Check against delivery
Ladies and gentlemen, good morning everybody!
I feel honoured to speak on behalf of the Norwegian Government at this congress.
I understand that it is the largest ever congress of its kind - bringing together hundreds of professionals and NGO representatives from around the world
- to discuss and learn about current research
- and changing trends in the fields of transsexuality,
- and gender-expression.
I am proud to be able to say that the members of our royal family have a high profile supporting diversity. They do not hesitate to take a stand if they feel there are minorities that could benefit from their support.
A story from real life
Just a few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting a mother. She had children on the same age as mine, and had one girl who was – physically - born as a boy.
Already when he was only three years old she realized that her son in different ways displayed to his parents that he was not at all happy with his body.
Even though they were living in a rural, small, conservative, community the mother then decided there was no other way than to give him her full support – on his own terms. She knew there were risks. But she informed the local community, and started to dress her four year old child in pink shirts. This was actually accepted by the social environment.
How could the parents become so understanding?
Because there have been some very important pioneers.
Many of you are here.
Your efforts have been vital in the struggle for recognition and decent conditions of living among transpersons and people with the diagnosis transsexual. Because of your struggle children will be accepted.
Your host organisation is the Norwegian Harry Benjamin Resource Centre, which is an NGO of persons with the diagnosis transsexualism. They have only approximately 140 members! (Til Tone Marie: Correct me if I have the wrong numbers here!)
Nevertheless the organisation has profoundly influenced official Norwegian policy in the field, and with limited resources, some public funding(!) and lots of stamina – managed to launch this arrangement.
Each and everyone - including those who enjoy using stiletto heels (like me) and men and women who have gone through a full Gender Confirmation Treatment - have exactly the same fundamental rights.
The government I represent works actively to ensure the implementation of this principle.
Human rights efforts at the international arena
There is – as some of you already are aware of – going on an important process in the UN. In 2006 54 states supported a statement, to the UN Human Rights Council - urging action against human rights violations based on sexual identity and gender expression.
The following December 18th 2008 groundbreaking statement of 66 states at the UN General Assembly – was condemning human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
An important benchmark was reached recently. Our parliament adopted one , common, act on marriages. Any couple may marry, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identities!
The first national plan of action for better living conditions for lesbian, gays, bisexuals and trans persons was launched by our government in 2008.
Even if the National Harry Benjamin centre preferred not to be a part of this plan - the inclusion of the transpopulation into the targetgroup was breaking new ground in the national antidiscrimination-politics.
Knowledge and awareness-raising
Negative attitudes towards persons who do not appear as part of ‘the mainstream’, are often results of ignorance. Most people know very little about different gender expressions or related diagnoses.
There are many myths and misconceptions. Awareness-raising is important. For this reason the framework and content, for several subjects in primary and secondary schools, have recently been changed.
Students will learn about variations of sexual orientation and gender identity. Universities and colleges have been urged to make similar changes. Medical doctors , other health-personnel, employees in kindergartens and schools, in child welfare service and family welfare service need more Insight.
Living conditions for trans people
What are the living conditions for trans people to-day? We have limited systematic knowledge. I believe it is fair to say that in some countries – including Norway - quite a few trans persons live reasonably good lives.
However, some studies show that a substantial part of the transpopulation experience poor quality of life.
A Swedish report from 20061 shows, for instance, a higher incidence of health problems for trans people than for the rest of the population, and even when compared with lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
The risk of mental disorders and suicide attempts is greater. One half of all transpersons had considered suicide.
Debate about terms among professionals and NGOs
I am aware of a long-lasting debate about what are the least discriminating and the most correct terms to use on this field. To this I would only like to say: The struggle for fundamental rights is not a zero-sum game!
Do not turn this discussion of labels, into a competition between different minoritygroups. I hope our shared objective is to increase the respect for fundamental rights in the world. Not for some, not for many but for all of us.
Access to treatment
Some – but not all - transpersons need medical, hormonal and surgical treatment. For those who is in need of treatment - we have as a society an obligation to provide.
However, the final decision concerning when, what kind of, or to what extent treatment should be conducted – should generally not be in the hands of neither doctors nor politicians.
That final word – should, according to human rights, be spoken by the individual who needs medical treatment.
Hence I do not support an “all or nothing” approach that I know has been practiced several places, including in this country.
In some countries medical services is a part of the public health system. In this country and some others - it is usually free of charge. This is however not the situation people with gender-identity related problems meet in most other nations.
I strongly support the fight for universal access to medical treatment for the lgbt-population, and people with a diagnosis associated to transsexuality in particular.
The right to live a safe life without harassment is a basic Human right. It needs to be at the centre of any government’s attention.
On my side I will continue to advocate cooperation and community-building across groups and between different minorities – because it benefits all.
I wish you all the best for the outcome of this conference!
Thank you for inviting me!