No freedom, until we’re equal

Transgender rights should not be affected by the upcoming same-sex marriage referendum, according to the Chairperson of Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), Sara R. Phillips.

If the marriage referendum passes for gay people or not shouldn’t have anything to do with us. The Government fear that it is an opened door to same-sex marriage,” said Sara. “We are different from the gay community and should be accepted for who we are.”

The Irish Government are currently the only government in the EU that doesn’t recognise transgender people. Sara has lived her life as a women. It says so on her passport, her driver licence and her bank details, but remains male on her birth cert due to Irish legislation.

The transgender community have demanded new legislation to be passed in the Dáil to allow them to have basic human rights. The Gender Recognition Bill 2015 is currently being debated in the Seanad, but has many flaws according to TENI.

A major flaw with the Bill is that it is tied in with gay marriage. In the proposed Bill, if a married person wants to be recognised as transgender in Ireland, they must divorce their spouse. “This is hypocritical of the state as the Constitution states that in order for a divorce to be granted, there must be irreconcilable differences and the spouses must be separated for four years,” said Sara. Many families are faced with having to split up in order to be accepted for who they are. “It’s ironic that in a time when gay marriage is being supported in society and Government, transgender families are being asked to split up,” said Sara.

Transgender image (secondary)

Another flaw in the Bill is the need for medical proof of the transgender process in order for recognition. “Joan Burton doesn’t ask for a medical diagnosis from citizens but she is asking us for one. Transgender people shouldn’t need a third party to identify themselves. They can self-identify,” said Sara. “Being transgender isn’t a disorder and shouldn’t be treated like one,” she added.

The proposed Bill makes it extremely difficult for young people to complete the transgender process. Under 16’s aren’t allowed to transgender while those aged 16-18 must complete a troublesome process. Teens who wish to become transgender must have their parent’s consent, a primary treatment practitioner, a second treatment practitioner to confirm that it is in their best interest, and they must take a case to the circuit court. “By the time these teens go through the process, they will be adults,” said Sara.

The transgender community are living in an arbitrary system in which they need permission to live as they truly are and feel to be.

Sara expressed the need for acceptance and understanding of the transgender community in Ireland. “People are afraid because they don’t understand,” she said. “People need to be willing to learn and understand the struggles of the transgender community.”

The transgender community face many struggles on a daily basis. According to a survey carried out by TENI, called ‘Speaking from the Margins’, 78% of the 210 transgender people who took part had considered suicide. 44% said that they had self-harmed.

According to Sara, these issues are a result of mental health problems which stem from not being accepted in society. It is hard for people to accept themselves if they aren’t accepted in society. According to the survey, 64% had been mocked or verbally abused.

Verbal abuse and bullying is most common among teens and children according to TENI. It is hard for children to be accepted when they can’t wear their preferred choice of uniform or bathrooms in schools.

Last December, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn from Ohio committed suicide as she wasn’t accepted as transgender by her Christian family or society. Leelah who identified as a girl since the age of 4 was refused by her parents to begin the transgender process. In her suicide letter, Leelah wrote; “the life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender”.

Leelah Alcorn

According to TENI, 1% of people have a gender variance, with 10% of that category being transgender. In a population of 4.5 million in Ireland that means that there could be up to 4,500 transgender people in Ireland. Sara, who has been the facilitator of the Dublin Trans Peer Group Meeting has met over 185 transgender people in the last three years alone.

Recently, Bruce Jenner, step-father to the Kardashian sisters, has been rumoured as coming out as transgender. Whether he is or not is still to be confirmed, but hopefully the transgender community will be able to gain the media attention that it deserves in order to gain basic human rights.

“We should be respected as citizens, as tax-payers, as sons, daughters, mothers and fathers. It is important that things start to move forward,” said Sara.

“It’s disappointing that the government aren’t listening to us when we say that this legislation is not inclusive, it’s not progressive, it’s behind other parts of Europe and will very quickly be eclipsed by other countries in Europe,” said Sara.

As the old Irish proverb goes: It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.


By Catherine Devine

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