Transgender and “LGBTI”

trans symbol 2

Civil society activism around the globe on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons is increasing, and in the case of lesbian, bisexual and gay persons this activism is becoming more effective. Transgender and intersex persons remain far less well represented, organized, and able to advocate themselves for our own human rights and dignity, yet arguably the very worst violence is now directed at the very most vulnerable of LGBTI persons – transgender persons. Yet even with transgender persons the growth in global activism is evident. To some extent, this new wave of activism builds upon an earlier civil society focus on HIV/AIDS and associated health issues, which raised awareness of many of the existence of LGBTI persons and their health needs. Yet as LGBTI-focused awareness and activism increases, the push-back is also on the rise.

International and domestic human rights activists have an important role to play in articulating the human rights and democracy dimensions of all persons, and the plight of LGBTI persons and LGBTI-focused civil society organizations is no exception. Through research, programming, and advocacy, both international and domestic human rights activists are positioned to offer an authoritative, trusted, and powerful voice as a champion of people and organizations whose safety, freedom of expression, privacy, and democratic participation are under assault as never before. By framing their work on these issues within the persuasive narrative of human rights, such activists are able to note in the case of LGBTI persons how the homophobic and transphobic forces are antithetical to universal values of human dignity, core freedoms of expression and affiliation, and identity.

This part of the website  is intended to guide human rights and democracy activists and all concerned persons in this set of concerns, acknowledging that such concerns are cross-cutting throughout all human rights and democracy advocacy, programmatic initiatives, and analytical research activities.

Writings, Publications, and Quotations on Transgender Concerns

Chloe’s Writings, PowerPoints, Webinars, and Publications

LGBTI and Development webinar, Open Learning Campus, World Bank, Washington, DC, Feb. 1, 2016

Crossing the Humanity Threshold, in Monday Developments

Moral Search for Self, paper given at Capital Trans Pride, Washington, DC, June 2008

Empowerment and Transgender, Development, 2010, vol. 53, issue 2, pages 187-190

Accommodating LGBTI Human Rights in Uganda (Rukooko & Schwenke) (273kb)

PowerPoint presentation to the World Bank

Download (PPTX, 340KB)

PowerPoint Presentation at International Development Ethics Association event

Download (PPTX, 190KB)

PowerPoint Presentation: Accommodating LGBTI Human Rights in Uganda

Download (PPT, 377KB)

Other useful resources (not by Chloe):

Digital Transgender Archive – North American and some international collections of historical and scholarly material on transgender persons (and LGBTI people generally)

Violence motivated by perception of sexual orientation and gender identity: a systematic review, by Karel Blondeel, Sofia de Vasconcelos, Claudia Garcia-Moreno, Rob Stephenson, Marleen Temmerman & Igor Toskin. Bull World Health Organ 2018;96:29–41E

CNABuzz: comprehensive guide on the statistics and prevention of substance abuse in the LGBTQ+ community. This guide highlights recent research on substance use in the community, information on co-occurring disorders and substance abuse, and provides information for prevention, treatment, and recovery.


To me gender is not physical at all, but is altogether insubstantial. It is soul, perhaps, it is talent, it is taste, it is environment, it is how one feels, it is light and shade, it is inner music, it is a spring in one’s step or an exchange of glances, it is more truly life and love than any combination of genitals, ovaries, and hormones. It is the essentialness of oneself, the psyche, the fragment of unity. Male and female are sex, masculine and feminine are gender, and though the conceptions overlap, they are far from synonymous.

Jan Morris

If we are unfaithful to true self, we will extract a price from others. We will make promises we cannot keep, build houses from flimsy stuff, conjure dreams that devolve into nightmares, and other people will suffer – if we are unfaithful to true self.

     Parker Palmer


So many people seem to focus on the outdated perception that to be transsexual is simply about sex or gender – to become a man or a woman.  Perhaps not surprisingly, many find this so far outside of their comprehension as to become unimaginable, unacceptable, unforgivable.  A turning point in my own journey occurred after one of those “A-ha!” moments when everything suddenly seemed to make sense – when the realization struck me that it wasn’t just about gender. It was about “self”.  This profoundly personal journey of fulfillment – that I neither asked for nor really wanted – was to become myself. The fact that gender – specifically the affect that it has on my interaction with the world and my perception of myself in it – was the key to unlock the door to my own personal sense of happiness is merely a component in that quest.  It took a long, long time for me to understand that.

Donna Rose

My friend, still seemingly perplexed, asked me “So if it’s not about genitals, what is it about trans women’s bodies that you find so attractive?”
I paused for a second to consider the question. Then I replied that it is almost always their eyes.
When I look into them, I see both endless strength and inconsolable sadness.
I see someone who has overcome humiliation and abuses that would flatten the average person.
I see a woman who was made to feel shame for her desires and yet had the courage to pursue them anyway.
I see a woman who was forced against her will into boyhood, who held on to a dream that everybody in her life desperately tried to beat out of her, who refused to listen to the endless stream of people who told her that who she was and what she wanted was impossible.
When I look into a trans woman’s eyes, I see a profound appreciation for how f—ing empowering it can be to be female, an appreciation that seems lost on many cissexual women who sadly take their female identities and anatomies for granted, or who perpetually seek to cast themselves as victims rather than instigators.
In trans women’s eyes, I see a wisdom that can only come from having to fight for your right to be recognized as female, a raw strength that only comes from unabashedly asserting your right to be feminine in an inhospitable world.

   Julia Serano

We feel different because we have challenged the most concentrated behavioral training that human beings can experience – “socialization.” We have learned that different is bad. This is why we fear retribution. That is why we expect it.

