftly to achieve meaningful progress in the discussions about equality law which will help tackle discrimination and realize equality in our society.
The Commission expresses its support and solidarity with the LGBTI community and LGBTI rights activists and reaffirms its commitment to building a community that upholds the dignity of each and every individual.