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Column: Lowering the legal age for gender recognition is vital

Reducing the gender recognition age requirement from 18 to 16 will improve the lives of many young trans and intersex people across Ireland, writes Louise Hannon.

Louise Hannon

IN 2013, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), was contacted 233 times by parents of transgender children who were looking for information and support. Given the increasing number of young people who are coming out as trans, it is clear that a carefully thought-out mechanism for legal recognition is needed for the best outcome possible for our young people. To this end, the recommendation of the Social Protection Committee that the legal age for gender recognition be reduced from 18 to 16 is very welcome.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection, under the chair of Joanna Tuffy TD, last week published their report on the Draft Heads of Bill for the forthcoming Gender Recognition Bill.

The report was welcomed by TENI as a number of issues that we had highlighted in the General Scheme of the Bill published last July have now been addressed. Chief Executive Broden Giambrone said TENI was delighted to see that the Committee made clear recommendations for improving the Government’s Bill. “In particular, we are happy to see there is concerted effort to improve the conditions of young trans people in this country,” Giambrone said, referring to the recommendation that the age limit for accessing the bill be reduced to 16, with provision for making sure those under that age are also protected.

The Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan also came out strongly in favour of legally recognising trans young people saying,”an absolute exclusion on young people or their parents seeking a Gender Recognition Certificate is a disproportionate interference with young people’s right to gender recognition.”

Reducing the age requirement to 16 is a positive step forward. It will improve the lives of many young trans and intersex people who will be able to be legally recognised prior to leaving school and change necessary identification documents. That said, it still leaves those under 16 in a vulnerable position: without legal protection these young people will be open to discrimination.

Discretion of head teacher

Because our education system is still very rigidly gendered, those who are under 16 find that their right to express their identity is dependent on the rules governing their schools and the attitude of their head teacher. Many of these rules have not changed for generations and are strongly gender-based, for example, rules about uniforms which would see a male-identified young person forced to wear a skirt to school each day.

Some schools insist on calling a student’s birth name in the morning roll even though they do not identify with their birth gender. In cases where a student attends the school in their preferred gender, this can lead them to be ‘outed’ against their will and leave them extremely vulnerable to bullying and harassment by their peers and teachers alike.

Difficulties can also arise in cases of attendance at single-sex schools where a female-identified young person could be barred from attending a girl’s school and vice-versa. This is further complicated in the case of intersex children where the possibility exists that the child may not be accepted into either school due to the inability to conclusively identify a label for their genitalia.

Many trans people end up dropping out of education

Without adequate support many young trans people will end up dropping out of education altogether, only to depend on social welfare for years. This is an unnecessary waste of talent that urgently needs to be addressed. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn acknowledged this when launching new anti-bullying procedures for schools last year, welcoming the “strong focus on prevention and education strategies to deal with bullying behavior, in particular… identity-based bullying such as homophobic and transphobic bullying”.

The Committee’s Report is now being sent to Minister Burton to assist the Department of Social Protection in finalising draft legislation. The Minister has committed to introducing legislation in 2014. However, in the Government’s recently published Legislative Programme the Gender Recognition Bill is listed in Section B with no publication date stipulated.

It is vital that the Government takes these recommendations on board and works closely with the trans community to ensure that the best legislation is introduced. TENI will continue to advocate for the introduction of inclusive, rights-based legislation that will ensure all members of the trans community can avail of their human rights. In particular, we need to see legislation that reflects the experiences of young people and allows them to thrive.

Louise Hannon is the Vice Chair of TENI.

Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) seeks to improve conditions and advance the rights and equality of trans people and their families. www.teni.ie

GLOSSARY

Transgender: A person whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex assigned to them at birth.

Intersex: An umbrella term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male.

Read: Transgender woman awarded €5k after AIB did not recognise her new name

Column: Ireland’s continuing disregard for transgender citizens is inexcusable

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