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Transgender people in Lithuania still live in the "grey area"

The Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson has issued the National Review of the Situation of Transgender Persons in Lithuania. The study revealed that the attitudes towards transgender people in Lithuania are more favourable than towards homosexual people. However, many respondents did not have knowledge of or opinion on this group of society.

The authors of the Review also analysed the legal gaps that prevent transgender persons from living a usual and full-fledged life. The recommendations on necessary actions are also provided in the publication.

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When summarizing the survey of 1,000 Lithuanian residents from 24 cities and 33 towns, researchers concluded that respondents often cannot identify their attitudes towards transgender people on various issues. According to the authors, “the respondents don’t have negative attitudes towards transgender persons, they don’t have clear opinion, that’s why the future shifts of public opinion about transgender persons in Lithuanian society will depend a lot on how this topic will be reflected in the public discourse”.

The most difficult question for the respondents to answer was whether the national laws effectively protect transgender people from discrimination. Nearly 40% of survey participants was unable to answer this question due the lack of knowledge.

The survey provides an analysis on the situation of transgender persons in the context of other social groups as well. Transgender persons turned out to be neither the best nor the worst rated group in society. For instance, around 62% of respondents would refuse to rent housing for a transgender person comparing to 65% who would refuse to rent housing for homosexual person, while 88.5% would do the same for Roma people and 63% for refugees.

Around 36% wouldn’t agree to work with a transgender person and almost half wouldn’t want to live in the neighbourhood. It should be noted that more than half of the Lithuanian population doesn’t know or isn’t sure what the term "transgender person" means.

When asked about how Lithuanian residents would describe a transgender person, one fifth of those who answered this question described them negatively. The majority defined the term in a neutral way - as those who want to change their sex and as a result are seeking for this or have already changed it (43%). Likewise, one fifth thought that a transgender person could be called as someone who consider themselves of other gender than their sex.

More than half of the population believes that transgender men and women are not real men or women (over 66 %), almost 60 percent agreed that they are not the same as other men or women, 64% believes that being transgender is not natural.

Respondents were also asked how their relationship would change if they learned about their close friend being transgender. About 40% claimed that this fact would not affect their relationship, 15% answered that the relationship would deteriorate, one-tenth said that it would end the friendship. 35% of respondents wouldn’t know how to react in a situation like this.

Missing procedures

The interviews with transgender persons who completed the procedure of legal gender recognition and experts working in the field of transgender rights protection revealed the lack of legal regulation and lack of proper implementation of existing legislation.

Transgender persons experience particular problems related with handling of their personal data when receiving health services, in the sphere of employment or adjusting gender in the documents confirming acquired competences.

“Even if the documents were changed, my health card in the clinic wouldn’t be replaced with a new one. They would stick a sheet of paper with my new name and surname on top, but all the consent for treatment is in my previous name. They refuse to change this,” says one of the interviewees.

In this way, confidential information about the identity of the transgender person becomes available to any employee, trainee or other visitor of the clinic. For example, when a patient arrives to register for an appointment with a doctor and is asked at the reception to explain why the entries do not match, information about patient being transgender is revealed.

Transgender persons who complete the process of legal gender recognition still face uncertainty in accessing healthcare. There are no procedures available for surgical gender reassignment in Lithuania, and it is not clear how preventive care would be carried out following such a procedure abroad.

The lack of knowledge and expertise of medical professionals such as psychiatrists, gynaecologists, urologists, endocrinologists are also an issue. One respondent said he tried to find an endocrinologist who would advise on hormone replacement therapy, but all endocrinologists contacted refused to provide consultations. According to an interviewed representative of the Ministry of Health, the cause of refusal to serve transgender patients could be explained due to lack of awareness and of the legal framework on hormonal treatment for transgender persons.

Because of lacking legal provisions in the field of healthcare, transgender persons avoid going to the healthcare institutions – they are looking for alternative ways to get the necessary hormonal products. Such situation put the health of transgender persons in danger. In addition, even when the services are available, their quality often depends on the patient's place of residence and financial situation.

Legal gaps

More than a decade ago, due the lack of legal regulation on transgender persons rights, Lithuania lost the case L versus Lithuania in the European Court of Human Rights. The Court ruled that Lithuania has an obligation to provide the necessary legal regulation on gender reassignment procedure, but this obligation has not been implemented so far.

Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson Agneta Skardžiuvienė believes that the unimplemented decision of the European Court of Human Rights constrains the human rights of some citizens and negatively affects the international reputation of Lithuania.

“Transgender persons will be discriminated due to the lack of legal provisions, if the legislation establishing clear procedures is not provided. Quality of public services and legal protection should not depend on the good will of individual professionals,” says the Ombudsperson.

The National Review provides the suggestions on effectively addressing the issues met by transgender persons. One of the key recommendations is to adopt the Gender Identity Recognition Act (a draft is already prepared by the Ministry of Justice). It is also proposed to ensure access to health services and adequate protection of personal data.

The situation of transgender persons in Lithuania would become more certain if the gender identity was legally established as a separate ground on which discrimination is prohibited. Legislators are urged to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization and to remove transsexuality from the list of mental disorders as well as to recognize same-sex families. According to the current procedure, married persons have to terminate a valid marriage in order to complete their legal gender identity recognition procedure.

You can read the entire review by clicking HERE.

Agneta Skardžiuvienė

Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson of the Republic of Lithuania

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