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Column: "I was let down by those I trusted and had faith in"

Last week, Louise Hannon became the first transgender person to have their case for discrimination recognised by the Equality Authority when she was awarded €35,000. Here she explains her reasons for taking the case.

Louise Hannon

I’M RELIEVED last week is over in many ways.

Since the end of March, I had known about the Equality Tribunal decision on my constructive dismissal case.

But when the Equality Authority  informed me last Monday that the decision was going to be announced by a press release, it still took me a little by surprise.  I have few words to describe how I feel about the media response simply because I never expected so much interest.

I’ve been overwhelmed by messages of support from absolutely every quarter; even  from total strangers in the street. I never saw myself being asked on to the Pat Kenny Today programme or on the The Last Word with Matt Cooper. Both were sensitive to the case, and the wider response has been 100 per cent positive – which I think shows that Ireland is moving forward in accepting the concept of being transgendered.

It was a difficult decision in the first place to go with the case in late 2007, and to allow the Equality Authority to take a complaint on my behalf.   I’d been on very good terms with the MD of First Direct Logistics and the manager, up to the point of my changing gender to live full time as Louise.  They were very supportive, I thought, although probably not as aware of the issues as perhaps they should have been.

If only they’d accepted me as Louise…

I suppose the reason I took the case was because I felt personally hurt by the way I was treated when starting to work  in my correct gender as Louise after 7 March 2007. I felt that I had been let down by people I had trusted and had faith in and who treated me well up to that point.

I was not motivated by money in any shape or form. However, on a practical level, I’ve been living on social welfare since I was constructively dismissed, and as a side effect of the economic downturn.

There are debts there that on social welfare I could never hope to repay.

The most ironic thing about losing my job with First Direct was that around December of 2007 I took up a job offer with Sunshine Radio (originally known as Country Mix) and had no trouble meeting total strangers every day of the week selling advertising.  Unfortunately the recession, and the subsequent downturn in advertising spending, put an end to this for me in August 2008.

Had I remained with First Direct, and been supported by them, I would probably still be there – recession permitting. Had the management accepted me as Louise, instead of trying to make me live as male in a work role, this whole case would never have been necessary.

Take companies like Microsoft, Hewltt Packard, Olivetti – companies which have a total inclusion policy, where transgender and gay people are welcomed into the work place. Then take a look at their overall productivity and ultimately the financial bottom line. It quickly becomes apparent that diversity makes for a much more innovative and ultimately financially stronger entity.

What does it mean to be transgender?

Being transgendered is difficult for some people who are strongly hetrosexual – either male or female – to understand.  Transgendered people have been around for centuries, but only now are we facing up to dealing with it as a mature society.

How can I describe it? Imagine if you will, being born male, but finding that mentally you cannot stand looking at your physical body. You don’t feel at home with it, you detest the genitalia that you were given at birth. It’s like being a child and being given a sweet that you hate… you want to spit it out.

You have feelings of strongly wanting to be in the opposite gender, of being unable to feel comfortable among your own gender peers. I would not wish the condition on my worst enemy.

And it is a condition that is clinically recognised, where treatment is carried out with hormones of the appropriate gender and ultimately surgery to match the body with the mind. At the treatment stage, people start to be able to feel comfortable and be able to live productive fulfilling lives – paying their taxes and contributing to society.

In the past many people have dealt with the percieved shame of being transgendered by crawling into a bottle of alcohol, and in some cases committing suicide. Would it not be better for society to accept transgender people and ultimately be a more rounded and productive society because of it?

See also: Louise Hannon’s blog >

Read more: Transgender worker “absolutely delighted” with €35,000 award >

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