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19 MIN READ TIME

A New Journey

When Éirénne Carroll first found out she would be TENI’s new CEO, it was 5:00 AM in the morning. She was living in North Carolina, and when the +353 prefix popped up on her screen, she knew Ireland was calling, and with it, news of her new position. Needless to say, Éirénne was delighted: “I smartly put myself on mute as I jumped up and down and yelled in my apartment! It was extremely exciting to get the chance to come and be a part of the team. TENI has such a track record of advocacy that it’s hard not to fall in love with the organisation.”

Before making the move to Ireland, Éirénne had worked extensively in the nonprofit sector in India, Nepal and the US. This experience off ered her some valuable insights into the role adaptability plays in leading an organisation like TENI: “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to advocacy. I don’t ever see myself as someone who can come in and know all the answers. I’m definitely someone that likes to learn about situations, to get to know the ground level community and what their needs are, and build resources to address those needs, rather than a top-down programmatic structure.”

It was TENI’s tenacious track-record that first attracted Éirénne to the role: “Over the last 10 years, TENI has advocated and worked for such monumental change. TENI was fundamental to the Marriage Equality Act, and to getting the Gender Recognition Act passed, which is phenomenal. Seeing the impact this has had on just allowing trans people to come out and be recognised for who they are is amazing. TENI continues to do really great work. From the healthcare and medical professional training to the school training to the corporate training, it continues to push forward on better equality and better inclusion every single day. It’s great to be a part of that.”

Having said that, Éirénne acknowledges that there is still work to be done: “Ireland is already on the cusp of being a progressive leader in trans rights and equality, which is a great foundation to have. However, there are more steps we can take. Addressing transgender health and education is fundamental. We’d love for the Gender Recognition Act to recognise our non-binary and intersex friends and family members. We also need to advocate for the protection of trans children in schools. It’s important to address some of the employment challenges and stigmas that trans people can run into when applying for jobs as well. We want to make sure that employers are educated enough to understand how to support their trans employees, and what it means to be diverse and inclusive in their recruitment strategy.”

Stigma remains an obstacle that prevents many trans, non-binary and intersex people from living a prejudice-free life. In terms of tackling this stigma, Éirénne maintains that it’s vital to educate the general public on the prevalence of trans people in Irish society: “If we are to continue to move Ireland forward, there are cultural stigmas that need to be addressed. The next step is to build a culture of inclusion, rather than just a culture of acceptance. Advocacy is not simply about building and improving legislation, it’s about doing enough education work that people will really understand that they’ve always known trans people. They’ve always interacted with trans people. We’re their neighbours, their family members, and we’re just here trying to live a normal life. Once we start building those roadblocks, and showing how ‘normal’ it is to be trans, that’s when people start having their minds changed, and that’s what makes the community more accepting.”

Éirénne appreciates that real change requires structured preparation and hard work, and that is exactly where TENI’s Strategic Plan 2020 - 2023 comes in. The multi-faceted plan outlines TENI’s visions and goals for the coming years. Éirénne acknowledges the enormity of the challenge that lies ahead, but remains undeterred in implementing real change: “Our strategic plan is really forward-thinking. It has some really high aims that we’re looking to get through, and these aims are foundational to the work I do.”

One element of TENI’s Strategic Plan stands out in particular for Éirénne: “I think Goal Two - the idea that trans people are able to access all services, and that those services are trans-friendly and inclusive - is really at the forefront of my mind. There still is a really extensive waiting period to be seen by the National Gender Service. There are people that could be waiting up to three years before they get seen for their initial consultation. That’s a challenge that needs to be addressed. We believe that trans people shouldn’t have to be put through that extensive period of waiting as it increases mental health stressors and life stress.”

For those in our community who are isolated, try and see if there are even small ways to celebrate who you are.

Another aim of TENI’s Strategic Plan is to establish a culture in Ireland where trans, intersex and non-binary people are not just included and accepted, but celebrated: “We’re creating opportunities for trans people to be celebrated for who they are, the work they’ve done, the things they enjoy, and their hobbies. Our lives don’t just revolve around our gender identity. One of the negative perceptions of the trans community is that we are just focused on our gender identity. This is false. Trans people have hobbies and they have a life. They do amazing work. We want to be able to showcase that work and celebrate the resilience of our community.”

One of Éirénne’s first challenges in leading TENI was helping the organisation adapt to life with COVID-19, and ensuring that the trans community was supported during a global pandemic: “COVID-19 has really impacted the work of our support groups and our training,” Éirénne says. “TENI has always been an organisation that likes to meet with people to do trainings in person, to have peer support groups in person, and to use our office as a place where the community comes together. So having to figure out how to take all of our programmes and move them online rapidly was definitely a big challenge the organisation faced this year.”

