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No recognition of sex reassignment surgery prolongs discrimination

Update: July, 31/2014 - 09:44

Our legal system should protect the rights of people opting for gender reassignment surgery, legal expert Luong The Huy told the newspaper Kinh te & Do thi (Economy & Urban Affairs).

From the legal standpoint, will you please give us an overview of the lives of people who have had gender reassignment surgeries and the difficulties they are facing?

It is generally perceived that individuals who have had gender reassignments done typically work in the entertainment industry or in low-paid jobs. According to a study conducted by the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE in 2012, these people face numerous difficulties and challenges in their lives, in the family, schools, jobs, health, legal affairs and others. Even in their own families, other members refuse to accept their gender reassignment. In school, their classmates and even their teachers keep away from them. As a result, many of them have to give up schooling. Working in low paid jobs, they don't have access to friendly health-care services. That has seriously affected their health.

In the field of legal affairs, people having their sex reassignment done are denied their legal certification as male/female. This has caused big problems for them in daily life. For example, before a flight they have to show their IDs. But the ID and appearance does not match.

Will you please further elaborate about the limited legal access for people having their sex reassignments done?

Legal challenges facing them should be considered "a big wall." These challenges could be summarised in three ways. Firstly, to have their name changed according to their sex reassignment. Secondly they should get their sex reassignment surgery done. And finally, their sex reassignment should be reflected in their identification documents following the surgery.

Many people returning from abroad after their sex reassignment surgeries cannot change what is written in their old documents though they have spent a big sum of money for the surgery. And they become an "invisible" group of people as their body (their gender) no longer matches the information in the old documents. This is a big paradox that must be amended immediately in our Civil Code.

What do other countries do with people having their sex reassignment?

The law in most countries of Europe, America and Asia has acknowledged the right of persons to change their personal information after sex reassignments.

What are your suggestions to amend the Civil Code to include equal rights for people having their sex reassignment?

In the amendment we should add a provision allowing these people a) to change their names in conformity with their desired sex b) to acknowledge their rights to have gender reassignment according to their wish c) to acknowledge their new gender and d) to allow them to change their gender in their personal identification documents following the surgery.

If their new gender status is officially recognised, do you think it will help administrative agencies to perform their duties easier?

To my knowledge, quite a few people having their sex reassignment surgeries don't have any documents which certify that their gender has been changed. I'm sure no administrative office wants such a situation to happen. I think that accepting people who have their sex reassignments done and reflecting it in their personal IDs will help government offices to perform their duties better, particularly as we are about to introduce many new tools, including the 12 digital IDs and the unified personal data nationwide.

Some people have opposed the right of people to change their gender on the ground that the Act is against Vietnamese traditions. What is your position?

I respect our traditions. However, quite a lot of what we are practising in society these days did not conform with Vietnamese traditions in the past. What about women participating in more social activities or young men and women being free to choose their life-time partners etc?

I'm confident that our culture is becoming progressive. What is more important is that changes help make people happier and give them more freedom. That is why it is important that the law takes a step before the society changes. The mission of the law is to orient and serve them. — VNS

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