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'Experts of Our Own Identity': Trans People Can Choose Their Legal Gender in Ireland Now

On Wednesday, the Irish parliament passed the Gender Recognition Bill, which allows trans people over the age of 18 to legally change their gender on government documents without seeing a doctor or getting court order.

by Rachel Browne
Jul 16 2015, 4:40pm

Photo by William Murphy via Flickr Creative Commons

In its latest move to bring about full rights for LGBT people, Ireland has become the third European country — and the fifth in the worldto officially recognize the gender identity of transgender people without medical or government intervention.

On Wednesday, the Irish parliament passed the Gender Recognition Bill, which allows trans people over the age of 18 to legally change their gender on government documents without seeing a doctor or getting a court order. The bill will come into effect at the end of the month. Previously, it was impossible for trans people in Ireland to legally change their gender identity.

"This is a historic moment for the trans community in Ireland," said Sara Phillips, the chairperson for Transgender Equality Network Ireland, in a statement. "Trans people should be the experts of our own gender identity. Self-determination is at the core of our human rights."

The Irish law marks the end of a decades-long battle by Irish trans woman Dr. Lydia Foy, whose request to change her birth certificate in 1993 was refused.

It also comes just months after people in Ireland voted to allow same-sex marriage by a landslide referendum that many heralded as a massive cultural shift in the traditionally Catholic society.

Most European countries require people looking to legally alter their gender identity to undergo sex reassignment surgery (also known as gender affirming surgery) or sterilization, and be diagnosed with mental illness in order for the state to recognize their chosen gender.

In the UK, the Gender Recognition Act allows adults to change their gender, but only once they have been diagnosed with "gender dysphoria" and have lived as their new gender for at least two years.

Malta and Denmark are the only two other countries in Europe that allow trans adults to change their legal gender identity without legal and medical red tape.

Last year, Denmark became the first in Europe to allow trans people over 18 to legally change their gender, and Malta recently scrapped its law that required trans people to undergo surgery and get a mental illness diagnosis in order to change their gender status. Malta also made it possible for youth under 18 to apply to the court, with parental approval, to change their gender.

Argentina and Colombia have also implemented similar laws that make it easy for trans people to change their legal gender.

But while many activists in Ireland feted the new law, others would still like it to go even further to ease restrictions on trans youth between the ages of 16 and 18, who must get permission from their parents and doctor, as well as a court order, to do so.

Last month, the Norwegian government tabled a bill that would allow children as young as seven to change their legal gender with parental approval.

According to Amnesty International, there are an estimated 1.5 million transgender people across Europe. A 2014 Amnesty report on trans rights in Europe said having gender recognition under law is important for preventing discrimination and violence against trans people.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne