Following quickly on the heels of the legalisation of Same-Sex Marriage, Ireland has taken another determined step in towards strengthening LGBT Rights. Tánaiste Joan Burton announced on Tuesday that the Cabinet approved an amended Gender Recognition Bill which is currently before the Oireachtas.
This legislation, set to be implemented next month, allows for transgender people to have their preferred gender recognised by the state by means of self-declaration. The Department of Social Protection will grant applicants with a gender recognition certificate, which can be used in dealing with all public bodies and in changing documents such as passports, driver’s licences and birth certificates.
Under previous drafting of the Bill, transgender people required confirmation from an endocrinologist or psychiatrist that they had transitioned or were in the process of transitioning to their preferred gender, before gaining legal recognition.
The decision to remove the medical evaluation came as a welcome shock to UCD student Sam Blanckensee, who transitioned at 16 and is now a vocal campaigner for Trans Rights:
“The fact that it was changed in the way it was, was really unexpected. Personally I really did not expect that Bill to be amended in the way it was … I expected the amount of medical requirement to be reduced down to GPs, I didn’t expect it to be reduced to nothing.”
Sam, a former LGBT Co-Ordinator for UCDSU and board member of the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), spoke of the relief he felt following the announcement:
“[Yesterday I realised] I would never have to get a doctor to sign off on my identity … [that] was such a relief. I did not realise how much it was weighing me down. Just the fact I would never have to ask anyone to back-up what I knew myself, it was just so important. It gave me a huge sense of validation”.
In addition to dropping medical assessment as a requirement for gender recognition, a “forced divorce” clause has been removed in the new draft. Prior to amendment the Bill required that a married transgender person applying for legal gender recognition become single, as same-sex marriage was at that point still illegal. In the wake of May’s referendum result, legislators were able to remove this clause.
Reaction to the Bill has been positive, with TENI’s Chief Executive Broden Giambrone describing it as a “hugely significant move” that will “improve the lived realities of trans people in Ireland”. However limitations do exist within the legislation. The process of obtaining gender recognition by means of self-declaration is only an option for over 18s. 16 and 17 year olds are catered for in this Bill, but will have to go through a court process to do so and will require medical statements. Under 16 year olds still have no means of acquiring gender recognition from the state.
Sam says that TENI will fight for inclusion of under 16s in this round of the bill. He would like to see Ireland move towards adopting Malta’s approach, where gender recognition is provided on grounds of self-declaration and has no age limitation. He says it is unfortunate that gender recognition isn’t being offered to this age group as, he believes, they need it the most:
“When you start school you need to produce your birth certificate. If you want to change your name on the roll, you need to produce your birth certificate … to do your CAO form you need a birth certificate. In all these cases a trans individual is going to have to out themselves.”
Giving young trans people a “piece of paper to have their gender recognised” is the best solution to this problem and reducing the stress they may feel, according to Sam, pointing out that it is “a piece of paper, it’s not … something irreversible”.
The Gender Recognition Bill is clearly a positive step for the transgender community in Ireland. However only time will tell if this government or its successors will be willing to extend legal gender recognition by self-declaration to under 18s.
– Una Power