Gender Recognition Bill 2014: Second Stage 21 January 2015

I very much welcome the Bill but note that Ireland has lagged behind. There are issues that concern me. Subject to the time limitations in this Second Stage debate, I will confine my intervention to three main areas of concern to me, arising out of this Bill. I say “of concern to me,” but that is not strictly true; my life will not be directly impacted by the legislation we will bring forward as a result of this process. Rather, these are deeply felt concerns of the transgender community itself, which were articulated to me by transgender young people and adults and, more generally, by transgender activists – for example, at the public hearings of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection in October 2013. These are the voices to which we need to listen most carefully. Nobody is better placed to know what is best, more appropriate and most just in respect of the lived reality of transgender people’s lives than transgender people themselves. In that regard, I welcome our visitors to the Visitors’ Gallery. Part of me wishes we were switching who is actually debating this Bill and who is listening to this debate. I am sure some of my colleagues would share that wish.

In researching this area, I was most impressed with the Maltese approach to this issue. It has yet to be finalised but it is taking a very people-centred, lived-lives approach whereby the major focus of consultation is with the transgender community itself in developing the legislation. I was also very interested to learn that in Malta there is no requirement to register a baby’s gender at birth, nor is a gender disclosure required in applying to schools.

I want compliment TENi, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, Amnesty International, FLAC, and, particularly, my colleague Senator Zappone. We have been extremely well briefed on the issues before us. I have listened to the interventions and I really support what all my colleagues have said, so I really hope we can do good work on Committee Stage.

The issues about which I have concerns include the single status requirement as a precondition for gender recognition and its implications for transgender people, happily married or in a civil partnership – my colleagues have explored that issue – and the current medical criteria, which medicalise and pathologise gender identity and act as a barrier to gender recognition through an unnecessarily onerous process and which actually fail to meet the standard as laid out in the Yogyakarta principles that such procedures should be efficient, fair and non-discriminatory and respect the dignity and privacy of the person concerned. I do not understand why we need to put these very unnecessary and onerous hoops in place.

The third area of concern to me – several colleagues from across the House have mentioned this issue, so I hope we can make progress on this issue – relates specifically to young transgender people. On this point, I believe we have serious work to do in upholding and respecting our international human rights obligations to children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 2 relates to non-discrimination, Article 3 relates to the best interests of the child, Article 6 relates to the right to life survival and development of the child, and Article 12 relates to the voice of the child and the protection of privacy. The UN convention speaks to me so much about many of the issues raised with me by those in the transgender community.

In this Bill, no account whatsoever has been given to inter-sex youths. There is no process for them to have their preferred gender identified. Furthermore, there is no legal protection for transgender children under the age of 16. We can think of cases where people are not in agreement, but what about situations where everyone is in agreement and where the six-year-old boy has clearly articulated his gender identity and his parents, friends and family all agree on his gender identity? As is the case at the moment, is this young child really going to be forced to go through a girls’ school wearing a girl’s uniform in order for him to access education available in his locality? Whose best interest are we serving? Surely, in this Bill, we could do something for that young person. In this Bill, we are saying we will bring in the process at 16 years. I would not advise anybody to go through that medicalised process. I do not understand it and I do not see why we are doing it. If one applies for a college place, one’s gender identity is assigned to one. We have to go further.

We have an opportunity here to bring in a law. We are probably talking about a handful of young people, but we can go further, which I will explore more on Committee Stage. As said by my colleague Senator Hayden, and as Sam Blanckensee said earlier, this goes beyond birth certificates. This is about real lives and it has a real impact, and we can do more in this House.