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The Issues That Matter

It is important in the coming weeks, as new candidates join the ticket and parties begin to canvass voters door-todoor, that the LGBT+ community and its allies question and research potential leaders for the 2020-2025 period on their stances relating to issues of significance to those most vulnerable and marginalised in Ireland at the moment; including the working class, people of colour, asylum seekers and LGBT+ people.

For instance, where does Ireland currently stand on its laws relating to trans healthcare, hate crime legislation, LGBT+ parental rights, homelessness, Direct Provision and the climate crisis?

Election 2020 is on the way with political parties promising:

“A chance for people to change the direction Ireland is going in” — The Social Democrats

“Taking Ireland back from the landlord parties” — People Before Profit

The deliverance of the “largest” programme of public housing in the history of the State — Sinn Féin

“Real solutions” on housing, health, work, children and climate — Labour

Changes to “the entire transport system, the entire food system, the entire energy system and the entire waste system” — Green Party

“A future to look forward to” — Fine Gael

“An Ireland for all” — Fianna Fáil

LGBT+ PARENTAL RIGHTS

As it stands currently, the Children and Families Relationship Act 2015 provides no legal recognition to LGBT+ families. The bill provided some improvements for same-sex parents, including the right to apply for guardianship to non-biological parents in certain relationships and the right to apply to adopt for civil partners and cohabiting couples, however, surrogacy rights have yet to come into place. This means only one parent of a donor-assisted child born to same-sex couples can put their name on the birth certificate. Many gay parents, therefore, have no rights under Irish law to have custody of their children. Activist Ranae von Meding launched a petition back in April 2019 calling for the Minister for Health Simon Harris to legislate for the equal rights of all same-sex parents in Ireland. The Minister responded to subsequent rallies by stating that he “shares the views” of families that the current legislation is “not acceptable”. New legislation on this issue is due to commence in May 2020, five years after the marriage equality referendum. An additional concern of LGBT+ parents in Ireland is that The Parent’s Leave and Benefi Bill 2019 prevents same-sex male parents from receiving adoptive leave and other such benefits. Therefore it is essential that LGBT+ activists and allies continue to push for adequate changes to current legislation and that newly elected representatives carry on with the work accordingly.

TRANS HEALTHCARE

Ireland has some of the best gender recognition legislation in the world. For example, since July 2015, transgender people can self-declare their gender for the purpose of updating passports, driving licences, obtaining new birth certificates, and getting married. However, non-binary recognition, intersex recognition or recognition for trans people under 16 years has not yet been implemented in the Gender Recognition Act. Furthermore, long waiting lists for hormone replacement therapy and gender affirmation surgery is a massive issue facing transgender people in Ireland today. Some patients face a wait of longer than 13 months due to capacity constraints. There are currently only three endocrinologists in Ireland who will prescribe hormone replacement therapy to adults, and all three require patients to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, before commencing treatment. Transgender individuals and activists across Ireland advocate for the informed consent model to be introduced, under which patients would make their own decisions around hormone replacement therapy, without psychiatric evaluation.

Long waiting lists and financial struggles have forced some trans people in Ireland to take to the black market for hormone therapy - which can pose other health risks, as it is recommended that people on HRT be supervised and have their blood checked every three to five months, for example.

The This Is Me Transgender Healthcare campaign has been protesting since January 2018, highlighting the inaction of the Department of Health and HSE regarding improvements to the trans healthcare system. Joe.ie reported last year that the number of trans people fundraising online for private healthcare doubled in 2018 using sites like GoFundMe. Minister for Health Simon Harris has put in place a committee to look after transgender healthcare but there are yet to be any significant developments.

DIRECT PROVISION

Direct Provision has long been criticised by human rights organisations as illegal, inhumane and degrading. The system was intended to be a “temporary” measure for dealing with the arrival of people seeking asylum to Ireland, but it turned 20 this year.

