While the fight for LGBTQ+ rights rages around the globe, transgender people are facing unique challenges in their efforts to live freely and safely.
This new study is an accompaniment to our annual LGBTQ+ Travel Safety Index to specifically address trans issues. After 100+ hours of research, we’ve reviewed all countries’ individual laws and gathered data from a variety of trusted international sources to create the definitive “Global Trans Rights Index” that will help you find the safest (and least safe) countries in 2023.
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Below is a map visualizing the current state of global trans safety.
LGBTQ+ Worker Protections (0 to +50 Points) — Can trans people safely work in their country without the fear of discrimination? 50 points were awarded for both sexual orientation and gender protection; 25 points were awarded for sexual orientation protection only. Additionally, if a country only recognizes limited rights for LGBTQ+ worker protections, then it earns only 10 points. Source: LGBTQ+ Worker Protections – ILGA
Legal Protections Against Anti-LGBTQ+ Discrimination (0 to +50 Points) — Are there either constitutional or broad legal protections for LGBTQ+ people in this country? Constitutional protections were awarded 50 points; broad protections were awarded 25 points. Additionally, if a country only recognizes limited protections against discrimination, then it earns 10 points. Source: Anti Discrimination Laws – ILGA
Criminalization of Hate-Based Violence (0 to +50 Points) — A country is only as safe as the laws in place to prevent violence against its most marginalized people. The existence of hate crime penalties received 50 points; incitement-only punishments received 25 points. Additionally, if a country only has limited criminalization of hate-based violence, then it earned 10 points. Countries without any protections in place received a score of zero. Source: Criminalization of Hate-Based Violence – ILGA
Transgender Legal Identity Laws (-100 to 100 points) — The ability of transgender individuals to change their legal gender is an important part of transitioning for many trans people. Some countries allow for gender identity change without surgery (which is important because many trans people lack the desire or ability to obtain medical transition). Many countries lack the ability or rights for trans people to change their legal gender at all, and still, others criminalize the act of transition and expressing in any gender non-conforming ways. We took a qualitative look at the laws around gender identification and assigned a score from -100 to 100 points (double weight). Source: Global Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws – Human Rights Watch and Transgender Rights – Wikipedia
Transgender Murder Rates (-100 to 0 points) — A country can have all the laws against trans discrimination but still not be a safe place for transgender people. We reviewed the recorded trans murder rates since 2008 and ranked countries accordingly. This metric was given double weight due to the seriousness of trans murder, as well as the metric’s ability to speak to a culture of lived experience and safety for the trans people in that country. Source: Transgender Murder Monitoring – TvT
All data was fact-checked and cross-referenced with individual country legislation to find the most up-to-date information about trans rights. New legislation is being introduced all the time, as are new restrictions or legislative rollbacks. Some trans people around the world are individually petitioning their governments for legal gender change, and some have been successful. But this does not necessarily constitute a trans-friendly country and does not mean that a country has codified legislation for trans rights.
Study Limitations: Unlike our annual LGBTQ+ study, there are simply fewer resources, studies, and data sources available for trans-specific issues around the world, which limits our ability to quantify trans issues. Because of this, certain countries may be more trans-friendly or trans-antagonistic than our study can depict based on the lived experiences of trans people. Additionally, many countries have ambiguous or no legislation addressing trans people and trans issues at all, leaving their citizens in a confusing limbo regarding their legal, medical, and safety rights.
Why Create A Trans Rights Index?
Transgender people are dealing with unprecedented issues around the world. While many countries are starting to find acceptance towards gay and lesbian relationships, there are still significant barriers for trans people.
Part of this has to do with a misunderstanding about transgender identities. Often, gender identity experiences will differ significantly between individuals and will also vary by culture. Many governments are struggling to keep up with the ever-changing conversation around transgender issues, and many countries are patently resistant to supporting their own citizens who identify as trans for a variety of reasons.
