Today marks the first anniversary of the commencement of the Gender Recognition Act, 2015 – a milestone piece of legislation that allows transgender people in Ireland to have their gender legally recognised for the first time. The move has significantly improved the lives of over 150 people who have had their gender legally recognised since new legislation was passed last year.
After many years of campaigning by Dr Lydia Foy, FLAC, TENI, BeLonG To and others, Ireland is now a global leader in trans rights and is one of just six countries in the world that has legislation based on self-determination. This means that there is no requirement for medical experts, medical treatments or diagnosis of a mental disorder in order for individuals who are 18 years of age or older to be legally recognised.
Despite the progress, trans young people fail to be meaningfully included and protected by the Act. Trans young people aged 16-17 must must go through a much more complicated and arduous process than people over 18 because they are required to obtain parental consent, two medical opinions and a court order, which can be a lengthy and cost prohibitive process.
For trans people under 16 years of age, it is even worse; there are currently no pathways to legal recognition whatsoever – even with parental consent. This causes a number of practical day-to-day difficulties for young people such as travelling with their passport, opening a bank account or attending school in their true gender.
According to the LGBTIreland Report, 2016, 1 in 4 trans people have been punched, hit or physically attacked in public, 1 in 3 have had hurtful things written about them on social media and 1 in 5 have experienced sexual violence. So it may come as no surprise that a third of transgender people in Ireland report that their mental health had worsened in the past five years.
Further findings indicate that over half of transgender people fitted the criteria for some level of depression and 87% of transgender people in Ireland reported feeling down or depressed at some point in their lifetime.
The study goes on to show that transgender participants (49%) were more than twice as likely to have self-harmed compared to gay males (20%). And transgender (76%) people were more likely to have considered suicide compared to lesbian/gay females (57%) and gay males (52%).
The most shocking finding of the study was that over a third of transgender people in Ireland were more likely to have seriously attempted to take their own life compared to lesbian/gay females, gay males and bisexuals (17-24%).
Monnine Griffith, Executive Director of BeLonG To said:
“While legal gender recognition is not a magic wand to solve the negative experiences of young trans people in Ireland, in the same way that marriage equality didn’t stop all homophobia, it would however send a strong message to young people that they are believed, respected and equal. Moreover it would send that message to society, our schools and our communities.”
Broden Giambrone, Chief Executive of TENI added:
“Legislative change is incredibly important. However, there is significant work that still needs to be done to combat discrimination and improve the mental health of our community. Trans people and their families have considerable support needs and it is clear that we still need to raise awareness about our diverse experiences. There is still a lot of work to do to ensure all trans people are included in Irish society.”
The Gender Recognition Act includes a provision that requires the Government to conduct a two-year review of the operations of the Act. This will occur in 2017 and the Government must issue a report to the Oireachtas on the findings and conclusions.
“We have met with the Leo Varadkar, Social Protection Minister and his Department officials and look forward to a positive review of the Gender Recognition Act and to finally achieving recognition and protection for all trans people in Ireland. The Gender Recognition Act was an incredible step forward for the trans community in Ireland. But we’re not done. We will be actively campaigning to ensure that trans young people are protected and their rights must be enshrined,” concluded Griffith.
Kirsty and her son’s journey to gender recognition
Dylan always knew there was something different about himself as he never identified with the body he was born with and we always just thought he was a tom-boy. At 13 when he discovered that there was a name/label for who he was, it all made sense to him but that is when the self harm began as he didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. We had no knowledge or understanding of what being transgender meant and it was a scary time for us. So when he came out in March 2015, it was a shock but we listened to him and learned from him. He was our GP’s first openly Trans patient and as a result she had no idea about what should happen next – there are no clear pathways for our Trans young people or their parents. I found out that he needed to be referred to a specialist service in Crumlin Hospital, having spoken to other parents at the Pride Parade in Dublin in June 2015. Clinical psychologists from the UK have to come to Dublin to assess Dylan up to six times before he can start any form of treatment, it could take years.
At long last we are on the road to the next step in his transition, it has been a very hard road to navigate thus far, and there is still such a long way to go. For Dylan, he has to out himself almost every day, he can’t open a bank account or change his passport to reflect who he is, as his documentation doesn’t add up. It simply shouldn’t be this way.
We have had amazing support from family and friends but would be at a loss if it wasn’t for Individuality (BeLonG To) who are, in my eyes, life savers. Transparenci (TENI) have also been of immense support to me over the last 12 months in helping me to cope with such a radical change in our family life.
Dylan is happier than he has ever been, his name has been changed, he presents as himself and his hair is short, he is turning into a very handsome young man, but he still lives in a body he hates and each day is a week long for him, waiting to access the medication that can help him feel more like the person he was born to be. He knows who he is and doesn’t need someone to assess him to tell him that. I’m so proud of my son and his strength to be honest with not only himself but with the world. He is amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing about him.
For more information, visit these sites:
BeLonG To is the National Youth LGBT Organisation www.belongto.org
IndividualiTy meets every week and is open to young trans-identified people aged 14 to 23. IndividualiTy at TGEU Bologna https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqCOYao_kjY
Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) is the national transgender organisation www.teni.ie