Since 2013 until today, cases of discrimination of transgender people have been analysed within our monitoring. The principal attention was paid to conflictual and discriminatory situations that arose from the fact that a person chanced to be transgender.
Transgender people are the persons whose self-perception does not correspond with their biological gender. This discrepancy can cause an extremely painful discomfort called “gender dysphoria”. To get rid of gender dysphoria and bring their body and social status in line with their self-perception, such people make a transgender transition.
Currently, transgender people in Belarus face discrimination on a daily basis due to the mismatch of their appearance documents and gender identity. In Belarus, there officially exists a two-stage procedure for changing gender, but this process can take a long time, during which transgender people can be fired, have difficulties finding a new job, and face disrespectful treatment and insults.
Some persons covered in the monitoring asked not to mention their last names, because they did not want to draw others‘ attention.
Veronika, a transgender woman from Minsk, 46 years old
One of the main discrimination factors for most transgender people is the original identification number (containing information about the biological sex), which reappears in any new passport. For transgender people in Belarus this is a “stigma” and a reminder of the past that cannot be eliminated even by changing documents, Veronika says. She received a new passport when she worked in a shopping center. However, after she had been kicked out of there, the “stigma” did not allow her to find a job for a long time.
Veronica’s problems at work began when the security service of the retail network where she worked organized the verification of passport data. Her biological identity became known to the director of the store. As a result, one who had been reputed a good worker suddenly became a bad one: the administration began to harass and oppress her. The director threatened to dismiss her for cause so that she could not get a job in another retail network. She did not want to resign on her own because there was a rule that if a person worked for less than a year and wanted to resign, she/he had to pay money back for training. And she really did not want to pay for a formal two-week training. But she was not allowed to transfer to another store of the same retail network. For a couple of days the management concocted two reprimands and only one more was needed to fire her for cause. Veronika turned to the senior manager of the company for help and protection. But in the end, she was forced to resign on her own. Fortunately for her, the management was so happy to get rid of the “wrong” woman that they agreed that Veronica would not have to pay back for her training.
Elena, a transgender woman from Bobruisk, 29 years old
The original identification number (containing information about biological sex) prevents transgender people not only from career building, it causes difficulties in everyday life as it is disclosed any time the person presents their passport data in a hospital, bank, and generally during any document verification.
The person is forced to give humiliating explanations and face ridicule and insults from others. People who were forced to exist in the wrong body in the past left “traces” in various organizations to which they applied. In the new life, the past pops up wherever these “traces” were left. For example, recently Elena applied for a bank card. At the bank, on entering her personal number, old information popped up. Six years ago, she received a little transfer from this bank and her data was stored in the system. To settle the issue, Elena had to make a phone coming-out in front of the chief customer service specialist and ask him to change her data. This was fraught with a lot of strain and humiliation.
Zhenya Velko, transgender man from Minsk, 23 years old
In addition to discrimination in social life, transgender people also experience serious problems when they undergo the procedure of changing gender. The chief problem is the existence of two commissions for gender change. One commission only allows the person to replace all documents and start hormone therapy. But in order to have surgery one has to undergo another commission. Besides, the person can begin a medical transition (i.e. hormone therapy) only a year after the change of documents, that is, in fact, 2 – 2.5 years after registration. Moreover, officials are extremely reluctant to diagnose transsexualism if, at the time of the examination, the applicant’s appearance does not correspond to the desired gender. As practice shows, it is extremely rare for a person without hormone therapy to correspond to the desired gender. As a result, most transgender women and men are forced to self-medicate, which evokes harsh criticism on the part of sexologists. But the truth is that those who started the transition with no supervision of specialists have most chances quickly to get the documents they desire. However, this usually takes a toll on their health.
Those who do everything “according to the rules”, like Zhenya Vel’ko, go through the procedure much longer, because they have more difficulties proving they are really transgender. The diagnosis is primarily based on the appearance of the person, and not on psychological experiences such as gender dysphoria, depression or discomfort due to undesirable sexual characteristics. Had Zhenya Velko turned to a sexologist after a year of hormone therapy, having stubble on his face and a low voice, he would have most likely changed documents in a year or so, and not in three years.
Maria Tokarchuk, a transgender woman from Minsk, 22 years old
Another big problem is the irregularity of the commission’s meetings. This is the problem that was encountered by Maria Tokarchuk, who underwent the procedure in 2017-2019. The whole system was in a state of uncertainty, because Oleg Khimko, the chief sexologist of the Health Ministry, who was the acting secretary of the commission, once again decided to resign. Previously, he resigned in 2017 and for about nine months nobody was found in his place. At the end Khimko returned to work, but, alas, within less than a year, he decided to resign again. Patients were abandoned to their fates. Those who had already changed documents could not get permission from the commission for surgery and hormone therapy, and those who were waiting for the first commission for changing documents did not know what would happen to them. These are completely unacceptable standards of treatment. Both Ukraine and Russia abandoned the outdated system of a unified state commission. It only remained in Belarus.
Most transgender people say that they face denial of services, bewilderment, aggression and discrimination in general only when they are forced to show an identity card that does not correspond with their appearance and gender identity. This gives reason to believe that the number of discriminatory cases could be seriously reduced if the procedure for changing documents for transgender people was faster and easier.
Thus, to improve the quality of life of transgender people in Belarus, it is necessary that the process of changing documents becomes fast, transparent and accessible, in accordance with international standards.
Another problem, which is relevant to transgender men (people who were born biologically female but started to feel themselves as men), is a military ID. In this document, officials make a reference to article 19a of the List of Diseases (a normative document on how to determine one’s fitness for military service), which indicates an allegedly severe mental illness. What is absurd about it is that in order to get the right to change documents, the person undergoes an examination and experts conclude that there are no psychiatric problems, but at the same time the military enlistment office puts a reference to the article about severe mental illness. This causes considerable difficulties in life: transgender people are deprived of the opportunity to work in almost any position, except for the lowest paid.
1. The main problems of transgender people in Belarus are:
a. The inability to change the passport personal number that contains information about their biological gender – this number constantly betrays the fact of gender change of the owner of the document.
b. Stigmatization and strong pressure from others. In fact, the transition causes a “civil death”, as the person has not only to rebuild all social ties, but lives in constant fear that her or his past life will be “revealed” to new friends and acquaintances, and even more so, colleagues at work.
c. Reference to article 19a (severe mental illness) in a military ID, which leads to a number of problems with further socialization, employment and prospects to make a career.
d. A two-stage commission, which meets only twice a year and gives permission to take hormonal drugs and undergo surgery only at the second stage.
2. On the one hand, the procedure of changing the biological gender is free in Belarus, on the other hand, it is extremely bureaucratic and complicated with a number of rules that transgender people are forced to violate (which is fraught with health risks) if they want to change their gender.
3. Self-support groups of transgender people are at the embryonic stage; there are no organizations providing assistance to transgender teenagers who face even greater stigma and pressure from society, including the risks of being removed from their family, according to Decree No. 18.
4. There are no large public assistance organizations (legal, psychological, financial, employment assistance, etc.) for transgender people. At the moment all assistance to transgender people is at the level of minor initiatives of human rights organizations. There are no separate associations of transgender persons.