In the elegant surroundings of the Whittaker Suite, Guildhall, Derry/Londonderry; Focus: the Identity Trust today (10th December) held a mini-conference to mark World Human Rights Day.

The conference successfully brought together a number of speakers; including Colette Ramsey, Regional Manager, Contact, who spoke on the work of Lifeline in Northern Ireland and the vital help it offers transgender individuals, and also Deborah Howe, Manager, Promotion and Education Division, of the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland who spoke on their work on transgender issues in relation to the labour market, education and health inequalities.

Opening the conference on behalf of MEP Martina Anderson, we were very fortunate to have Dr Bridget Meehan who spoke eloquently on their firm belief in, and determined pursuit of, equality and human rights for all, and the importance of the issue of human rights for transgender and intersex individuals.

The importance of these issues of human rights and how they affect transgender individuals and their families was starkly brought home in talks by Adrienne and Robyn, who vividly described their own experiences of life as transgender women.  One of these speakers highlighted how, instead of maybe thinking forward to her day ahead, to her work, to what she has to do that day, simple everyday thoughts which others take for granted, she starts each day thinking, “will I be verbally abused today, will I be beaten up today?”  These are, too often, the thoughts that transgender people wake up thinking of, and live with each day.  To be able to live without such basic fears is a human right, not a human privilege, and it is through hearing and acting upon testimonies such as these that we can all act to make a difference.

The conference concluded with a Transgender Law Quiz, (with what were some surprising answers for some!) and an enjoyable open discussion.  The informal and personal nature of the conference permitted a positive exchange of information and follow-up plans have already been made to ensure talk is followed by action in the key area of pursuing and ensuring the human rights of transgender and intersex individuals, not just on paper, but in practice.

Focus: the Identity Trust would like to sincerely thank all the speakers and delegates for making this conference a success, and would like to end this post on our conference on World Human Rights Day in the same way in which it was opened, with a quotation from Nelson Mandela,

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”