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Addressing discrimination and violence against transgender people at the Council of Europe

On 16 April 2024, GATE was invited by the Parliamentary Platform for the Rights of LGBTI people in Europe to participate in the second part-session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

  • Written by
  • Erika Castellanos
  • Published
  • 22 April 2024
Erika Castellanos at the Council of Europe in Streasbourg in April 2024 GATE logo
© Erika Castellanos at the Council of Europe in Streasbourg in April 2024

GATE, TGEU and ILGA Europe were invited to give input on what the Council of Europe should do to protect trans and gender diverse communities.

This meeting comes just a month after the Commissioner for Human Rights released a new Issue Paper on human rights and gender identity and expression, which includes a bold series of recommendations to European countries on how to protect the rights of trans and gender diverse people.

Below is the speech that Erika delivered to EU parliamentarians on the recommendations for preventing and combating discrimination and violence against transgender people.

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here with you all today.

I want to start with a simple, and clear message. While we are having discussions centered in Europe. Always remember. What happens in Europe, impacts the world! In this sense it is not Vegas: what happens in Europe does not stay in Europe!

With your discussions today and those derived thereafter, you have a unique opportunity not only to impact trans people’s lives with the work of the Council – with the work you do at the Council of Europe, with the opportunity that the Parliamentary Platform for the rights of LGBTI people in Europe offers you. The decisions you make can make a difference for many trans and gender diverse people, not only in Europe but throughout the world. Lead by example and be the leaders that the Council of Europe needs, that trans people in Europe deserve, and that humanity as a whole hunger for.

My name is Erika Castellanos, I am an indigenous trans woman of Mayan descent born in Belize with lived expertise as a migrant, sex worker, living with HIV and incarcerated person. I currently live in the Netherlands. A country that I now call home. Happily married and with two amazing children.

Not so fun fact: I have only known what freedom, democracy, respect and human dignity really mean for the past 5 years. I have learned to appreciate the small things that many people take for granted. The freedom to move, to take a bus or a train without fear of being beaten or even killed while doing so. The freedom to take a walk in a park and grab my bicycle to go to the supermarket. I have learned what it means to be recognized as an equal citizen, be able to open a bank account, buy a house, get married, vote and be seen as a human. It is far from perfect – because I will always be a foreigner, a person of color, a trans woman etc. not perfect – but a small bite of what human dignity tastes like. You. All of you with your work can make my life, the lives of trans people in Europe and our families – one of dignity and help us enjoy the quality of life that as equal citizens we deserve.

I am the Executive Director of Global Action for Trans Equality – GATE. At GATE, we pride ourselves on the work we do globally. All our work is encompassed in our 3 programmatic areas: Health, Human Rights and Movement Building. In a world with increased hate, misinformation, defamation and violence toward our community the work we do is relevant more than ever. The world today is a very dangerous place to be trans. We bear witness to attacks on activists and organizations on a daily basis, and they come in many forms: blocking funding, campaigns to hurt us – to make us look dangerous, and campaigns that are rooted in fear. In response, we contribute to building resiliency in our movement. My dream is that we become irrelevant and that the services and work we do are no longer needed because we live in a world that fully respects the rights of all people – including the rights of trans and gender diverse persons. I invite you to learn more about who we are and the work we do globally.

Session room during the second part-session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg
Speakers during the second part-session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg

The Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Platform, can also support this objective. in your discussions, in shaping policy, listening to the affected communities, promoting self-determination and overall upholding our democracies and guaranteeing the human rights of all.

As I close my remarks, I would like to echo the recommendations of both Cianan and Dinah, leaders and experts who I admire. I join the call for a new updated standard-setting resolution and I would like to leave you with 3 overarching recommendations for your consideration:

1. Protect the most marginalized. Including asylum seekers, people living with HIV, trans people in all our diversities, including trans youth and children. Do so by contributing to legislation that protects against stigma and discrimination, ensures trans and gender diverse people have access to social protection mechanisms, promotes equality, ensures access to health care, and the rights of diverse families and stops the criminalization of our intersectional identities.

2. Remain vigilant of the anti-rights movements that target the core of our democratic systems, that target the most vulnerable amongst us, and that also target trans people. They will also attack you – for defending the human rights of all. Remain vigilant, especially in the movement of money that finances these anti-rights actors.

3. Remain rooted in human rights. Respect and celebrate our dignity and diversity. Base your deliberations, discussions, decisions, recommendations, policies and reports on human dignity, in human rights and do not allow fear and misinformation to move you off track even when having to discuss difficult conversations.

I am an indigenous trans woman and while life has not been easy it has taught me important lessons – I have now learned to enjoy freedoms that I did not know existed – I feel respected – at the end of the day that is all we ask for and you have an important role to play to give me and other trans people that opportunity. The opportunity to live with dignity and be free in Europe and beyond. 

Erika Castellanos | Executive Director | GATE
  • About the author

Erika Castellanosshe/her

Executive Director GATE Staff

Erika Castellanos is a transgender HIV positive woman from Belize residing in the Netherlands. A social worker by profession, Erika joined GATE in April 2017 as Director of Programs. In 2022, Erika was appointed Interim Executive Director, and in 2023, she became Executive Director of GATE.