Undeniably, life in lockdown has been particularly challenging for the trans, non-binary and intersex community at large. “We know that some of our community members are in unsafe and insecure housing environments where they’re not able to be out. They’re fighting with the additional pressure of having to live a life where their identity is being scrutinised.”

Her advice to those who feel unable to embrace the fullness of themselves in lockdown is pertinent: “For those in our community who are isolated, try and see if there are even small ways to celebrate who you are.” Éirénne recalls her own experience with feeling unable to be out: “I think about the things that affirmed me without putting me at risk. It was little things like listening to music that maybe wasn’t what I was ‘supposed’ to be listening to according to my perceived gender identity. So put on a playlist that you can enjoy and vibe to for a little bit. There are books, comic books and TV shows that have good queer representation that can give you an outlet to celebrate the community. Even if you can find little ways on your own to just affirm who you are in the midst of it all, it can really help.”

Éirénne reminds me that help and support are available to members of the community, even throughout lockdown: “TENI is always here if you need someone to talk to. You can send us a message or give us a call, we’ll be able to give you a call back and be there for you as well.”

Moreover, it is also vital for cisgender people to support our trans and gender-diverse siblings throughout lockdown and beyond. “We are glad to see that there are allies, to see that there are people that can educate themselves on our behalf,” Éirénne tells me. “It is nice to know that you’re in a battle where the whole weight of it is not solely on your shoulders.” When we discuss the unfortunate and hurtful rise in TERF rhetoric, Éirénne emphasises the difference allyship can make in protecting trans people from online abuse: “There are a growing number of fringe people who are aiming to smear trans rights online, especially on Twitter. So continue to use your voice and make it known that you are an ally. Something as simple as reporting accounts, reporting tweets and sharing affirming knowledge about the subject can go a long way. It’s just nice in a wave of angry voices to see an ally share a voice of support.”

Éirénne adds that it’s also vital for allies to check in on their trans friends: “A lot of people don’t often share how much they’re fighting with difficult challenges. The stress is there, so a friendly voice checking in is always appreciated.”

TENI offer a number of support options and resources.

Visit www.teni.ie or call 01 8733575 for more information.

ON TRANS DAY OF REMEMBRANCE 2020, TENI AND GCN RELEASED A POWERFUL OPEN LETTER ALONGSIDE A PETITION SIGNED BY MULTIPLE ORGANISATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS TO REINFORCE IRELAND’S STRONG ETHOS OF SOLIDARITY AND THE INCLUSION OF OUR TRANS SIBLINGS AS VALUABLE MEMBERS OF SOCIETY. HERE IN FULL IS THE LETTER BY EIRENNE CARROLL, CEO OF TENI.
To add your name to the petition, visit A Call for Irish Solidarity on change.org.

For decades the transgender community has advocated, marched, and fought for equality, and inclusion. This fight has never once wavered in supporting movements that garner equality for all marginalised communities. Our work, our fight, our campaigns, have all been underscored by two things; intersectionality and solidarity.

The transgender community has always worked in advancing the equal rights and acceptance of all, without discrimination. For decades the work of the transgender community was tied to working in wider acceptance of queer people, even when our rights were never mentioned, nor advanced. For decades members of the transgender community marched in Pride, stood for women’s equality, all while our rights were left off the table.

Internationally, women such as Marsha P Johnson and others, marched, shouted and demanded gay rights, while every step of the way recognition of transgender identities and the inclusion of transgender rights were left behind. Here in Ireland, the transgender community has continued to show that spirit of solidarity.

Members of our community have worked along intersectional lines supporting campaigns aimed at increasing women’s rights, and the wider rights of the lesbian, bisexual and gay communities.

Transgender people were active in campaigns in 2015 and 2016 that saw the passing of Marriage Equality in Ireland, and in the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Even now, transgender people continue to work for reforms that will increase the rights of gay and lesbian parents in surrogacy and adoption. Never have transgender people sought to diminish the rights, or acceptance of others.

Now, unfortunately, we see a rise in discriminatory organisations and vocal transgender exclusionary activists using Twitter and divisive antics to attempt to a drive a wedge in queer communities between transgender people and fracture our support from feminists. For our decades of solidarity, some seek to repay our community with a call for division based on falsities and bigotry.

Let us say unequivocally that the statements of newly launched organisations that seek to defend biology or fight gender identity and expression do not represent the wider LGBTI+ community nor feminists in Ireland. More importantly, they are not organisations at all, they have no governance, no accountability, and are simply Twitter accounts. Further, they are not supported by the wider Irish community.

