International Perspectives on Trans Rights and Policy in the context of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands
Dr Jamie Hagen highlights key issues in international trans rights and insights from a Just Talk(s) event organised by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the UK
As part of 2022 Belfast Pride celebrations the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the UK, the Centre for Gender in Politics at Queen’s University Belfast and HERe NI hosted an event offering international perspectives on trans rights and policy. The event featured three speakers representing trans politics in unique contexts, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands. The speakers for the event were:
- Matt Kennedy (he/him) who is an Irish Research Council Scholar and doctoral candidate in the area of trans studies in the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice a University College Dublin, a writer and a boxer. He is currently employed in Belong To Ireland’s National LGBTQ+ youth organisation as the policy and research officer as well as completing his PhD on transnormativity.
- Alexa Moore (she/her), Co-founder and former director of TransgenderNI, currently Research and policy at the Human Rights Consortium
- Max de Blank (they/them), Policy Officer at the Directorate of Emancipation, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) of the Netherlands
The panel focused on four themes: gender recognition, health care, connecting trans rights with other social justice issues and how allies can help support trans communities facing anti-trans backlash.
To begin, each of the panelists reflected on each of the different legal contexts for gender recognition policies and practices. Max began by detailing how in the Netherlands there has been significant progress over the past decade and the state has even publicly apologized for the suffering experienced by the transgender and intersex community as a consequence of the terms of the former Transgender Act, that up until 2014 required medical procedures including permanent sterilization before allowing a legal gender change to one of two binary gender options. In 2020 the Dutch government agreed to pay compensations to trans victims of sterilization. There is now momentum in the country from both the government and the medical field to improve the support for people transitioning, including a plan to introduce paid leave for trans people during their transition.
The panelists spoke of the harm caused by pathologizing legislation that requires trans patients to undergo lengthy medical approval prior to having access to legal gender recognition. Alexa explained that instead of the current highly medicalized procedure in NI, the trans community are advocating for a process of self-identification. She continued, ‘It’s not up to some cisgender doctor, some panel of gender experts, to adjudicate your gender, it should be up to the trans people. It should be up to the individuals who know themselves better than anyone else.‘
The Republic of Ireland does currently allow this process of self-declaration, however there are still serious shortcomings. For example, there is still a lack of acknowledgement for intersex and nonbinary folks within current policy, and those who are aged 16 and 17 need parental consent from both parents along with two psychiatric assessments. Young people under 16 do not have access to any form of legal gender recongition under the current legislation in the republic of Ireland. Acknowledging the damaging impact of this legislation Matt asks, ‘Why have we made stipulations around which trans people are allowed to effectively become citizens? Who is left out of this legislation?’ Concluding his reflections on the topic, he argued that although previous equality measures were put to a referendum in the Republic (e.g. repealing the 8th, marriage equality) the same should not be true for policies like gender recognition. ‘It’s not at all appropriate for trans people to grovel for their participation in social, political and economic life.’
Trans healthcare is in a dismal state across the contexts addressed by the panelists. Alexa and Matt shared their own personal experiences in trying to access basic trans health care and remaining on waiting lists for years. The wait list for access to medical support for trans people is currently estimated to be 1-3 years in the Netherlands, at last report, the waiting list was around 4 years in Northern Ireland and up to 10 years in the Republic.
When trans people can afford to, many turn to private care, while others have turned to community care. ‘Now all of my care is from the UK. I travelled abroad for surgery, and all of my hormones are through what’s called Shared Care. I have a GP in Dublin who prescribes my hormones’, Matt explained. He points to this model as the model those committed to improving trans-affirming care should be supporting, outlining that often transition related healthcare is contained within underresourced gender clinics which are ‘Not a helpful model at all. They serve only to further pathologize trans people and to remove them from all of the other spaces where they access general care.’ Community based models of care better serve trans people as they are localised and more appropriately placed to meet the wraparound health and wellbeing needs of an individual including their transition related needs.
All the speakers made connections between trans policy and other socio-economic issues. Homelessness is an example of socio-economic issue that research in the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands has already shown disproportionately negatively impacts trans youth who may be kicked out of their homes after coming out to their family as trans. In the context of NI Alexa points to the real need for a Bill of Rights to help support multiple human rights concerns together. She argues, ‘So many of the rights we’re talking about today healthcare, legal recognition and the right to private family life, right to a home, all of these issues could be covered and we could start to build this rights based society and unique policies within a human rights framework if we had a bill of rights for NI.’ A Bill of Rights for NI was promised as part of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Though there was much emphasis on the need to improve legal protections and policies for trans equality, Max cautioned that focusing on rights alone is not enough: ‘Rights are very important, but having rights does not mean that all discrimination is being solved. That is why the Dutch government also invests in education, for example by supporting Gender & Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) in schools’, they said.
Alongside reflecting on the current policy landscape for trans rights, participants shared their thoughts on how cis people can be allies to the trans community. This was on the mind of many participating in pride events this year. Danielle Roberts who is the Senior Policy and Development officer for HEReNI, and moderator for the panel, invited those planning to march in the Belfast Pride parade to join the trans inclusionary feminist block.
Matt’s concluding thoughts resonated with the whole room when he pointed to the need for coalitional organizing to achieve the transformation necessary to achieve gender justice for trans communities. ‘I can’t do that myself. I can’t do that just as a trans person. I can’t do it just in trans community. I need everyone along with me.’ Together the panelists made it clear that improving rights and policies for trans people ultimately benefits trans and cis people alike.
This event was part of the Just Talk(s) event series organized by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the UK.