Report on transgender issues debated in Dáil

Lyons praises report that gives recognition to people ‘airbrushed out of our society’

Labour TD John Lyons said it was time for Ireland to produce social legislation that other countries looked to rather than to follow others. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Labour TD John Lyons said it was time for Ireland to produce social legislation that other countries looked to rather than to follow others. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fri, May 9, 2014, 19:12

A TD has questioned why Ireland must always to look to other countries for best practice in legislation rather than being a leader and setting the legal precedents for others.

Labour TD John Lyons said he got very frustrated when he heard the phrase “legally we can’t do that’” or “when we compare our progressive legislation with somebody else’s progressive legislation”.

He said maybe it was time for Ireland to produce the legislation that other countries looked to rather than to follow others, “particularly around social legislation”.

He was speaking during a Dáil debate on a report about transgender issues and the heads of or early outline of a Gender Recognition Bill. Members of the Transgender Equality Network Ireland were in the public gallery for the debate.

Describing the report as a rolling working document, Mr Lyons said it had profound changes for the better for people “who are not recognised, who are airbrushed out of our society, who essentially don’t exist in our society at the moment..... through our laws, and who are now being brought out of the shadows”.

But he highlighted areas of legal contention including the requirements for gender change. The Dáil should not accept that somebody who wanted to go through gender transition had to be single and that the law could not be applied to people who were already married, he said. “We need to find a solution to that.”

In an impassioned speech, the Dublin North-West TD said “I get very, very frustrated when I hear people say ‘there are different points of view legally’”. Mr Lyons said he understood that but “I do know what it’s like to be an advocate for minority groups and it’s not good enough sometimes for that to be the answer”.

Mr Lyons said he knew what it was like to be part of a minority group and “it gets really, really tiresome to be pushing and fighting for something when you’re in a minority. I don’t know what it’s like for transgender people but I do know what it’s like to be a minority from a gay and lesbian point of view.

“You’re asking people who don’t know what it’s like to be you, to legislate for you and to bring up the best possible legislation for you to be included in society as a full whole individual citizen. That can be frustrating.”

He said they had to look at ways of “finding ways to make legislation work to bring people who are left out of society into society”.

He added: “Let’s challenge ourselves around the things where we’re told ‘legislatively we can’t do it’”.

Opening the debate, chair of the education committee Joanna Tuffy highlighted some of the committee’s recommendations including that the age at which a person might apply for a gender recognition certificate be reduced from 18 years to 16. She said there “wasn’t absolute consensus in the committee on this issue, but the recommendation represents the view of the majority”.

Referring to the contentious requirement for a person to be single for gender change certification to be allowed, Ms Tuffy said the Attorney General differed with others on recognition for people who were married or in a civil partnership.

But, she said, “the committee believes that a person being in an existing marriage or a civil partnership should not prevent him or her from qualifying for a gender recognition certificate” and she urged the Minister to revisit this.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the “lack of legal recognition for transgender persons is a significant and long-standing issue” and she referred draft heads of a Bill to the committee after the State was found to have breached the European human rights convention after it failed to recognise a transgender woman, Dr Lydia Foy, in her female gender and failed to give her a new birth certificate.

The Bill provides for the recognition of the acquired gender of transgender people aged 18 and over, and who are not married or in a civil partnership.

But Fianna Fail spokesman Willie O’Dea said it seemed that the question of age had yet to be discussed by the Cabinet. He said the requirement for someone to be 18 “flies in face of the evidence. Significant research shows that for most people, gender identity is formed between the ages of three and five”.

He also said the proposals meant that two married people who wanted to stay together “but who will be forced to obtain a divorce simply for the purpose of obtaining a gender identity certificate will be obliged to lie”.

Sinn Fein’s Sean Crowe said quoted the transgender network’s comments that “transgender and intersex people do not live in a vacuum and we know this. They have families and friends and they are part of our communities, schools, colleges and workplaces.” He said they “are entitled to the same rights as everyone else in Ireland and they should be treated with dignity and respect rather than as objects of fun or derision”.

Independent TD John Halligan said “if members of parliament cannot stand up for the civil rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people in the face of homophobia, who else will? Only we are capable of doing it, as we were elected. In fact, we were elected by many of the people in question.”

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