Ireland has dealt with these pseudo-feminists before, and the work of Feminist Ire dealt swiftly with their attacks by stating, “Trans women are our sisters; their struggles are ours, our struggles theirs. They were our sisters before any state-issued certification said so and will always be no matter what any legislation says, either now or in the future.”

In addressing these accounts it is simple enough to refute them by stating they are not radical, they are not inclusive, and they are not feminists. They are simply misinformed and transphobic. The vitriol and disinformation these accounts and people share do not represent the beliefs of the legitimate organisations and signers of this letter, and together we repudiate their beliefs, and call for an end to giving airtime to their despicable brand of harassment.

In Ireland we exist as a strong coalition of intersectional solidarity. As LGBTI+ and feminist organisations we stand together, we march together, we advocate together. We will not allow transphobia to grow and our history of work together will only continue to propel us to a more equal future for all marginalised people.

We call on media, and politicians to no longer provide legitimate representation for those that share bigoted beliefs, that are aligned with far-right ideologies and seek nothing but harm and division. These fringe internet accounts stand against affirmative medical care of transgender people, and they stand against the right to self-identification of transgender people in this country. In summation they stand against trans, women’s and gay rights by aligning themselves with far-right tropes and stances. They have attacked LGBTQ+ education in school, attacked anti-bullying campaigns, and attack access to medical services. They stand to remove equality, and cause a legacy of damaging discrimination.

They stand against trans, women’s and gay rights by aligning themselves with far-right tropes and stances.

In particular, the road to Gender Recognition was long and public, and we in the trans community are thankful for the support of the many who stood by our side. We are thankful to the wider gay, lesbian and bisexual communities that marched and worked alongside of us for legal recognition. We are thankful for the feminists that saw, and still see, trans women as their sisters and use their voice to speak for equality. We are thankful our community was given a chance to present our case to the country, and that we secured so much support for inclusion and legal recognition. A legal battle, that to remind all, was started by Dr Lydia Foy in 1992 for legal recognition and bodily autonomy. A 23-year public debate and case for recognition. A battle that was full of intrusive questions, investigating peer-reviewed and solid research, and public debate.

Dr Foy and many other trans women laid bare their lives to Ireland in an attempt to be legally recognised, to have access to affirming medical care and support. As the years wore on, our LGBTI+ community came alongside us, and so did the Feminist Movement in the country. The basis of the argument is that all people, regardless of gender, should have access to legal recognition, and should be treated as the best authority on their body. In the 20 years of public transgender advocacy, we are thankful for the many steps toward progress that Ireland has taken. The transgender community along with the many supporters and signers of this letter will not stand by and allow toxic voices to continue to spread disinformation that seeks to restrict bodily autonomy, and equality.

Over 20 years, Ireland has changed for the better. Many out transgender adults grew up in the Ireland that these discriminatory voices seek to bring back. One in which trans people were forced to be broadly invisible and silent. An Ireland that forced trans people to be hidden, and intimidated them into the closet due to hate, discrimination and harassment. It was an Ireland that made transgender people feel ashamed and scared about who they were.

The Ireland that we came out in versus the Ireland that we are now visible in, is a different Ireland to the one we were lost and shamed in. It is an Ireland where trans people are visible and legally recognised. We cannot and we must not go back from that. We do not want trans kids growing up and thinking they are the only ones who feel the way they do or that they should be ashamed of who they see.

We need an Ireland of inclusion so trans kids are not pushed to suicide, not forced to live in closets, and are not bullied for being born this way. Ireland has made great strides in terms of trans visibility and representation. Now we are dealing with those who fear and hate that and who would do anything in their power to tear us down and drive a wedge between us and the rest of the LGB+ community.

We must not let them win. Our lives and our very existence should not be up for debate. We deserve to be treated equally and with respect and to be recognised and accepted for who we are. Our 20 years of progress is monumental, and it must stand boldly against any and all fleeting voices of hate that seek to harm us.

As a trans community we are tired, tired of the hate, and the discrimination levied against us at every turn. Transgender people across Ireland seek to live a full, healthy, and included life. We would call on those who are standing in support of us to continue to use your voice to stand for bodily autonomy, a better medical care system, and full inclusion in society for trans and gender expansive people. We would ask that you do not engage with those who seek to simply project false information, or hateful words. Please do not use your voice to engage with people who are bad faith actors. Instead take time to share why transgender rights matter, how transgender rights make society better, and how equality means a fuller and healthier life for all. Use your voice to call on media to accurately portray trans people, and for lawmakers to value our lives. Use your voice as an ally to speak for inclusion, to speak for acceptance, and to speak for a better life for transgender people. Be visibly proud to support your trans friends, family and colleagues.

