Ireland Finally Recognizes Transgender Residents As Their Identified Gender — But It Should Have Happened Sooner

Less than a fortnight after legalizing gay marriage in a historic referendum, Ireland has once again demonstrated a striking (and, given the country’s conservative history, unexpected) commitment to LGBTQ rights. On Wednesday, the Irish government announced that transgender persons’ self-declared gender identity would be recognized by the state. The announcement came after legislators debated reforms of the Gender Recognition Bill. Once implemented next month, the law will ensure that self-declarations of gender (rather than statements from medical professionals) will be acceptable for updating passports, driving licenses, new birth certificates, and getting married, reported.

“A person who transitions gender will have their preferred gender fully recognized by the State for all purposes — including the right to marry or enter a civil partnership in the preferred gender and the right to a new birth certificate,” Ireland’s deputy prime minister Joan Burton said Thursday. The move has been hailed as groundbreaking. But it is also, perhaps, somewhat belated. As LGBT publication PinkNews points out, Ireland is the last EU country to implement gender recognition laws — and it only began drawing up the legislation in 2013 when it was compelled to by a court settlement. Current Irish law has no provisions in place to recognize the chosen gender of persons who are not cisgender.

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The Gender Recognition Bill will allow those over 18 to effect changes to their official gender by “statutory declaration.” The most recent debates over the legislation have amended the bill to include the provisions that a supporting statement from a medical practitioner (such as a psychiatrist or endocrinologist) will not be required. The Irish Cabinet has also approved a change that will see the bill’s former “forced divorce” clause dropped. When the bill was drafted in December 2014, same sex marriage was prohibited, and thus applicants for gender recognition were required by the legislation to be single. Following Ireland’s successful gay marriage referendum, married applicants will no longer be required to divorce.

The Irish Times reports that once the applicant has gone through the process, a new birth certificate will be issued to reflect the change in gender and the applicant’s new name (if applicable). The Transgender Equality Network Ireland hailed the most recent amendments as a “hugely significant move” that makes Ireland an “international leader.” TENI spokesperson Sara Phillips said:

This is a momentous moment. To be given the respect to self-determine our gender is true equality. For once I can believe our community are seen as full equal citizens. Today I am so proud of our country.

But the organization’s website paints a fairly bleak picture of trans life in Ireland. “Trans people are among the most vulnerable members of Irish society and experience high levels of stigmatization and marginalization,” a TENI statement reads. “Research shows suicidality, regular harassment and violence and systemic discrimination are commonplace.” The statement goes on to isolate a lack of State recognition for trans identities to be a major contributing factor in the trans community’s plight. In 2007, the Irish High Court found Ireland’s lack of recognition for trans identities to be in breach of the European Convention for Human Rights.

In 2013, once the draft legislation of the Gender Recognition Bill had been launched, members of the trans community voiced their reservations. The LGBT community had barely been consulted, Huffington Post reported, and were not told of the bill’s launch. Max Krzyzanowski, 2009 winner of Mr Gay World and prominent LGBT activist, called the flawed legislation “deeply upsetting and disturbing,” pointing to its non-inclusive process. Michael Barron, Executive Director of BeLonG To, Ireland's national organization for LGBT young people, said that the bill’s exclusion of minors was a mistake.

It will completely reinforce the extreme isolation, invisibility and vulnerability of trans young people. Research [in Ireland] and abroad has shown that trans young people face particular isolation in their schools and communities. They urgently need legal recognition, along with access to appropriate health, education, legal and other supports.

By December 2014, few of these problems had been dealt with and the draft of the new Gender Recognition Bill was found wanting. Amnesty International strongly condemned the bill’s restrictions (the effective barring of married persons and minors, and the medical certificate requirement). “Rather than making it as easy as possible for all transgender people to obtain legal recognition of their identity, there are several groups that will be short-changed by the bill,” Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Acting Europe and Central Asia Director said, “in particular those who are married or in civil partnerships, minors, and those who do not wish to undergo medical treatment.”

A 2014 Amnesty International report highlighted the systemic discrimination faced by Ireland’s trans community. “I want to be recognised as who I bloody well am. It’s ridiculous that the state doesn’t recognise me as who I am,” Victoria, a transgender woman living in Dublin, is quoted by the report as saying. A 2012 survey of Ireland’s transgender community found that 78 percent of respondents had thought about suicide, while 40 percent had already attempted it.

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It may have been a slow journey, but the reforms announced Wednesday have solved several of the most pressing issues (as highlighted by the Irish trans community) with Ireland’s Gender Recognition Bill — something Deputy Prime Minister Burton was quick to highlight. “Throughout the drafting of this Bill, I have listened carefully to the views of individual citizens, representative groups, and public representatives,” Burton said Wednesday. “It is essential that this important legislation is in line with international best practice.”

The reforms have ensured a bill that the Irish LGBT community can celebrate as progressive, even groundbreaking. “Ireland has now taken its place as an international leader in this human rights area,” TENI Chief Executive Broden Giambrone said. And indeed, in many ways the bill does place Ireland at the forefront of trans rights. As Mashable notes, in 2014, Denmark became the first European nation to allow people to change their official gender without a medical statement, while the UK government still requires applicants to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

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