My first political act was to be open about myself.
By: Hynek Toman
17 May 2019
In 2006 you were elected a member of the Italian Parliament becoming the first ever trans person elected a member of a European parliament.
What was your motivation to go into politics?
It is often said that my election to parliament in 2006 was my first political action, but actually my first political act was at the age of 16 when I realized who I was and decided to be open about myself. To be open and out about your true self is the best political action. To speak for the others who did not have the possibility to express themselves. That was my first political action, to express my inner part, express my nature, to follow my nature, my own voice. A person who can look in the mirror, recognize and ask a question: Everything OK, Vladi? And to answer – yes, everything OK. For me, political means when you want to change society when you think you can hope for a better world. If we hide there is no chance to contribute to making the world a better place.
How were you perceived as a trans woman in the Italian parliament?
As soon as the news came out that a trans woman would be a member of the parliament the first reactions were both positive and negative. The positive were: Good, finally somebody who can represent us and tell our stories. The negative – omg, what have we done, this is a disgrace, dishonor for such an important institution. Some people compared me with Ciciollina, the porn-star elected before me, although we are totally different, our careers are very different. I was a representative of the people. When going to public debates I had these fascist groups protesting against me, some even violently throwing objects. It was very hard, but the more I was working the more consent I had from a lot of people. In fact I have been elected with lots of votes. For them it was more of a dishonor that a trans person went into parliament than having some corrupted men or people doing politics only for power in the parliament.
How did your political engagement help in terms of LGBT and trans rights advancement and what was your agenda in this respect?
It was a very strong signal to see a trans person in the Italian parliament, which meant that when you are transgender, you don’t have to be destined to be outside society, but a part of the society, even representing the society. Symbolically it was a very strong signal. I was also present at the parliament all the time, not to miss anything. I did not want to be criticized and even those who criticized me in the beginning came and apologized to me later. I prepared a proposal for a law about fully-fledged citizenship for trans people in all aspects of life; sanitary issues, work opportunities, cultural involvement. I didn’t work alone but with all the trans associations in Italy, but unfortunately the government fell after just two years in 2008 and I didn’t have the time to make this proposal become a reality. But there were other things too – such as a lot of cases of trans women imprisoned, in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, I did a diplomacy course and helped these people, I also worked on cases of workplace discrimination, these are the things you can do for the improvement of daily life. Another important thing was to improve the inclusion and hospitality for people who are discriminated against or persecuted in their countries for sexual orientation and gender identity.
In the Czech Republic, the situation regarding trans rights is difficult with forced sterilization and divorce being conditions for legal gender recognition for trans people – what is the situation in Italy?
I worked for the free choice of trans people to have their name and gender changed in the documents without an operation, which is now possible. In Italy it is not a specific law but a decision of the tribunals in individual towns, but most of them now have a positive attitude and solutions.
What can be changed for the better for trans people in Italy?
First of all to change the prejudice against trans women, more women than men, especially when applying for a job, they are judged just by the fact they are trans. They are not valued or measured for their qualities. Many trans women are then compelled to be prostitutes when they do not have any other chance. The second thing is access to testosterone for trans men, because it is not included in the medication leaflet that testosterone can be used as a treatment for transgender men. Another thing that can be changed is not to suspend hormonal therapy for trans people in prison, and many more things. There is still a long way ahead.
Transition – do you see your trans identity as something given or a process? Is surgery necessary for trans people to prove that we are trans enough as expected in the Czech Republic?
There are people who think that things can be put in order by having genital surgery. People have the right to decide for operation if they want it. For years, there was no other possibility to change the gender in the documents without the operation. Many people were compelled to have the operation. Every one of us has the right to decide about their body, you should not do things for others, but for yourself. There are many ways of being transgender and many processes, and every one of us has the right to decide about their process. If you are neither a male nor a female you are forced to make a decision. Yes, I already made the decision and decided for myself, and you shut up.
Does the LGBT community see trans rights as important enough and are they supportive?
In the past, we were not considered even to be a part of the community, to be honest. Then fortunately we became a team inside our fight and understood that either we fight together or will never reach our target. And in Italy, when we talk about LGBT issues we always take into consideration trans issues. But for some specific issues that only relate to the trans community there always has to be a trans representative because only we know what we want.