Speaking at the event were Broden Giambrone, chief executive of the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, Mara Keisling, an American transgender rights activist and founding executive director of the National Centre for Transgender Equality based in Washington DC, and Dr Lydia Foy, an Irish trans woman whose struggle for legal recognition of her gender acted as a catalyst for the Gender Recognition Act 2015.
According to Giambrone, from a historical perspective, the trans community has long been marginalised by society. However, he believes that we are entering a new era insofar as people are finally starting to take notice of the struggle faced by members of the community and to talk about it. Despite this, he pointed out that there remains much to be done and that legislation to protect all people is still needed. Members of the panel were asked what the recent gender recognition act has meant for them.
In 1992, Foy had sex reassignment surgery, which resulted in a 24-year battle to have her gender identity reflected in her birth certificate. For her, the act has meant having her gender legally recognised and her birth certificate changed.
From Giambrone’s perspective, the act has meant trans people being able to “engage with their bodies as they truly are, being recognised by the state for who they truly are, [and] being a truly integrated, involved part of Irish society.”
Keisling also spoke of her experiences and the work that she carries out for the trans community. She said that she “grew up closeted” and that there was no obvious pathway for her to think about gender. She emphasised how valuable it has been to have US president Barack Obama open to the cause. As an example of the impact that this has had, she mentioned the fact that by the time his term ends, it will be illegal to discriminate against the transgender community in relation to housing, employment, healthcare and education in the US.
All three speakers stressed the importance of visibility for the cause and the need for people to openly discuss it. Keisling noted that: “Caitlyn Jenner wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the work of the first few trans activists.” Giambrone concluded by saying that: “Transition is portrayed as complex, but it’s not really. It’s an intricate, innate part of identity, and that deserves respect.”