Fourteen countries ban people from being transgender, according to a new report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).
In the organization’s new Trans Legal Mapping Report, researchers looked into legal bans on wearing clothes that don’t conform to one’s sex assigned at birth and they found that 14 countries have them: Brunei, Gambia, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malawi, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, South Sudan, Tonga, and the United Arab Emirates. Iran, the report notes, has a more “vaguely worded” ban on being transgender whose “impact is no less severe.”
“Only a small number of countries in the world expressly criminalize trans people’s identity or behavior or those who are perceived to be trans or who transgress gender norms,” the report says. “Often in the form of so-called ‘cross dressing’ laws, they explicitly prohibit a ‘male person posing as a woman’ or vice versa. In those states, legal gender recognition is also not available, which then leaves trans people, or those perceived to be, at risk of arrest and prosecution.”
“However, that is only the tip of the iceberg as trans communities know,” the report explains. It says that many countries use “range of laws” to effectively criminalize transgender people, including laws against public nuisance, indecency, good manners and morality, drug related offenses, vagrancy, loitering, begging, impersonation, sex work related offenses, and consensual same-sex activity.
Moreover, just not having a law that explicitly bans people from wearing clothes not associated with their sex assigned at birth doesn’t mean that a country has legal protections for transgender people or a process by which transgender people’s gender identity can be legally recognized.
The ILGA report cites several countries that have made progress when it comes to fighting discrimination against transgender people, including Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Pakistan.
The United States appears on the list of countries that have either stagnated or regressed since 2017 when it comes to transgender rights, along with the U.K., Guatemala, Hungary, and Mongolia. The report says that the U.S. has made progress in many jurisdictions when it comes to updating gender markers and creating options for non-binary people on official documents but cites efforts “to roll back protections in education, employment, health care and public accommodations on the federal level.”
In the 19th century in the U.S., a wave of cities and states passed laws banning cross-dressing. Transgender people, drag performers, and other queer people from the mid-20th century often recounted how they would wear three articles of clothes of their sex assigned at birth in order to hopefully avoid arrest and how police officers would use the laws as an excuse to “check” the underwear of people assigned female at birth.
1960s drag performer Flawless Sabrina – who was the subject of the 1967 documentary The Queen – said that she was arrested over 100 times for cross-dressing in the U.S.