Transgender people seek State recognition to escape gender ‘limbo’
Lack of legislation forces people to jump through hoops to prove identity
Ben Power (right) and Broden Giambrone from Transgender Equality Network Ireland pictured in Smithfield, Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Applying for university isn’t easy for anyone, but if you’re a transgender person the lack of protective legislation can create an added difficulty.
When Ben Power applied to return to UCC as a mature student, the name on his Leaving Cert results did not match the gender in his application. The 32-year-old had to call the university to explain before he was offered his place.
“I contacted UCC because it had happened to a friend of mine, so I knew to watch out for it. Had it not happened previously, I wouldn’t have known,” he says.
“People don’t realise how much this can affect people on so many levels. Once the birth certificate is changed everything is indisputable.”
Ben’s story is just one of many situations where lack of legislation means significant barriers to everyday life for transgender people.
“You are constantly being asked to provide large files of physical evidence to prove your identity,” says Sara Phillips, a facilitator with Transgender Equality Network Ireland (Teni). In the past its main focus was on personal coping skills but “in workshops we don’t talk about emotional issues anymore”, she says.
“People want to know how to deal with documentation, drivers’ licenses, employers and social welfare.”
High Court victory
The battle for transgender rights in Ireland was sparked 20 years ago by Dr Lydia Foy, a transgender woman who wrote to the Registrar General in 1993 requesting a birth certificate identifying her female gender. In 2007 she won a High Court case in which the State was found to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Since then the State has been obliged to provide a mechanism for people to have their gender recognised.
Despite this ruling – and despite the assurance made by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton last year at the Transgender European Council in Dublin that legislation was due by the end of 2012 – no further progress has been made.
The Government’s legislative programme suggests 2014 is a more realistic date. In January of this year, Dr Foy launched new proceedings against the State. Ireland is the only country in Europe still in breach of the convention on this issue.
Nineteen-year-old student Tyron (he wants to be identified only by his first name) says it is easier to be young and transgender today but the lack of legislation does enable discrimination. “It’s easier than it was and it’s becoming a more known term,” says the NUI Maynooth student, who is currently looking for a job to pay his way through college.
“In interviews I only bring up my gender identity if they want to contact a previous employer,” he says. “Of the last three job interviews, only one was willing to hire a transgender person. The other two said it was not suitable for their working environment.”