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FOCUS September 2018 Volume 93

Disability, SOGIE and Equality in Asia


People suffer discrimination and other human rights violations or abuses because of their disability or sexual orientation/gender identity. Some people suffer even more when they identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) persons while also having disabilities. 

Very little is heard on regional initiatives (Asian level) that address these issues as joint effort of networks of persons with disabilities (PWDs) and LGBT persons.

How should PWDs deal with their own sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE) issues? How should PWD issues be considered by SOGIE groups, and that of SOGIE issues by PWD groups?

Main Problem
The Conference on Disability, SOGIE and Equality in Asia held in Kyoto on 6-7 August 2018 discussed the main problem: the lack of proper response by mainstream society to situations of people with multiple identities particularly the PWDs who identify as LGBT persons. 

The conference revealed the need to gather as much data as possible on PWDs who are also LGBT persons to be able to map out possible means of reaching out to them.

Addressing the situations of PWDs who are also LGBT persons necessitates the consideration of the following issues:

a.  Resistance among people in the disability and SOGIE groups in taking up each other’s issues - based on the discussions in the conference, some PWD groups are not yet willing to take up the SOGIE issues of their members, while SOGIE groups hesitate in taking up PWD issues. This situation prevents the adoption of appropriate responses within their respective groups to the needs of PWDs who identify as LGBT persons. The concept of LGBT may not also be widely agreed upon among the LGBT persons (see box below of a case in Japan);
b.  Divided views among members of the United Nations Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities on recognizing LGBT persons among PWDs  -  as seen in the draft General Comment1 on articles 4.32 and 33.33 (on participation of PWDs in the drafting, implementation and monitoring of implementation of laws and policies to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities), references to “LGBTIQ persons or communities” are in brackets, which indicate lack of agreement among Committee members. Failing to mention “LGBTIQ persons or communities” in the General Comment on articles 4.3 and 33.3 would further strengthen resistance within the disability and SOGIE groups to addressing the two issues together;
c.  People in the community are not always open to discussing SOGIE issues as shown in the backlash from community on SOGIE issues (Mongolia), strong traditional values that stigmatize SOGIE (Vietnam) or rejection of feminist thinking (Indonesia, as far as some Muslims are concerned) ;
d.  PWDs are hidden at home by their own families (Myanmar);
e.  Lack of professionals who can help the PWDs properly;
f.  Communication problem - difficulty of the PWDs in expressing their situation of conflict or abuse, as well as the difficulty of other people to understand what they (PWDs) are saying.

In response to this situation, some PWD groups were established to cover SOGIE issues along with those of PWDs (such as Tsan Ku Er in Taiwan, which was founded in 2008); other organizations have started working on both issues (as in the case of CREA in India).

Positive Developments
There are some positive developments in terms of laws and programs in some countries that support both the rights of PWDs and LGBT persons.

The presentations in the conference introduced strategies in addressing the issues such as the following:

a.  Care for the sexual needs of PWDs – in Taiwan, a non-governmental organization called Hand Angel provides sex  (not transactional sex) service to PWDs to empower them (by promoting stronger will to live);
b.  Use of films on SOGIE – people’s recognition of SOGIE can increase through good commercial movies such as the positive response of the Mongolians to the Golden Treasure movie (story of a gay person in a rural community);
c.  Storytelling – in Cambodia, a non-governmental organization  called CamASEAN encourages people to tell their stories in order to empower LGBT persons and in expressing themselves as PWDS through community activities (photo exhibition, storytelling sessions) and the social media (Facebook and other social media platforms);
d.  Support for people who would like to become politicians – CamASEAN supports LGBT persons who would like to advocate the cause of PWDs and SOGIE as politicians. 

Several conference participants shared survey results on related issues, which emphasized the importance of data on PWDs and LGBT persons in advocating for their rights.

The Conference on Disability, SOGIE and Equality in Asia held in Kyoto city on 6-7 August 2018 was jointly organized by the Research Center for Ars Vivendi (RCAV), Ritsumeikan University, Japan; Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (NCHR), University of Oslo; and East-Lake Institute for Social Advancement, China.

group photo 3b.jpg

Medical Institutions and the Trans Community
Keiko (not her real name) is a transgender who wants to have a “transition” to a lifestyle that suits her situation. She does not think that she has a gender identity disorder (GID) and does not see the need to have a medical treatment to realize her “transition” plan. However, she decided to have a medical treatment (including surgery) in a one of the so-called “gender clinics” in Japan because of the claim of the university-based clinics that they have a comprehensive approach to addressing all the needs of patients. She told the surgeon that she did not just want to have a flat chest but more importantly aimed to improve her physical and mental well-being. She also asked the surgeon about the risks and complications of undergoing “bilateral mastectomy” and was assured that there was no significant risk involved. After surgery, she suffered necrosis (dying of cells) and the clinic was not able to respond to her needs as expected. She decided to sue the clinic to find answers to the failure of the surgery and the lack of comprehensive measures promised her.

Her complaint however was opposed by the transgender community because of fear that it would stop the “legal treatment” of GID. She was bashed by leading personalities of the transgender community based on the idea that a transgender transitions from one gender to another – male to female or vice versa. But she subscribes to the “queer understanding of transition, which embraces the fluidity, multiplicity and  non-conformity of gender identity.”

The court ultimately recommended a settlement of the case under certain conditions: 1) acknowledgment by the clinic of some breach of obligation and payment of compensation; 2) the continuation of the development of legal treatment options; 3) the taking of steps to improve the system of caring for the patients including better communication among medical doctors of different specializations; and 4) having a meeting with her to learn about her experience. 

For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.

1 Full document of the Draft General Comment on Articles 4.3 and 33.3 is available at this url: https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/crpd/pages/crpdindex.aspx
2 Article 4 paragraph three of the CRPD has the following provision:
General obligations  3. In the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the present Convention, and in other decision-making processes concerning issues relating to persons with disabilities, States Parties shall closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations.
3 Article 33 paragraph three has this provision:
National implementation and monitoring  3. Civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully in the monitoring process.

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