Transgender individuals often lack basic rights to self-determination and gender expression, necessary healthcare services, and a place in their community. This often leads transgender people to the margins of society, where poverty, substance use, and suicide rates skyrocket.
Some Stats From Around the Globe:
In Australia, 63% of trans people identified verbal assault, and 22% reported physical assault. 33% reported workplace discrimination based on their gender identity.
In many countries, transgender people are targeted with anti-homosexuality legislation, like two trans women in Cameroon who were sentenced to five years in prison for “attempting homosexuality” in 2021.
Transgender-Specific Issues Around the World
Trans people are experiencing barriers to safety, comfort, and medical services at far higher rates than the average person in society. As the data indicates, even the most “safe” countries still have instances of murder and violence against trans people because, globally, trans people are isolated, targeted, and pushed to the margins of society at much higher rates than their cisgender counterparts.
These are just some of the barriers that transgender people face around the world:
Transgender individuals are four times more likely to experience violence, according to one research study. Rates of violence and murder against transgender people are only growing in the United States, while violence against trans people remains a global (and underreported) problem. There are few reliable global resources for understanding trans violence, as many gay, bisexual, and transgender people are forced to live in the “Global Closet,” as one Yale School of Medicine study puts it. In much of the world, daring to live authentically is a dangerous, or even deadly, act.
Many countries severely limit or outright criminalize transgender access to self-identification. This means that the government where they live does not recognize their gender ID or has significant roadblocks in place to gain that recognition.
Presenting as anything besides your gender assigned at birth carries criminal sentences in some countries. In fact, of the 203 countries included in our Global Trans Rights Index, only 43 countries allow trans individuals to change their legal gender ID without surgery or hormone therapy. An additional 46 allow legal gender to be changed after the individual undergoes often rigorous stipulations, like HRT, surgery, psychological diagnoses, extended and lengthy waiting times, and more.
Sixty-seven countries don’t allow for legal gender change whatsoever. There is either no legislation or processes in place to recognize a change in gender ID. And a further 27 countries outright criminalize legal gender change and impose harsh punishments (including jail time) on those who enter spaces or dress out of alignment with their assigned gender at birth.
3. Marginalization and Stigma
Few countries openly accept transgender people as part of society. Many trans people are ostracized from family, education, the workplace, religious institutions, and more. This commonly leads to “gender minority stress,” or the negative psychological and physiological impacts of being unaccepted by the community.
Transgender people face barriers to employment, inclusion in society, acceptance by family, ostracization from religion, and so much more. In the United States alone, approximately almost 11% of transgender people reported working in the sex work industry at some point. Other issues, such as class and race, only exacerbate the difficulties that transgender people face.
This is often combined with the fact that many health professionals around the world receive inadequate training in how to provide medical services for trans individuals. Not to mention the fact that stigma can also be present in the doctors, nurses, and medical staff that are supposed to be providing care. For those seeking gender-affirming medical treatment, there are often significant barriers to receiving this care and further barriers to receiving medical care post-surgery. Many countries don’t allow gender-affirming medical care at all.
5. A Basic Understanding of Transgender Issues
A complicated aspect of this study is digging through the legislation regarding legal gender identity and gender identity change. Different countries have different historical and religious approaches to how gender is expressed, understood, and respected.
Often, countries will require significant psychological, medical, and legal hoops before a gender identity change will be considered. Some countries are approving gender identity changes on a case-by-case basis, and some outright criminalize anyone who expresses in gender non-conforming ways with punishments including fines and jail time.
6. Underreported Crimes and Unsupportive Police
While trans people still experience unprecedented violence around the world, we still don’t know the full extent of the problem due to a severe underreporting problem. Often in countries where being transgender is illegal, those who experience violence fear further consequences for seeking help or reporting acts of violence against them. Going to the police as a transgender person can often result in further abuse, criminal charges, and even violence in many parts of the world.
This, combined with the fact that trans people are often pushed to the margins of society, only exacerbates the problem. Very few global statistics are available about trans people, as many of them are in extreme poverty. In the United States alone, transgender Americans are twice as likely to be living in poverty, and those in poverty have fewer resources and an overall lower quality of life.
