Speaking in the Seanad this week Senator Gerard Craughwell welcomed the Gender Recognition Bill which provides for the legal recognition of the preferred gender of Trans persons. However while applauding the Minister and the Government for finally publishing this legislation Senator Craughwell felt strongly that we should also acknowledge our collective shame that successive Governments have failed to act on what is an essential and basic human right for all citizens, the right to a preferred legal gender identity.
In failing to act before now, he said “the State has shown a deep disrespect for Trans people and their families and for the European Court of Human Rights. In a country which prides itself on the fair and equal treatment of all its citizens the rights of Trans persons have all but been ignored”.
He pointed out that it was now seven years since the High Court ruled that Ireland’s failure to recognise Trans persons was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and a shocking 21 years since Dr Lydia Foy first requested a new birth certificate in her female gender. He went on to say that Ireland has the dubious honour of being the only state in the European Union with no provision at all for recognising Trans persons in their preferred gender.
Senator Craughwell commended Transgender individuals who have sought legal recourse in National and European Courts and have put their necks on the line by bravely telling their stories to diverse audiences and service providers in an effort to effect social and legislative change.
He reminded us that what the Trans community is looking for is something that we all take for granted. “A certificate which unequivocally states our gender as either male or female, a certificate which affords us as citizens the dignity of legal identity, a certificate which is a gateway document to a range of other legal documents, services and protections.”
He went on to say that there is ample evidence that not having consistent and accurate identity documents exposes Trans persons to harassment and discrimination in the employment process, in accessing social services, in educational participation and in many other contexts. As someone who is not Trans himself, Senator Craughwell said that he “ could not even envisage a life where one’s identity documents are essentially false and do not reflect the person we actually are.”
While acknowledging the work done by the Report of the Gender Recognition Advisory Group and the Report of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, he feels that the Bill falls well short of what is needed. He said that “It reveals a cautious and ultra conservative approach to Gender Identity Recognition that is very out of step with current academic research and more importantly the lived experience of Trans persons and their families. It betrays a basic ignorance of what Gender identity actually is and of how early in life some people become aware that the gender assigned to them at birth is out of sync with their own gender identity.”
In particular he finds the requirement that a person applying for a gender recognition certificate be single very problematic as it puts married Trans persons in the unenviable dilemma of having to choose between legal gender recognition and their marriage. He sees it as forced divorce which he believes to be morally and socially undesirable. He hopes that as this Bill moves through the Oireachtas that this requirement is either omitted altogether or amended following the Referendum on Same Sex Marriage in May.
His second difficulty with the Bill is a requirement that applicants must provide a certificate from their primary treating medical practitioner certifying based on a medical evaluation, that they have or are transitioning to their preferred gender. He believes that this does not respect the dignity of the applicant and that It defies simple logic why a Trans person would be required to engage the services of a medical practitioner for what is essentially a legal process with no medical outcome or implications.
He expressed grave concern that “the drafters of this Bill appear to be seriously confused between Gender Identity, and the quite separate and altogether different process of Medical Transitioning from one gender to another.”
He asked how any medical expert can determine whether a person has self -identified their gender identity or not, as this is an intensely private decision that we have all made regardless of what it states on our birth certificate. He went on to say “Let’s not forget that every single one of us self identifies and self-determines our gender. I am not a man because that is what it says on my birth certificate, I am not a man because I was socialised and reared in a particular way, I am a man because that is how I identity myself.”
He was also anxious to re-iterate that “the process of medically transitioning from one gender to another has nothing to do with this Bill nor should it.”
While Senator Craughwell concedes that “the granting of a Gender Recognition Certificate is naturally contingent upon the applicants settled and solemn intention of living in the preferred gender for the rest of his or her life, he feels that the application process cannot and should not prescribe how far a person should have medically transitioned to his or her preferred gender in order to be granted it. Such a requirement he believes “would be a grave infringement of human and bodily rights.”
He asked the Minister for Social Protection that as that being Trans is neither a medical nor a psychological disorder why a GPs statement is needed at all much less the services of a psychiatrist. He feels that these requirements are not only time wasting and costly but continue to pathologise being Transgender.
Senator Craughwell’s third area of concern was the Age Limit restriction proposed in this Bill of being over 18 or 16 and 17 years old with parental consent, medical approval and a court order. He strongly believes that this represents a particularly harmful assault on the rights of young transgender persons in Ireland. At best he said “it shows a lack of awareness and at worst a total disregard for Transgender youth and the high levels of prejudice and discrimination that they face in accessing basic services. Society already places huge obstacles in front of Trans Youth and the State has a duty of care to ensure that legislation does not further increase the invisibility, isolation and vulnerability of Trans Youth. The Bill in its current format is out of line with international best practice and the experiences of the young people here today who are coming out at an increasingly younger age.” He asked the Minister to explain her decision to limit the protections that having a Gender Recognition Certificate bestows to those who are over 18 and denies it to the very to a group that requires it the most.
In short he believes that this Bill in its current form makes a legal and medical meal out of what could be a simple administrative procedure. A procedure in which the capacity of the individual to know their own identity should be fully respected by State mechanisms. He feels that if people are allowed to change their name by Deed Poll, they should be allowed to change their legal gender using the same process. While this is logical to most people he feels that implicit in this Bill is a very obvious distrust. A fear that people won’t know their own minds, that the process might be used for fraudulent purposes and that without rigorous medical scrutiny vast numbers of people would apply to change their gender identity just for the sake of it.”
Senator Craughwell holds the view that “by passing this legislation in its current form as a Bill based on suspicion rather than on trust we are in grave danger of building discrimination and inequality into an Act of Parliament.”
For every member of the Trans Community this Bill has been a long time coming, and he urges the Government not make it another missed opportunity to redress a serious inequality in our society