Today, on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, I would like to introduce you to Kirill Sabir, head of the FtM Phoenix Group and supporter and former board member of the Eurasian Coalition on Male Health (Follow them on Twitter: @ECOM_MSM)
I had the privilege to talk to Kirill, an activist and advocate for transgender rights in Russia and the ex Soviet bloc – especially rights related to health care:
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Q: What are the specific issues that transgender people face in this part of the world?
Kirill Sabir: For us, the main issue is that we’re somewhere in the middle. We can’t say that we have a very bad situation as in some countries for example where they criminalize homosexual relationships, and this causes difficulties for all [lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender] (LGBT) community, and at the same time, we are not that advanced as in the United States, where LGBT rights are recognized.
So, for transgender people in particular, the main obstacle is that our legislation is mostly incomplete, which means that we have the legislative possibility to change sex, to undergo sex reassignment, we have diagnosis and doctors, but there is no specific procedure in most CIS countries.
We [CIS countries] have a law that says, yes you can change your sex, if you have the conclusion of a medical board. But our ministries of health never specified what kind of paper should be presented. So, each time, a transgender person has to invent this form and somehow confirm the doctor’s decision.
Q: Where does the issue of human rights come in?
KS: Our main claim about human rights is the right to health, and the right for employment, for education, because as soon as you start to make some visible steps to undergo sex reassignment, you become rejected by folks around you.
So, discrimination might be understood as the inability to find a job because of your intention to undergo sex reassignment process when you start hormones, it looks weird. And employers in particular, are unlikely to hire you.
Q: What are you, or the Eurasian Coalition on Male Health advocating for? What would you like to see happen?
KS: We see, and we expect in the future that we’ll have an environment which is friendly to men who have sex with men (MSM), and transgender people, and that both categories have access to HIV related prevention and treatment and we have a special package of services available for MSM and transgender people. That’s the ultimate goal that ECOM is heading to.
Q: How did you become involved in this type of advocacy?
KS: I would say because there is still little attention paid to transgender issues and transgender health, in particular.
Transgender people in Russia are not visible, and I would say that the situation hasn’t really changed since the late 1990s. I mean that we still don’t have special training for doctors, the Ministry of Health still hasn’t amended any academic curricula, as regards transgender health and everything [related]. So as far as I have undergone sexual reassignment myself, and I know each step that you have to take, to change papers, to inject hormones yourself, so I think that’s why it’s me who is an advocate.
So, going back to the question, yes, I am a transman who has undergone sex reassignment himself so I think that’s the best way to understand the issue, to live through it yourself. So for me, it’s very important to help people understand what transgender folks face and what can be done to make their lives better.
Q: What do you want people to know about transgender people?
KS: Well, I would say that the category of people I’m aiming at are, first of all, health care providers, and also health care organizers, because in Russia and other CIS countries, everything works from the top down. So there are policies that can be changed. It’s not that difficult to change policies but it’s very difficult to find any clerk who could pick up the issue, and push it forward.
I speak at some events, such as Human Library, talking to a general audience. And if we are talking about a general audience, my message is that people should see something beyond TV shows, because a lot of people still think that transgender people are freaks – people still don’t know what it means.
And they shouldn’t be afraid of [transgender people], because we live in one society, and people say, wow you know, I’ve never met any transgender person before you. Well, I think they did, but they didn’t notice. So that’s my message.