It has been three and half years since the introduction of legislation providing legal gender recognition in Ireland. In that time, approximately 420 people have sought and received their gender recognition certificate enabling them to secure a birth certificate in their preferred gender. This figure includes a small number of people aged 16 and 17 years of age who applied for their gender recognition certificate with the support of parents or guardians. Perhaps the most interesting observation in relation to gender recognition in Ireland is just how uncontroversial it has been. The fact of legal gender recognition is embedded as much in our social outlook as our legal system.
This is in no small part because of trailblazers like Dr Lydia Foy and her solicitor Michael Farrell; champions for equality like Louise Hannon and Lynda Sheridan; and advocates for reform like Broden Giambrone and Vanessa Lacey. Indeed, the voices, visibility and veracity of our whole community in advocating for our rights has transcended the marginal status of the Irish trans community and won a place in the hearts and minds of Irish society as something to be valued, respected and defended.
It is no accident that the National Women’s Council of Ireland have sought to be open and inclusive of trans women in their work. It is no fluke that employers, service providers and community organisations the length and breadth of Ireland seek to develop trans inclusive policies to ensure enhanced participation of trans people. It is no coincidence that the consultation on the Review of the Gender Recognition Act was overwhelmingly positive, resulting in the timely recommendation that trans young people should have access to legal gender recognition with parental consent.
This is by no means to suggest that everything is perfect for the trans community in Ireland. Far from it. Trans people still suffer increased stigma, discrimination, violence, marginalisation, exclusion, lack of access to services and poorer mental health outcomes than the majority population. The fight for adequate healthcare, access to education, employment opportunities and public participation continues.
Similarly, the work to progress the implementation of the recommendations of the Review Group report is just beginning and there is much still to do in this regard. However, this community, together with our wider LGBTQIA+ community, families, allies, supporters and friends are more than up to the challenge and have every confidence we will succeed to create a better, more inclusive Ireland for trans people and young people alike.
Sadly, the same is not currently true for our trans siblings living in the UK. The tenor and tone of the debate over there is often times difficult and is becoming increasingly toxic. Without overstating things, it is a culture war, and one that threatens to further marginalise trans people and their families largely as a result of derogatory, misinformed and or downright bigoted discussion on the right of our community to exist, self identify and live our authentic lives. Organisations like Mermaids and Stonewall UK struggle on a daily basis to combat stories from uninformed, unqualified idealogues bent on denying basic rights and basic dignity to trans people. Every right thinking person should be deeply concerned with what is happening to the discourse on trans issues in Britain and the impact it has on our community there.
Recent discussion on the right of trans young people in Ireland to enjoy the same procedure for legal gender recognition as adults has been unhelpfully upstaged by the inclusion of so called ‘gender critical’ voices imported directly from the ongoing debate on reform of the UK’s gender recognition laws. This is a very unfortunate and very unwelcome development, not least because it diminishes the extensive work that has been done in Ireland to ensure discussion of trans rights is respectful, insightful and includes, as a matter of course, voices from the trans community.
TENI, together with other national LGBT organisations working on trans inclusion such as BeLonG To, Shout Out and LGBT Ireland, have sought to provide robust, evidence based, up-to-date information for policy makers and stakeholders alike. To date, policy makers, opinion formers, influencers and the media have, in the main, managed to discuss and debate the issues as they arise without denigrating or denying the right of trans people and trans young people to exist and be supported.
Contributors to the coming debate on the implementation of the recommendations of the Review Group report must respect the rights of trans people already enshrined in Irish law. These matters are settled law and not up for renegotiation. Equally, they must avoid cheapening the debate by resorting to misinformation, mudslinging, or indeed, trans misogyny to score political points. That only diminishes the role of debate as a way to further and deepen understanding of these issues. Above all, commentators from all points of view must ensure that trans voices are elevated, included and respected. There can be no debate on the rights of young trans people without young trans people’s families at the centre. Their voices, our voices, must be heard first.