Ireland, where it's okay to be gay but tough to be trans
When Richard Kohler was nine he witnessed the transformation of a country. He was born in 1980 in the German Democratic Republic and his parents were active in the movement that helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Accompanying his parents to demonstrations instilled in him what he calls a heritage. “It showed me how a very strong but determined crowd could change the world,” he says.
Kohler is the policy and capacity officer for Transgender Europe, an NGO working towards equality and inclusion of transgender people (the term for a person who feels they have been born to the wrong gender). He cites Slovenia and Ireland as the only two countries in Europe that fail to provide mechanisms to allow transgender people to change their gender legally.
The recently published Europe Rainbow Map details the human rights afforded to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, country by country. Ireland ranks 14th out of 48 European countries. While this makes us one of the safest places to live if you are lesbian, gay or bisexual, our record falls short on transgender rights.
A 2007 High Court ruling in the Dr Lydia Foy case found the State breached the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered it to provide gender-recognition laws.
The Gender Recognition Advisory Group reported to the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton in 2011. Although there is no legislation yet, the current proposals require people who want to attain recognition either to divorce their current spouse, accept a diagnosis of gender-identity disorder, or prove they have had gender-reassignment surgery. “Germany is much farther ahead than Ireland,” says Kohler. “Changing documents is possible and the requirements of sterilisation or forced divorce in order to have gender recognised are no longer there.”
Some of the most pressing difficulties for trans people in Europe are in the workplace. Kohler mentions a woman he knows who has not yet got gender recognition. “Her marker is still male and her employer won’t let her use the female bathroom – she has to go to a cafe next door. It’s one of the practical issues people deal with.”
With civil partnership and full civil marriage under debate, Ireland is an inspiration for Hungarian activist Tamas Dombos. “It’s incredible. We decriminalised homosexuality 50 years ago and here it’s been less than 20, but now Ireland has surpassed Hungary because of developments in community organisations and politicians taking up LGBT issues,” he says.
In Hungary, there have been more recent problems. In 2007, despite 12 years of peaceful Pride parades, right-wing protesters attacked marchers with vegetables, rocks and bottles. “We had quite violent counter demonstrations,” says Tamas, a member of the Háttér Society for LGBT people in Hungary.
Tamas says the rise of conservative political parties in his country has hindered LGBT rights. In recent years, police in riot gear have monitored the parade, often banning it and forcing the issue to court. “They ban it and then the courts overturn the decision. The argument is that the parade disrupts traffic,” he says.