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Column: ‘I know I’m a woman, and my gender should be recognised’

Transgender woman Louise Hannon describes how the trans community still face humiliating hurdles – and argues proposed new laws must be changed.

Louise Hannon

Last year, transgender woman Louise Hannon was awarded damages by the Equality Tribunal after being discriminated against at work. Here she describes how the fight for recognition is not over – and how proposed legislation introduces humiliating new hurdles.

AFTER ALMOST 15 years of legal struggle, Dr Lydia Foy is still not legally recognised by the Irish State and does not have a birth certificate with her proper gender. Neither do I – and there are many more of us. When will our time come?

The struggle for gender recognition has been a long one. In 1997, Dr Foy first set the legal wheels in motion. After a decade, in 2007, the High Court found that Ireland was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. In plain language, the High Court found that Ireland was infringing on the human rights of transgender people by not having a process to legally recognise their preferred gender.

Ireland is one of the last states in Europe to deny transgender people legal recognition. Clearly, Ireland needs to bring our laws up to date.

It’s now getting on for two years since the Fianna Fáil government set up the inter-departmental Gender Recognition Advisory Group (GRAG for short) in May 2010. The role of the GRAG was to advise the Minister on legislation required to provide for the legal recognition of trans people.

This was meant to start a short process whereby transgender people would finally be legally recognised in their proper gender by the Irish state. The previous government had dragged its feet since the European Court of Human Rights gave its judgement in 2002 in the case of Goodwin v Cornwall CC in the UK. But as we all know, this process of lawmaking is incredibly slow in Ireland – unless there is the Troika pushing the buttons of course.

Fast forward to July 2011 and the publication of the GRAG’s report and recommendations. Leading up to the publication there was great hope and anticipation. The GRAG had spent a year reviewing evidence, conducting research, and most importantly, consulting with trans people and organisations about what the legislation should look like. In total they took advice from 40 individuals and civil society groups. including the Equality Authority and Transgender Equality Network Ireland.

Despite all this work, the GRAG completely ignored this mountain of advice and copied the UK act almost verbatim – much to the chagrin of those of us who had hoped for some progressive legislation. It bears noting that when the UK Act passed in 2004 it was seen as quite progressive, but the world has moved on in seven years. Surprisingly, the GRAG committee didn’t seem to notice.

‘Can you imagine the uproar if 20 men sat discussing women’s issues without female input?’

There are a number of things wrong with the GRAG’s report and recommendations but I won’t bore you with most of them and will concentrate on three of the most significant issues.

Firstly there were no transgender people on this intergovernmental committee to advise on what was needed. Can you imagine the uproar if twenty men sat discussing women’s issues without any kind of female input? There would be uproar from the women of Ireland and rightly so.

Secondly, in order to be legally recognised the GRAG recommends that we must submit to a psychiatric assessment and be given a diagnosis of a mental disorder (officially known as ‘Gender Identity Disorder’). How would you feel if you applied for a passport and were told you needed to see a psychiatrist to make sure you were sane before being granted the right to go on holiday?

I have to chose between my proper birth certificate/legal recognition and accepting that I am suffering from a mental condition. I know I’m a woman and my gender should be recognised with a simple declaration. It’s that simple.

Thirdly, and I think most cruelly, there is a proposed requirement for trans people who are in existing marriages to divorce before they can be legally recognised. This means that people in loving relationships, sometimes with children, will need to divorce and split up their family in order to be given a new birth certificate. That is fundamentally unjust and puts families in an impossible position. This for me is a strange one given our insistence on protection of the family under the Irish constitution which states in Articles 41.2 and 3.1:

The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.

The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack.

Square that if you can with forced divorce for those who are transgender. It makes no sense.

For the sake of those families and their children affected there needs to be a way found to stop this happening, and I believe with common sense it can be done. The recommendations by the GRAG are just that – recommendations. We still have time to make sure that Ireland introduces gender recognition legislation that is progressive and inclusive.

Louise Hannon is a board member of TENI, which is asking for support and for people to contact them in the campaign for gender recognition and to secure the human rights of transgender people. You can contact TENI on 01 8733575 or office@teni.ie.

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