By Anna Pujol-Mazzini
LONDON, May 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Europe has made great strides in protecting transgender and intersex rights but ending prejudice and violent attacks is proving far harder, a leading campaigner said on Thursday.
"It's so much easier to change a law than to change public attitude," Evelyne Paradis told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Paradis is executive director of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) in Europe, which has lobbied governments to enshrine equality into law.
As many states, such as Britain, France and Portugal, have legalised same-sex marriage and protected gay rights by law, their focus is now shifting to transgender and intersex people, still marginalised in many countries, said Paradis.
"More and more governments are taking on board transgender and intersex rights by adopting legal gender recognition laws and anti-discrimination laws inclusive of gender identity."
Malta, Norway and Britain lead the way on LGBTI equality in Europe, according to an ILGA report published to coincide with Wednesday's International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
Awareness of transgender issues has risen "dramatically," in the past five years, said Paradis, yet the results remain mixed.
She noted that Norway and France now let transgender people change their legal gender without undergoing medical procedures. But 12 of 28 European Union members require transgender people to be sterilised before they can change their legal gender.
And intersex people, who are born with ambiguous genitalia, are still little understood, she said.
Malta is the only country in Europe which provides legal protection for intersex people against discrimination and gender-assignment surgeries.
Doctors usually perform surgery in the first two years of life to "masculinise" or "feminise" intersex babies in the belief that it will make their lives easier and to relieve parental distress.
Surgery can cause life-long pain, scarring, loss of sexual sensation and health complications, activists say.
And safety is still an issue across the continent, she said.
"We're still too often at a place of making sure people feel safe, in the UK or Sweden or Poland," she said.
"I am still quite shocked to see how combating physical, verbal violence and lack of safety is the common priority for LGBTI groups across Europe."
(Reporting by Anna Pujol-Mazzini @annapmzn, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)