Watch and learn: Keep your eyes on the prize of equality
From another of our fabulous new Gaelick contributors, it’s MickF!
There is an entire generation of LGBT activists who have only ever lived through the legal era (1993–present).
This can have a tendency to encourage a false sense of security to creep in; that is, until issues like marriage equality bring such realities starkly back into focus. Despite 20 years of progress, LGBT people still do not enjoy the same legal rights as their heterosexual sisters and brothers, aunties and uncles, nieces and nephews.
Any LGBT activist feeling nostalgic for the bad old days need venture no further than to take a short stroll around the Ireland’s Trans community and listen to the experiences.
The bad old days: They haven’t gone away, you know
When TENI’s Vanessa Lacey declared from the stage of 2012 Dublin Pride that “Trans Rights are 30 years behind the rest of the LGBT community,” she was perhaps being optimistic. The present reality in Ireland is that the Trans community still has no legal recognition, despite a High Court finding that the government are in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding its Trans citizens.
That ruling was made over two years ago, and the promised Gender Recognition legislation has yet to materialise. Fortunately, the LGBT community is still in the vanguard of human rights activism and went some way to redressing the injustice, when Dr Lydia Foy was installed as the Grand Marshall of the 2010 Dublin Pride Parade. Waterford showed similar understanding by bestowing the honour on native sister Vanessa Lacey the following year.
It was against this backdrop that over 250 human rights activists gathered on a September weekend in Dublin, for the 4th European Transgender Council conference.
Lighting candles in the darkness: There is hope
Hosted by Dublin City University and masterfully organised by the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), delegates from across Ireland, North and South, gave a céad mile fáilte to visitors from the EU and beyond. Delegates and speakers travelled from as far afield as Argentina in the west to The Philippines in the east, to be in Dublin, revealing the widespread interest in and enthusiasm for Trans Rights issues.
This was reflected by the extensive press coverage of the event with representatives of television, radio and the print media prominent by their presence. The event also attracted a documentary crew from Cork, who’s film is eagerly awaited by the Trans community.
The Conference consisted of three days of plenary sessions and workshops, focusing on the theme Trans Rights Now! – Realizing Respect, Recognition and Equality.
The Cabinet member with responsibility for Gender Recognition legislation is Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, was invited to deliver a keynote address to the conference.
Welcoming Minister Burton, TENI Director Broden Giambrone noted:
We are delighted that the Minister is part of this conference. Gender recognition for transgender people is a basic human right, and Ireland – one of the last EU States to legislate – has an opportunity to lead Europe in drafting inclusive, marriage-friendly legislation. We are looking forward to hearing from the Minister
Minister Burton, in turn told the conference:
I want to pay tribute to Dr Lydia Foy for her long and tenacious battle to have her true gender and identity recognised by the State and her human rights vindicated.
As a result of the High Court’s ruling in Dr Foy’s case, the State now has an obligation to put a process in place to legally recognise the acquired gender of transgender people. I am very anxious to make progress on this matter; I want to ensure that transgender people will have legal recognition and to extend the protections of the equality legislation to them.
I intend to request that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection and Education examine the issue of gender recognition in October or November (2012). I would like all groups with an interest in this area to engage with the Committee on this important issue, which will then assist my Department in drafting the legislation
Never settle for less
While the Minister’s statement was generally welcomed, it did not meet universal approval, as subsequent speakers were to show over the following days.
Other keynote speakers were Michael Farrell, Senior Solicitor with the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) who acted as Dr Foy’s legal adviser throughout her actions against the Irish government.
He deplored the delays in bringing legal recognition to the Irish Trans community and sought to impress upon the Minister to take an inclusive and generous approach to the planned Gender Recognition legislation.
Failure to do so would be devisive and tarnish Ireland’s cherished reputation for supporting human rights.
The third keynote speaker was Senator Katherine Zappone, who spoke for many when she implored legislators to put people before political considerations, when formulating laws.
She bemoaned laws that brought shame to individuals and challenged the Minister’s contention that the Irish constitution enshrines the traditional view of marriage, based on procreation.
In an address that was widely praised during and since the conference, Senator Zappone exhorted the government to “embrace the humanity of the Trans community – as anything else would be the wrong thing to do,” to an animated standing ovation.
The next steps for advocacy and activism
Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) has established a YouTube channel to bring details of the conference to supporters and those who could not be present, but who wish to be informed to developments.
They have also produced video and audio recordings of all the principal plenary sessions, and they can be access on a variety of platforms from laptops to smartphones.
Viewers and listeners will enter a new world as they hear of experiences that will at times bring laughter, tears, anger and admiration at the courage and humanity being recounted. They will be horrified by accounts of forced sterilisation (Sweden), imprisonment and police brutality (Turkey), murder (Portugal & Turkey) and compulsory divorce (proposed for Ireland).
But it was not all doom and gloom as Mauro Cabral brought very positive reports from Argentina, where inclusive non-stigmatising Gender Recognition legislation was recently enacted to little opposition and much welcome from the Trans community.
Vanessa Lacey shocked visiting delegates by showing examples of recent television and cinema advertising, in Ireland and UK, which subjects the Trans community to gross offence and public ridicule, but emboldened the gathering by sharing strategies used to counter such negative stereotyping.
There are 19 videos in total and they also include footage of the volunteers welcoming delegates and the Rally for Recognition which took place on the first evening, just before the Trans karaoke night. (The karaoke night was not included, so as not to embarrass those who have yet to transition into songbirds..!) However, the conference concluded with Vanessa Lacey leading delegates in a rousing reception of “He’s got the whole world in his Hands”.
Some of the audio recordings are already available at TENI’s mixcloud site , while the remainder will be uploaded very soon.
Onwards and upwards, people!