In the two decades since it became a formal policy, over 60,000 people have passed through the system, many of whom have spent three years or longer there. Prominent activist and LGBT+ researcher Evgeny Shtorn has said that LGBT+ asylum seekers within the system can face “double isolation” and has called for, alongside many others, the abolishment of Direct Provision.

Research by the National LGBT Federation (NXF) found that over 50 percent of LGBT+ migrants in Ireland experience poor mental health, and this is particularly true for those in Direct Provision.

Bullying, harassment and intimidation of LGBT+ people within the system is commonplace due to living conditions. Often in a confined space and sharing a room with people they may not know, LGBT+ people are sometimes forced back into the closet out of fear. Commenting on NXF research on LGBT+ mental health, Dr Chris Noone of NUIG described LGBT+ people living in Direct Provision as “the most likely to encounter stressful experiences” and needing “the most support.” Actions such as guaranteeing that LGBT+ people are accommodated in areas where they can access LGBT+ specific services and housing in accordance with their gender identity are necessary to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

HOUSING CRISIS AND HOMELESSNESS

For several years, homeless charities such as Focus Ireland have reported high numbers of LGBT+ young people are becoming homeless as a direct result of their sexuality or gender identity. The extent of this problem in Ireland is largely unknown due to stigma, however, international research shows that LGBT+ people are overrepresented in the youth homelessness population in places such as the UK, Canada, USA and Australia - with some estimating that 40 percent of young people experiencing homelessness are LGBT+.

At present, many mainstream services do not cater to the needs of LGBT+ young people, this is down to a lack of training around LGBT+ support needs, and the fact that specialist services for LGBT+ youth are almost non-existent in Ireland, such as, for example, the provision of genderneutral homeless accommodation.

First and foremost, data on this homeless demographic in Ireland is imperative to forming the targeted response necessary. Data would allow for anti-discrimination policies to be reviewed and implemented, training to be provided for staff to create a more inclusive environment and preventative measures specific to LGBT+ youth could be put in place.

HATE CRIME LEGISLATION

Currently, unlike most other EU countries, Ireland has no effective hate crime laws. The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 makes it an offence to create or distribute racist, homophobic or other discriminatory materials - someone found guilty of breaking this law can face a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of €10,000. However, a 2018 report by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) found that Ireland has among the highest rates of hate crime against people of African background and transgender people in the EU. Despite this, there have only been approximately 50 prosecutions under the existing legislation in its 30 years of existence and only a handful of convictions. The ICCL report also found that during the criminal justice process the hate element of the crime is often dropped and that no effective policies are in place for crimes motivated by prejudice.

The Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said he would like to see new legislation on hate speech introduced this year as the public consultation phase wrapped up in midDecember. Changes to hate crime legislation in Ireland would be welcomed by LGBT+ activists and allies and it is essential that the new government continue that process of legislative change.

CLIMATE CRISIS

The greatest issue facing our country and our planet at the moment is the climate crisis. Last year, Ireland was rated as the worst-performing EU country by the Climate Change Performance Index. Our per capita emissions remain unacceptably high and it is unlikely we will meet our 2030 and 2050 targets. In fact, Ireland is currently on track to miss its targets by quite a significant margin. Under the worst-case scenario, our emissions could even increase in the next decade.

According to An Taisce’s Ian Lumley, Ireland is, at present, “making all the wrong policy and investment decisions”. An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has agreed Ireland is a “laggard” on this issue. It is quite clear that the current plans in place are inadequate for dealing with the scale of the climate crisis. And while the effects of climate change will undeniably be felt by everyone, climate change intersects heavily with racism, sexism and homophobia. Among those most vulnerable to the climate crisis are LGBT+ people and people of colour.

As we begin to experience more extreme weather, the lack of stable housing, for example, will impact LGBT+ people massively as we are more likely to experience homelessness. It is absolutely crucial that our next government commit to making faster and more effective moves towards reducing our emissions in Ireland if we are to have a chance of meeting our 2030 or 2050 targets.

This article appears in the 362 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 362 Issue of GCN