Before this week, Ireland was the only country in the European Union that didn’t have a process in place for legally recognizing the true gender of transgender people.
This week, that matter was finally corrected. Ireland has now enacted the Gender Recognition Bill, which will become law by the end of this month.
This may have come hot and heavy on the heels of the recent gay marriage referendum, but it has been an ongoing battle since 1997, when Dr Lydia Foy first began legal proceedings to have her birth certificate changed following gender reassignment surgery.
In 2007, the High Court recognized her right to do so, but it has taken eight years for the law to be put in place.
It may have been very slow in coming, but the Irish law is more progressive than most. Not only are transgender people now legally entitled to change their gender on all legal documents, they will be able to do so by self-determination.
This means that trans people will not require medical interventions—or the “approval” of any other being—in order to declare their true identity. Ireland is only the fifth country in the world to legally recognize this right—after Denmark, Malta, Argentina and Colombia.
In many countries, either medical intervention or a diagnosis of a mental disorder is required before a trans person can have their true gender legally declared.
“Trans people should be the experts of our own gender identity. There is a clear legislative trend towards self-determination, and Ireland is taking its position as a global leader in the area of trans rights. Self-determination is at the core of our human rights.” ~ Sara Phillips, chairperson of TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland).
There are still a few issues with the new act in Ireland—the right to self-determine applies to those aged 18 and over. Transgender people aged 16 to 18 will have to undergo “a route to recognition,” which will include the involvement of an endocrinologist, parental consent and court orders. Additionally, there is no provision at all for those under 16.
While acknowledging the progress that has been made, Senator Jillian van Turnhout commented, “It’s a bitter sweet day—gender recognition is now available for adults, however children continue to be ignored and excluded from the scope of this bill.”
Nonetheless, it is certainly a time for celebration for the transgender community in Ireland.
“I am so proud of my country today! This legislation is something that will make an enormous difference to my life. Finally I will be able to have matching identity documents and I will be spared the discomfort and embarrassment of having to out myself as trans in public settings. So many times in my life I have felt like I had to ask for permission to exist but that will no longer be the case. I am very grateful to all of the organisations, activists and politicians who worked so hard to bring this legislation through the Oireachtas,” ~ Ben Power, 34-year-old transgender man.
Curiously, unlike the hoopla that surrounded the recent gay marriage referendum, this law was passed rather quietly.
Given the long wait by the transgender community, and the global spotlight that Caitlyn Jenner has brought to the issue, it is remarkable that the Irish media considered it so unremarkable that it has largely gone unreported.
Perhaps this is a good sign? This is not an outrageous topic. Irish society has rapidly become more open-minded and compassionate in the last couple of decades, and it is certainly a good thing that this law wasn’t enacted amidst any kind of public outcry—quite unlike the gay marriage referendum.
However, a little bit of me wonders if there an element of taboo surrounding the non-reportage of this significant law? Whatever the case may be, I am disappointed to have learned about it through non-Irish media.
Nevertheless, I will focus on the good news—there are now five countries in the world where transgender people may legally determine their own gender status. It’s far too few, but it’s still one more than there was last week. May many others quickly follow suit.
Author: Hilda Carroll
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina