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Transgender in Ireland: What are the laws around changing your gender?

The government is considering proposals to allow children aged 16 and 17 to self-declare their gender.

Image: Shutterstock/nito

THIS JULY WILL mark four years since the Gender Recognition Bill was passed by the Dáil and the Seanad. Those new laws resulted in at least 297 people in Ireland being issued with gender recognition certs since July 2015.

The approval of  the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) meant that Ireland became the fourth country in the world to give people a right to a gender based on self-declaration.

Previously, applicants would have to provide supporting testimony from endocrinologists and psychiatrists, a requirement that was dropped after fierce opposition from activists, who argued that this meant some people were “forced to get a divorce to have their gender recognised”.

Two years later, an amendment to the bill would make it possible for teenagers aged 16-17 to do the same if they had parental consent; the government is currently considering plans to allow teenagers aged 16 and 17 years old to self-declare their gender.

The campaign to secure the right to self declare is closely linked to the same-sex marriage movement, and separately, were advanced by the court battles of Lydia Foy against the Irish State.

Foy’s repeated legal actions to acquire a new birth cert led the Irish courts to admit that there was nothing in Irish law to allow for Foy’s birth record to be amended.

The GRA

Under the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), people who wish to have their change of gender recognised by the State – in birth certs, passports, driving licenses – would simply make a formal declaration of their “settled and solemn intention”, or to live in a preferred gender, to the Department of Social Protection.

In order to change your gender with the State, a person needs to sign a statutory declaration that states:

i) have a settled and solemn intention to live in the preferred gender for the rest of my life,
ii) understand the consequences of the application, and
iii) make this application of my own free will.

Transgender declaration Source: Department of Social Protection

The Gender Recognition Bill, although widely praised, was criticised for not including the needs of those aged under 18, non-binary people and people with an intersex condition*.

Under the law, 16 and 17-year-olds are required to obtain a court order and testimony from a guardian in order to have their preferred gender recognised. Transgender campaigners argue that children should have the right to change their gender without needing parental consent.

If you are under 16, it is not possible to change your gender that is recognised by the State.

Earlier this year, a government-commissioned review proposed a system of gender recognition be introduced for children where parental consent was given, third-party support for the child and family was available, and there was a straightforward revocation process.

The Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty was considering the implications of the recommendations in July and examining how they could be best put in place.

The numbers

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Tonight at 9.30pm, RTÉ’s Prime Time will explore what it calls the “exponential growth in the number of young people seeking to change gender” and the implications of the proposed new law allowing them to do so without their parents’ consent.

A government report last year showed that 99 people had been issued with gender recognition certificates in 2017, and 109 in 2016. Of these, two applications by 16/17-year olds were granted in 2017, and six were granted in 2016.

A total of 297 gender certificates issued since the introduction of the legislation.

The RTÉ Prime Time programme also promises to examine “how society should treat ‘female-only’ spaces in the light of the growth in the number of transgender people”.

This is an examination of the argument that has been made by some, that people who have been born as a woman should only be permitted to use female-only bathrooms for example.

This is a debate that has gained momentum in the United States; a survey by Ipsos/Buzzfeed News found that 47% of Americans thought transgender people should be allowed to use the restroom of the sex they identify with”; this compares with 77% of those in Spain, and 66% in the UK.

Activists have argued that this talk is scaremongering based on little or no facts, and is possibly dangerous given that almost four-fifths of transgender people have considered suicide, according to a survey by the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland (TENI). 

*Terms explained

Transgender is a term used to describe a person whose personal gender identity is different from the sex they were born as.

Under Irish law, if a person’s preferred gender is male and is changed with the State, then the person’s sex becomes that of a man. If it’s female, the person’s sex becomes that of a woman.

Cisgender is essentially the opposite of transgender. It’s used to describe a person whose personal identity is the same as their sex.

Pronouns are an important part of the transgender transition, as they are a common marker of gender. If a person was born as a man, with male features, but identifies as a woman, that person may want to be referred to as “she”, for example.

Non-binary people is used to describe those who don’t see themselves as either masculine or feminine – or that aren’t bound to one specific gender. This could mean that they are neither, or that they might express a combination of masculine and feminine traits.

Intersex is used to describe a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights described it as those that “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies”.

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