Leanne McCall Tigert

Gender is not in every way “natural.” “Feminine” gestures, for example, are not God’s own creation. This of course I know. The social construction of gender is, after all, something a gender crosser comes to know with unusual vividness. She does it for a living.

Deirdre McCloskey

Being different forces you to think, read, watch and analyze. To survive with some kind of dignity you have to put your impossible feelings under the microscope and decide what to make of them and how best to handle the situation – and in so doing it’s hard to avoid acquiring a broad knowledge of people, their feelings, ideas and a vast range of social and sexual passions. The road admittedly is quite a bumpy one, but once you get where you wanted you might well realize that your life is richer than that of many others – definitely not easier, but richer in nuances and with an emotional depth many ‘ordinary’ people can’t aspire to.

Erica Zander

Life as a transsexual is tough enough without serving as a public proving ground for gender theories and insecurities.  But the fact that I cannot meet someone without destabilizing their sense of gender and identity means that, no matter how isolated I feel, I am not for myself alone.  What I am is part of what you are; I define you as you define me.

Joy Ladin

Those who accompany the transgender person on his or her journey share the pain, the fear, the hurt, the social ostracism, and the high emotional cost of leading a cloistered or marginalized life. There are high economic costs as well, since hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgeries are not generally covered by insurance. Being in a relationship with someone undertaking the complete transition requires sacrifices on many levels.

Maren C. Tirabassi

I was about to change my form and apparency – my status too, perhaps my place among my peers, my attitudes no doubt, the reactions I would evoke, my reputation, my manner of life, my prospects, my emotions, possibly my abilities. I was about to adapt my body from a man conformation to a female, and I would shift my public role altogether, from the role of a man to the role of a woman. It is one of the most drastic of all human changes, unknown until our own time, and even now experienced by very few; but it seemed only natural to me, and I embarked upon it only with a sense of thankfulness, like a lost traveler finding the right road at last.

Jan Morris

Selfishness and courage; oddly those are the two most common moral judgments made when people first hear that I am transgender, that I am now finally myself living the life of Chloe. For most transgender persons once fully aware of their situation, there is but one sensible choice and that is to transition to your true gender. As with other transgender persons I’ve met, this isn’t remotely about selfishness or courage. Fortitude and persistence, yes; changing one’s physical gender, with all the implications to loved ones, the interminable complexity of moving resistant bureaucracies to accommodate this change, the awkwardness and embarrassments and humiliations, the exacting physical pains involved in reshaping a body, the extraordinary expenses that no insurance will pay, and most of all the struggle of learning to be convincing out in the world in one’s actual gender without benefit of a lifetime of practice, example, and advice – well only a very perverse masochist could find this a “selfish” pursuit. Nothing has been more difficult in my life, yet I am quick to say that nothing has felt more appropriate, more necessary.

Chloe Schwenke

And so it has come as a profound shock to discover, at the time of my greatest vulnerability, that I am surrounded by love, that loving is a way that people naturally live.  As I have become known to those around me – people from whom I had always hidden – I have been met again and again with compassion, acceptance, tenderness, generosity of spirit that seems to have no limits.  A few have embodied my worst nightmares of rejection.  But my overwhelming experience has been to find myself in relationship to the finest, most loving human beings I can imagine.  And because I am once again at that awkward age, when every discovery breeds a new insecurity, a new challenge, a new possibility of failure, I feel dwarfed among these grown-up souls for whom loving and giving are as inevitable as breathing.  Is it too late for me to learn to follow their examples?  It is far too late to be asking such a question, but it is still too soon to answer.  All I know is I am filled with love, too much love, love straining the cramped circumference within which I have always lived.  Perhaps this problem is the ultimate blessing.  What, I wonder, will I ever do with all this love?

Joy Ladin

Transgender people are not the only ones who search for authenticity. Sometimes I run across other writings by people who are not addressing transgender realities, but whose words ring out so true and relevant to my own journey. This was certainly the case in the book Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia:

They say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree. Everybody can see that. But only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well – the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born.

I think about the woman I have become lately, about the life that I am now living, and about how much I always wanted to be this person and live this life, liberated from the farce of pretending to be anyone other than myself. I think of everything I endured before getting here and wonder if it was me– I mean, this happy and balanced me, who…pulled the other, younger, more confused and more struggling me forward during all those hard years. The younger me was the acorn full of potential, but it was the older me, the already-existent oak, who was saying the whole time: “Yes – grow! Change! Evolve! Come and meet me here, where I already exist in wholeness and maturity! I need you to grow into me!”

Elizabeth Gilbert

Tell me it’s wrong the scarlet nails my son sports or the toy
store rings he clusters four jewels to each finger.

He’s bedecked. I see the other mothers looking at the star
choker, the rhinestone strand he fastens over a sock.

Sometimes I help him find sparkle clip-ons when he says
sticker earrings look too fake.

Tell me I should teach him it’s wrong to love the glitter that a
boy’s only a boy who’d love a truck with a remote that revs,

Battery slamming into corners of Hot Wheels loop-de-looping
off tracks into the tub.

Then tell me it’s fine – really – maybe even a good thing – a boy
who’s got some girl to him,

and I’m right for the days he wears a pink shirt on the seesaw in
the park.

Tell me what you need to tell me but keep far away from my son
who still loves a beautiful thing not for what it means –

this way or that – but for the way facets set off prisms and
prisms spin up everywhere

and from his own jeweled body he’s cast rainbows – made every
shining true color.

Now try to tell me – man or woman – your heart was ever once
that brave.

Victoria Redel

What I Do Is Me

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves – goes itself, myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.”

I say more, the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Advocating for universal human dignity