With all places booked, and an atmosphere of positivity and support, not even the heavy winds, lashing rain, and pre-Christmas Belfast traffic jams could put a wet blanket over Focus: the Identity Trust’s “Transgender Rights are Human Rights” mini-conference in Stormont, Tuesday 9th December 2014.
Our event was the first ever to address Human Rights issues specific to the needs of transgender and intersex individuals in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Hosted by Maeve McLaughlin MLA, Chair of the Health Committee and FOCUS: the Identity Trust, the event also formed part of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Festival 2014. Our event focused initially on gender recognition legislation in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but went on to examine all areas of the lives of transgender and intersex individuals where they experience difficulty in accessing and enjoying the same basic human rights as the rest of society.
Focus: the Identity Trust is the first group on the island that exclusively represents and offers support to Transgender individuals who have a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria (the only group to be protected under current Section 75 legislation in NI). We promote and advocate for the Equality Rights and Human Rights of Transgender and Intersex individuals and their families and lobby all political parties to ensure proper treatment services in line with best practice.
“Wonderfully Successful Event”
“I am not trapped by my body; I am trapped by your beliefs.”
These are the words of a young Philippine transgender woman Sass Rogando Sasot and it is these beliefs Focus: the Identity Trust are working hard to change.
Our event was intended to reach politicians, policy-makers, decision-makers, and representatives from a wide number of government, statutory, public, and voluntary bodies. These are the exact individuals and organisations that can enact the changes and promote the policies, procedures and attitudes which will benefit the lives of each and every transgender and intersex individual here and help ensure that transgender rights are a reality.
Speakers included, left to right, Maeve McLaughlin MLA, Chair of the Health Committee, Caitriona Ruane MLA, Alyson Kilpatrick, Human Rights Advisor to NIPB, and Frances Shiels, Secretary, Focus: the Identity Trust.
As such we are delighted to report that the event was a huge success. All places were booked, with demand outstripping supply, and with key politicians, MLAs, civil servants, and representatives from many of the bodies listed above in attendance.
In addition, everyone involved made the event a success with their enthusiasm, reaction to the presentations, and commitment to engage further with Focus: the Identity Trust and work together to make transgender rights a full reality.
We at FOCUS are grateful to all these individuals and organisations for their attendance and contribution to the success of the event, and we look forward to working with you all to further transgender rights and ensure human rights and equality for all, and to translate the positive words at this conference into actions.
We would also like to extend particular thanks to Maeve McLaughlin MLA, Alyson Kilpatrick, Human Rights Advisor to the NI Policing Board, the NI Human Rights Festival, Caitriona Ruane MLA and, of course, our keynote speakers who gave so much of their valuable time and support to FOCUS and to our event; the Lord Carlile QC CBE and Mr. Aengus O’Snodaigh TD.
And though outside, the Stormont Christmas Tree blew from side-to-side in the high winds, inside the warmth and positivity of the event made it not just a success, but an enjoyable event for all involved!
Focus Message – Separating the T from the LGB
Maeve McLaughlin MLA opened proceedings with a firm and passionate declaration of her own and her party’s commitment to transgender rights; rights which have been pointedly lacking through a mixture of ignorance and/or prejudice, and rights which in too many instances are still not recognised. With a complete understanding of the issues, she also re-emphasised to the audience the complete separation that exists between the issues of Transgender and Intersex individuals and those of the LGB community.
This is the message Focus: the Identity Trust has on its own, solely, and consistently campaigned for since our formation.
And with great success too, and through our engagement and endeavour a number of political parties, OFMDFM, the Equality Commission of NI, most government departments, and a host of other statutory, public, voluntary and private bodies and organisations now recognise it is wholly incorrect and inappropriate to link the issues of T with LGB.
(For an explanation of why this is the case, please refer to our previous articles, click to access:)
- Separating the T from the LGB
- Focus success in separating the T from LGB in School Omnibus Survey
- Focus: the Identity Trust Achievements Update
Keynote Speakers and Guests
Keynote speakers on the day were to include The Lord Carlile of Berriew QC CBE and Mr Aengus O’Snodaigh TD who were the first in their respective jurisdictions to introduce Gender Recognition Legislation, speaking from their own perspectives.
Owing to an unexpectedly early recall to the House of Lords of the Judicial Review of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, of which Lord Carlile was not only a signatory but also a speaker against the proposed changes, Lord Carlile was unable to attend as the Review was on exactly the same day as our conference. Similar last minute, but vitally important parliamentary business in An Oireachtas, prevented Aengus O’Snodaigh TD attending.
Both speakers sent their apologies, however parliamentary requirements understandably must take precedent. We thank the Lord Carlile and Mr O’Snodaigh for their 100% commitment and support to Focus: the Identity Trust and this event; support which extended to ensuring that their speeches were read out on the day by representatives who paid them true justice and respect.
Alyson Kilpatrick, Human Rights Advisor to the NI Policing Board whilst also voicing her own commitment to transgender rights, presented Lord Carlile’s apt words on the history of transgender legislation in Northern Ireland and the challenges that still remain.
“Transgender people in Northern Ireland would benefit from clearer, simpler and better-known legislation about their rights and would know that their rights here were broadly the same as in the rest of the country…..Clearer laws always benefit everyone. Most people, in my experience, do not deliberately wish to discriminate against transgender people, and having clear expectations in terms of the law would help those who come into contact with transgender people or who have a transgender person in their family.“
Caitriona Ruane, in presenting Mr O’Snodaigh’s address couldn’t have done a better job on his behalf, speaking as to the position and challenges in ensuring human rights for transgender individuals in the Republic of Ireland. Including her own contribution to the discussion, she showed again the she and her party are listening to the public, of which transgender individuals are a part not apart, and leading the way on human rights and equality.
The event also featured the inaugural presentation of Focus: The Identity Trust’s “Transgender Champion Awards” across five separate categories, for those agencies that have provided outstanding service to transgender and intersex individuals throughout the year.
We are privileged to have worked with these organisations, and proud to have been able to recognise their service and contribution to transgender individuals in 2014.
A full report on the Awards and Awardees can be read here.
“Transgender Rights ARE Human Rights;” transgender individuals are people, part of society, and asking, not for special rights, but just those rights enjoyed by each and every other member of society. This Focus: the Identity Trust event, again brought transgender rights to the heart of government.
We recall that diversity is a strength, and in the words of Islamic scholar Mohammed Mahallati,
“Difference is a blessing, not a challenge. We define ourselves by knowing other people. We know our world by learning about difference. What is the word we often use? Tolerance. Is that a positive notion? Not really. ‘For the time being, I will tolerate you?’ I’m against that concept. It means difference is a threat. Difference is a blessing and you don’t tolerate a blessing. You embrace it.”
Pictured below, Caitriona Ruane MLA, Frances Shiels (FOCUS) and Alyson Kilpatrick, Human Rights Advisor to NIPB
(Should any person or organisation require any assistance or advice regarding transgender issues, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. As a transgender organisation run BY transgender individuals we are the individuals who can speak to our issues and experiences. We also run tailored transgender awareness training courses; contact us for details)
A final thank you to all Focus: the Identity Trust members who worked behind the scenes to make the event a success – especially their family and friends who stepped aside to allow places to be available for politicians, people of influence etc. to attend; those who will change our society for the better.