Let me begin by thanking the more than 20 governments — and the European Union — for co-sponsoring this event, as well as the co-sponsoring nongovernmental organizations, which have conducted relentless advocacy on behalf of transgender people worldwide. I’m proud to join you for the first UN side event that the United States has sponsored on the human rights of transgender and gender diverse individuals.
We meet at a time when transgender and gender diverse people have never been more visible – as public intellectuals and elected officials, entrepreneurs and researchers, artists and scientists, and simply as members of our communities. And yet, transgender and gender diverse people are still not treated as equals – and they still aren’t safe or free in most of the world.
Governments around the world continue to use discriminatory laws, policies, and practices to deny them equal access to justice, health, education, and job opportunities. For many, this has worsened during the pandemic, which some governments have used to impose gender-based discrimination on everything from freedom of movement to access to care. Transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, face harrowing levels of violence.
The United States is no exception. 2020 was the deadliest year on record for transgender people in our country. One in four transgender Americans has endured a bias-driven assault.
Behind every one of these numbers is a human being. Like the Guatemalan transgender activists, Cecy Ixpata and Andrea González, who were killed within days of one another earlier this month. Cecy was shot to death outside her home. Andrea was beaten to death while working in a market in broad daylight. It was a huge loss for their community. It was also a loss for the United States – Andrea had been a fellow in the State Department’s leadership program and worked with USAID in Guatemala.
Cecy’s and Andrea’s murderers have not been punished, which is the case for most perpetrators of violence toward transgender people. That impunity sends a clear message: targeting transgender people is acceptable. You can do it without consequences.
In many countries, transgender people are targeted by police under a range of laws criminalizing things like hooliganism, public-order offenses, and same-sex activities. And in some countries, the mere act of a transgender person expressing their gender identity is a crime.
On February 8, two transgender women, Shakiro and Patricia, were arrested in Cameroon — a country that holds a seat on the UN Human Rights Council — for wearing typically female clothing. They were reportedly interrogated, beaten, and threatened with death. Last month, they were sentenced to five years in prison.
We must stand up and say with one voice that transgender individuals, like all LGBTQI individuals, are entitled to the enjoyment of human rights. And we must lead by the power of our example – in our work at home and around the world.
We certainly have more work to do in the United States. But I’m proud to work for an administration that has launched a whole-of-government effort to advance equity and justice for communities that have been left behind, underserved, or discriminated against by federal policies, laws, and programs – particularly transgender people.
For example, we’re ensuring that transgender people can access emergency shelters that respect their identity — a crucial issue, given that 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQI. We’ve enabled all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform, regardless of gender identity. We’re working to make our schools free from discrimination — including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And we’re advancing LGBTQI rights worldwide as part of our foreign policy, at the direction of President Biden.
As the President has made clear and I quote: “Everyone is entitled to dignity and equality, no matter who they are, whom they love, or how they identify — and we will continue to engage with allies and partners to advance the human rights of LGBTQI people here at home and in all corners of the world,” end quote.
So the United States is making clear to all governments that violence against transgender and gender diverse people is unacceptable, and that perpetrators must be held accountable. We are pushing back on foreign governments that criminalize LGBTQI people and expanding efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, and intolerance on the basis of LGBTQI status or conduct. We’re also improving protection for LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers, including transgender and gender diverse people — such as brave advocates like panelist Rikki Nathanson, who had to flee Zimbabwe for her activism.We’re deepening our support for civil society leaders on the front lines of this struggle and rallying private and foundation partners to our side – for example, through the Global Equality Fund. And lastly, we’re lifting up the remarkable contributions transgender and gender diverse people are making to our country and world — because diversity makes us stronger.
That’s certainly true for the State Department – and it’s true across our government and society. Sarah McBride’s service is testament to that.
So is Dr. Rachel Levine’s. She’s the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health — the highest-ranking openly transgender person ever to serve in our government. But one of the most important parts of her story is that she’s a highly skilled public health professional. As Pennsylvanian’s Physician General, she helped the state effectively manage the pandemic. She became a voice that people across that state trusted at a moment when that trust was badly needed. Now she’s working for all Americans as we continue to confront our greatest health crisis in a century.
Dr. Levine and State Senator McBride help remind us of the future we’re fighting for. It’s not only one free from violence and discrimination. It’s also one where transgender, gender diverse, and all LGBTQI people can realize their full potential, pursue their dreams, and be treated with dignity – where all our societies benefit from their talents and contributions – and where all kids everywhere grow up knowing that they will be loved and accepted for who they are, no matter what.
Thanks for listening.