RTÉ’s Liveline accused of facilitating ‘hate speech’ against trans people

Coalition of groups launched at Dublin’s Mansion House to support transgender and non-binary people in Ireland

Dublin’s lord mayor and a leading human rights activist have expressed anger at recent RTÉ Radio 1 Liveline programmes which dealt with transgender issues. Lord Mayor Alison Gilliland said the subject was “being played out in the most appalling, disgusting way on our national airwaves in the name of public debate”. What had taken place “actually hinders, and creates more division”, she added.

Human rights activist Dr Ailbhe Smyth, recently conferred with the Freedom of the City of Dublin, said: “It is not the role of our national broadcaster to enable or encourage hate speech of any kind. If it comes up on the programme I can understand but that it is allowed to crop up again and again, that is a step too far. I believe that it’s important that senior management at RTÉ should look at that, indeed the board of governors should consider this matter very carefully.”

It was “not right that people are dragged down and treated like muck on the radio,” she said. She did not believe “that there is broad transphobia in this country. There’s a small group and it disturbs me that small group of people is given such oxygen.”

They target “lesbians and gays as well as trans and non-binary people. They target women, particularly feminists,” Ms Smyth said. “It is all negative, it is all about being against, against, against. My own politics are about being pro, trying to encourage human freedom, decency and respect.”

She believed in freedom of speech but that did not mean “that we ought to hurl hateful, offensive, rude and deeply damaging words at people. Being free does not give you the right to go out and hit people. Psychologically, speech which is full of hatred is the same as hitting someone. It is a form of violence. I’ve experienced it myself many, many times and I experience it as a blow to my person, to myself and to my freedom.”

RTÉ was asked for comment on Monday night.

Both women were speaking in Dublin’s Mansion House on Monday at the launch of Trans Equality Together, a new coalition aimed at “creating an Ireland where trans people are equal, safe, and valued”. It brings together Transgender Equality Network Ireland (Teni), BeLonG To and LGBT Ireland to promote positive attitudes towards trans and non-binary people as well as advocating for changes necessary to make Ireland a more equal place for all.

Trans Equality Together also aims to counter “the negative and false images about trans people that have been circulating”, it said in a statement.

Launching the coalition, Ms Gilliland said, “if we want a city and a country that thrives we have to include everybody. We have to meet people where they are and work with them on their journey.”

That the launch should take place at the Mansion House was, for her, “really important as a statement of equality, of respect, solidarity and the comradeship of Dublin city”. It was “really important that people and groups have structure like this new coalition” to help create an Ireland “where trans and non-binary people are equal, safe and valued”.

Addressing the meeting Sara R Phillips, chair of Teni and co-director of Trans Equality Together, said that according to international figures there should be approximately 15,000 transgender people and people of other gender minorities in Ireland, “and yet we don’t see any evidence of that. Our own estimates would be more like 5,000 trans people in Ireland today. In other words, a very small, marginalised community.”

Still, “observing social media, listening to our airwaves, reading some of our mainstream newspapers, one might believe there’s an army of a million of us taking over the world”.

Moninne Griffith, chief executive of BeLonG To and co-director of Trans Equality Together, also pointed out that “trans people in Ireland are a tiny minority of the population whose voices have rarely been heard in national discourse”. She said: “We do not want to see the sort of divisive rhetoric and villainisation of trans people taking hold in Ireland that we have witnessed in other countries,” she added.

Details available at transequalitytogether.com

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times