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A country in transition

Northern Irish expat Finn Ballard takes note of the Republic of Ireland’s impressive legal turnabouts

Finn Ballard @ Alexa Vachon

29.07. – Two tectonic shifts in as many months for one island: Shortly after the landmark referendum on gay marriage, the Republic of Ireland has become the fifth country in the world (following Argentina, Denmark, Malta and Colombia) to recognize the legal validity of what Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton describes as “preferred gender”. President Michael D. Higgins signed the Gender Recognition Act into law on the July 22. Irish transgender adults will now be able to change the gender marker on their birth certificates and passports without prescribed surgery or hormone treatment, and intersex people will be able to have their gender legally acknowledged; a doctor’s approval and a statutory declaration of the intended permanence of their transition is all that’s required. This from a country that, until a matter of weeks ago, refused any prospect of documentation change, and that insisted on divorce for married trans people who wished to have their transition recognized (a clause that would have presumably been rendered obsolete by the recent passing of the Marriage Equality Act). Irish trans people like Dr. Lydia Foy – who battled in court for over 20 years to legally change her gender – are finally recognized as equal citizens.

I come from Northern Ireland, not the Republic, and my own little part of the country generally follows the rule of Westminster, including the Gender Recognition Act of the United Kingdom, signed into effect back in 2004. (We sometimes like to make our own laws, though: For example, until 2006, in Northern Ireland it was legal to own any species of wild animal, and my own trans childhood was punctuated once a year with the well publicized escape of someone’s pet panther or orangutan.) Beyond the legal gap, though, I would dare to say that everyday life for trans people hasn’t differed much from North to South. As my own family in the North experienced, a doctor could in all seriousness – and with no apparent fear of breaking the Hippocratic Oath – refer a trans patient to a priest. From all the way over here in Berlin, it’s astonishing to watch what’s happening back in the Republic. What a change for a country which (like several others in Europe) was described by Amnesty International in 2014 as “violating the human rights of people trying to change their legal gender identities” through “blatant state discrimination” and a series of “invasive, degrading and inhumane hurdles”. Ireland should now lead by further example. States that still demand diagnoses of mental disorders, sterilization and divorce, take heed.

Finn Ballard



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