Trans issues have been gaining increasing coverage in the British and Irish media over recent years. This mirrors increasing political debate over trans rights, including the Equality Act 2010, evidence presented at the Leveson Inquiry and the debates over same-sex marriage. The Westminster Government issued the first ever Transgender Action Plan in 2011 and many politicians were contacted regarding press coverage of trans people following the suicide of Lucy Meadows in 2013. In Ireland we have been fighting for many years to have proper Gender Recognition Legislation introduced. Sinn Fein was the first party in An Oireachtas to propose a draft Gender Recognition Bill to be passed by the legislature.
The idea of a Trans manifesto was first raised in the UK in discussions with Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green politicians during the summer of 2013, and the idea was enthusiastically received. FOCUS: THE IDENTITY TRUST simultaneously attempted to engage in dialogue with politicians in Northern Ireland. Accordingly a number of trans groups met in the autumn, and three core statements were unanimously agreed:
1. Respect trans people as equal citizens with equal rights.
There is a feeling that trans peoples’ rights are sometimes subsidiary to those enjoyed by others. The passing of same-sex marriage legislation means that trans people who married in England, Scotland and Wales no longer need to end their marriage should they wish to seek gender recognition. However in England and Wales the process requires the written consent of the spouse — the so-called spousal veto. Married trans people in Northern Ireland still have to end their marriage prior to gender recognition. The Equality Act seemed to reverse some of the protections previously enjoyed by trans people, with some controversial exemptions specified.
In Ireland we still do not have any Gender Recognition Legislation at all. It seems probable, however that a new Human Rights based Act will be enacted shortly, the provisions of which are likely to be more advanced than the UK’s Gender Reassignment Act 2004. Again, if this comes into being Transgender citizens in Northern Ireland will be further disadvantaged i.e. not only will they not have parity with their transgender brothers and sisters in the UK, but they will not have parity with their transgender brothers and sisters in Ireland.
2. Empower trans individuals to be authorities on all aspects of their own lives.
Provision of healthcare to enable trans people to transition to their new gender has been enshrined in case law in the UK since 1997, but many see the NHS process, usually provided through Gender Identity Clinics, as demeaning. The process of gender recognition requires medical reports, meaning that many have no alternative to the NHS process. However recent statements from NHS leaders indicate an acceptance that people who live with long-term conditions, such as gender dysphoria, quickly become experts with knowledge that matches or even exceeds that of medics. The gender recognition process also indicates that the state owns your gender, with trans people having to convince the state to change it. Those who don’t see themselves as male or female (non-binary people) are also becoming more visible, but those two genders remain the only ones recognised in law and in government statistics and documents.
In Ireland there is no currently agreed clearly defined Treatment pathway to transition to their true gender for Transgender individuals, with services being patchy and generally down to the luck of the draw as to how committed and knowledgeable is your General Practitioner.
3. Develop diverse, representative, realistic and positive portrayals of trans individuals.
Trans people feel that media coverage has often been exploitative and sensational, rather than reflecting their real lives or issues that they face. Representations of trans women dominate, leading to the relative invisibility of trans men and non-binary people. Government could take a lead in de-exoticising trans people by including images of and stories from trans people in publications that don’t necessarily have any trans focus.
While two specific requests have been made, the real hope is that politicians of all parties will subscribe to a paradigm shift in the way trans people are viewed. By ensuring that all policy decisions are viewed through these three statements, the inequalities that trans people still face (including but not restricted to family law, immigration, education, employment and healthcare) will start to be naturally eliminated.
The intention has never been that Trans People should have more rights than anyone else, but instead that they should enjoy the same rights that others take for granted.
Focus: The Identity Trust: Website: www.thefocustrust.com