7. Economic Limitations
Many countries report having legislation regarding legal protections for LGBTQ+ workers. And while this might be true in theory, there are two important factors to consider:
Sexual orientation is more often a protected class than gender identity
Laws are frequently unenforced
So while a country may claim to have legislation to protect transgender employees, the reality is often far less hopeful, and trans individuals may be passed over for employment opportunities, receive fewer supports on the job, and be overlooked for advancement opportunities based on their gender identity compared to their cisgender counterparts.
8. The “Global Closet”
In our study, you may notice that countries with higher trans safety scores also often have frequent instances of reported trans murders on the Trans Murder Map project. While this may, in part, be attributed to how certain countries handle and report on trans murders, part of this might be due to the fact that many people in much of the world are still living in the Global Closet.
The Global Closet refers to areas in the world where it is illegal, unsafe, or even punishable by death to be “out” as an LGBTQ+ person. LGBTQ+ people in these countries often live and operate outwardly as heterosexual and gender-conforming for fear of retaliation, imprisonment, or worse if they were to live their authentic lives. Unfortunately, there are still many, many places in the world where living “in the closet” is often the safest route for gay and trans people, but this can have negative psychological and emotional consequences.
The Best Countries for Trans Rights
The small nation of Malta often ranks as one of the safest in the world for LTBTQ+ folks, so it’s no surprise that Malta ranks #1 in our trans index. Malta also ranked third in our LGBTQ+ index.
Malta has protections for sexual orientation and gender identity for its workers, as well as constitutional protections against discrimination for all LGBTQ+ people. Hate crimes against trans people are criminalized under the law. Medical transition is not necessary to change legal gender identity, and 16-18 year olds can change their gender ID without parental consent.
While there are no known recorded trans murders in Malta per our Trans Murder Map source, which tracks data from 2008-2022, there was a transgender woman, Sion Grech of Marsa, who was murdered in 2005 and who has yet to receive justice for the terrible tragedy.
Portugal, Canada, Sweden, and Bolivia were the subsequent best countries for trans rights, following Malta. All four countries have protections for LGBTQ+ people in society and allow for a legal gender identity change without the requirement of medical transition. Interestingly, 16 of the top 20 countries for trans rights are in Europe.
It must be stated, however, that the “best” countries for trans rights still aren’t anywhere near where they should be. Legislation is a step in the right direction, but many trans people still face intense discrimination, violence, and worse in what are considered the “best” countries. Even one of the best-ranked countries, Finland, required transgender people to be sterilized in order to receive a legal gender change until February 2023 when the law was finally changed.
Of the top ten countries in our study, five of them still had trans murders indicated by the Trans Murder Map project. The world at large has a long way to go toward protecting its most vulnerable demographics.
Guyana ranks as the worst country for trans people. There are no worker protections in the country, no protections against discrimination, and no criminalization of violence. Trans people cannot change their legal identity, and cross-dressing was criminalized until 2018. In 2010, several trans women were arrested for wearing female clothing, and attacks against trans people are an all too common occurrence. There are countries with harsher punishments for transgender expression, but Guyana lost a huge amount of points for its astronomical 5.11 trans murders per million people in the country.
Malaysia, Saudia Arabia, Malawi, and the United Arab Emirates are the subsequent worst countries for trans people. None of them have any worker, discrimination, and criminalization protections, and “cross-dressing” is criminalized with penalties up to imprisonment in eight of the top ten worst countries for trans people.
Transgender people being targeted, attacked, and murdered for their gender identity is a staggering problem, with the Trans Murder Map project indicating 4,369 murders between 2008-2022. Honduras has the highest number of murders at 11.8 trans murders per million inhabitants.
Trevor Project – Resources and education around transgender and LGBTQ+ issues, as well as a 24/7 counselor chatline and a call or text service for U.S. citizens, as well as a community space for youth inside and outside the United States.