We know equality means justice and inclusion for all! Supporting transgender people, and standing for transgender equality does not lessen anyone’s rights. Rather, as marginalised people are given more equality, we are all given a more equal society. No one has true equality, while some still live under the wheels of injustice. Anyone who continues to use inaccurate science to denigrate trans people is increasing discrimination. Sex and gender are both spectrums, and the full beauty of that spectrum must be supported and included.

No one should be targeted or harassed for who they are. Trans children do not deserve to be sent to schools to be fed lies about themselves. Transgender adults should not be fearful that they might be targeted and killed on their walk home for simply living their lives. These are the worries that these organisations are seeking to bring to Ireland. One that sees a rise in trans suicide, violence, and isolation. An Ireland that is not a land of a thousand welcomes, but of a thousand fears. Transgender rights do not attack feminism, they are a continuation of feminist ideals. Transgender men and women do not lessen the rights or threaten gay and lesbian spaces, because trans men are men, and trans women are women.

It is time as a society and as a queer, feminist, radical community, that we no longer allow bigotry to blossom. In no uncertain terms we agree that trans lives matter, trans people should be given full rights, and trans people should be included fully in society. Trans people are our friends, neighbours, colleagues, classmates and loved ones. We will not allow anyone to promote hate, to trade in bigotry, or to attack legislation, education and programs that affirm transgender, non-binary, and intersex people.

We stand boldly against the rise of exclusionary rhetoric, and name it for what it is, harassment and transphobia. It is not based in truth, it comes with no claims in fact, and is a dog whistle to bigots. We know that, by and large, these false narratives are not native to the queer and feminist communities of Ireland. These ideas are representative of outsiders who have not worked, laboured, or known the trans community in Ireland. These fringe groups have not been in the trenches for equality. They do not understand, nor appreciate, that together we built a radical and inclusive coalition for equality.

This radical and inclusive coalition denounces their platforms of disinformation. We reject their inaccurate science. We reject their aims, goals, and campaign for discrimination. Ireland is better when it is diverse and equal. Our diversity and equality has been showcased by our coalition of trans, queer, and feminist leaders who, in their unity, have won tremendous legislative victories that have improved the lives of gay and lesbian couples, women’s rights, and transgender recognition.

Our unity, and our work will not stop. Our focus is now on strengthening our resolve, turning away hate, and continuing to support the trans and gender expansive community members from those who would seek to harm them.

We will not be bullied, we will not be silenced, and we will not allow transgender rights to be maligned. We move forward with hope and unity for a better world, and a better Ireland.

Together in #IrishSolidariT with:

Organisations:

Transgender Equality Network of Ireland (TENI)

GCN

BeLonG To

National Women’s Council of Ireland

National LGBT Federation (NXF)

LGBT Ireland

Amnesty International

Bi+ Ireland Network

ShoutOut

Gay Health Network

LINC

Gay Project

Intersex Ireland

Trans and Intersex Pride

Sporting Pride

Le Chéile

BRÓD West Cork

Cork Trans Network

Irish Network Against Racism (INAR)

Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI)

Migrants and Ethnic Minorities for Reproductive Justice (MERJ Ireland)

Abortion Rights Campaign

AMACH! LGBT+ Galway

Sex Workers Alliance Ireland

Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT)

Outhouse

This Is Me

Trangsender Healthcare Campaign

Individuals:

Éirénne Carroll, CEO TENI

Lisa Connell

Sara R Phillips

Ailbhe Smyth

Peter Dunne

Ailsa Spindler

Rita Wild

Lynne Tracey

Aoife Martin

Denise Breen

Ben Power

Vanessa Lacey

Leighton Gray

Tina Kehoe, Mother

Taryn De Vere, Quare Media

Andrew Galvin

Audrey Beattie, Human Being and Mother

Mary Doolin-Murphy, Mother

Ronan Burke

Hannah Solley

Fiona O’Rourke, Mother

Brian Farrell, Dad

Loretta O’Reilly, Mother

Aleks Mooney

Declan Walshe, Father

John Fleming

April Bracken

Simon Coulter

Dani O’Connor

Jen O’Shea

Siobhan Thomas

Vicki Marchant, Mother

Muiris Mahon, Father

Maureen Mahon, Mother

Lisa Brinkman

Sam Blanckensee

Dr Chryssa Dislis, Parent

Mark Holland

Dr Stuart Neilson), Parent

Donnacha O Mesra, Dad

Pierce O Meara

Ollie Bell

Aideen Kelliher

John Teahan

Remus Teahan

Micah Neilson

Nyree Fitzpatrick, Mother

Joe Donohoe, Father

Jo Ellen Donohoe, Family

Tom Donohoe, Family

Conny Donohoe, Family

John Mansfield

Geraldine Brown

Linda Kavanagh

Fern Higgins Atkinson

This article appears in the 365 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 365 Issue of GCN