2015 was an eventful year for LGBT rights in Ireland. Everyone knows about the marriage referendum that passed, but a lot of people are unaware of another historic day that happened just under 2 months after. July 15th, 2015. This was the day the Gender Recognition Act passed. You’d be forgiven for being completely unaware of this. There was far less media coverage of it than the marriage referendum. In fact, even by comparing the numbers at the March for Marriage- which was around 8000 to the numbers at the Rally for Recognition- about 200, it’s obvious that far less people were involved with gender recognition. Now, I’m not giving out about the marriage referendum; I was the very one out canvassing every day and then sitting on the couch on May 23rd watching Vincent Browne in The George while I wore my rainbow flag as a cape. It’s just that gender recognition is a big deal, even if the numbers didn’t reflect that.
It had been in the works for a long time. It started in 1993, when a trans woman named Lydia Foy applied for a new birth certificate to reflect her gender, but was refused. After a long legal battle, she got it, as did so many other transgender people. The act allows transgender men and women to have their gender legally recognized, as well as acquire a new birth certificate which reflects that. Apart from having documents that more accurately display who you are, gender recognition is important in situations where ID is required. For example, if a trans man goes to take money out in the bank, but his ID has his birth name and an ‘F’ gender marker, he’ll be questioned or turned away. This isn’t just a hypothetical situation- this is something I’ve heard happen many times.
Earlier drafts of the Gender Recognition Bill required individuals to have certification from medical practitioners, be single (meaning that a person would have to divorce their partner in order to have their gender legally recognized) and it also contained a “sports clause”, which would have hindered trans people’s participation in sports. Luckily, these requirements were removed, and people could acquire a gender recognition certificate through self-declaration.
So altogether, it’s a pretty cool thing- if you’re a trans man or woman. But there are still people who are excluded from the gender recognition act. Non binary people (who don’t identify as either exclusively male or female) and intersex people (people with sex characteristics such as genitals/chromosomes and/or hormone structure that do not belong strictly to male or female categories) can’t have their gender legally recognized. At present, you can only get an ‘F’ or ‘M’ marker, but not an ‘X’ marker, which is what a lot of non-binary and intersex people would like.
It is also a much more difficult process for trans people under the age of 18. Technically, 16 and 17 year olds can have their gender legally recognized, but this requires a court order. For younger trans people, this lack of recognition can seriously impact their mental health, and the same is true for non-binary and intersex people, so it is crucial that those people have an opportunity to be legally recognized as the gender they are.
So what can we do about this? Well luckily, the Gender Recognition Act is due to be reviewed in two years. It’s a while away, but the good thing about that is that it gives us plenty of opportunity to lobby TDs and organize rallies. The more people that get involved the better, so do try to work towards it in some way, even if that’s just emailing your local politicians. You can also raise awareness of legal gender recognition, and the issues facing transgender people in general. Try telling someone your pronouns next time you introduce yourself, like “Hi, my name is ___ and my pronouns are he/him”, take part in rallies, lobby politicians or wear an #IllGoWithYou badge, which shows a transgender person that you will go to the bathroom with them- something that can be dangerous for many trans people. It also starts conversations around trans issues, which is a bonus.
LGBT rights may have come a long way in Ireland, and that is fantastic, but there is still work to be done, so we need to do all we can to ensure that everyone is treated equally. We’ve progressed so much in such a short space of time, and if we keep up the good work, who knows? We might get there sooner than we expect!