Senator Zappone speaks on the passing of the historical Gender Recognition Bill 2014 (video)

16.07.2015

With the Gender Recognition Bill 2014 passing through the Seanad for the final time, the 15th July 2015 was a historic day for Ireland and for the transgender community.  Senator Katherine Zappone welcomed the bill and acknowledged the efforts of key players and organisations throughout the process, particularly Dr. Lydia Foy, Mr. Michael Farrell and FLAC, TENI, BeLonGTo and TransParenCI.  Senator Zappone also thanked Deputy Joanna Tuffy, Deputy Kevin Humphreys and the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, for her work on the bill.  Senator Zappone commended the bill’s use of the self-declaratory model, which matches suggestions made in a 2013 bill written by the Senator herself.  The Senator acknowledged that while the bill is a huge achievement and is human rights-compliant and progressive, there is still much work to be done.  The bill fails to address young transgender individuals as well as those who do not or cannot identify as one of the binary genders.  Consequently, the Senator urged lawmakers to embrace the full reality of the lives of transgender people.  

Watch the video or read the full speech below.

I welcome the Minister of State back and acknowledge his tenacity, commitment and perseverance to get what he considers to be the best possible Bill at this stage for the adult transgender community.

As Broden Giambrone, director of TENI, wrote to me in an e-mail yesterday, after all this time Lydia's 22 year journey has finally come to an end. I welcome Dr. Lydia Foy and want to begin by acknowledging her courage and staying power, the work of Mr. Michael Farrell and FLAC in supporting her, TENI, BeLonGTo, TransParenCI and other advocates and self-advocates for their engagement with us, parliamentarians, such as the Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection, Deputy Joanna Tuffy, the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, and, of course, the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton.  We welcome them all, and it is fantastic to have them here with us. In particular, I acknowledge the presence of the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton. She stated that she was not willing to draft a Bill on the basis of the prime recommendations of the gender recognition advisory group, which reported soon after she became Minister for Social Protection. Instead, she began a long consultation process with the sector and its academic, legal and law-maker advocates to produce a Bill which she hoped would be human rights-compliant and progressive. This was with the support of her officials who are here with us today.

The Bill before us in its final form has travelled a very long journey, to which the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy Humphreys, have referred, picking up some significant progressive elements along the way, and I acknowledge this. However, the Government has resisted incorporating other elements, particularly with regard to young people, which will place the Act out of step with where the people are - in this case, our treasured young people and their parents. The other arena in gender recognition law with which we have not engaged is the restriction of the definition of preferred gender to male or female and the exclusion of a third non-binary category for those who do not or cannot identify as one of the binary genders, male or female. Although it is a great day for the transgender community in Ireland, and we all acknowledge this, we still have not embraced the full reality of the lives of transgender people, and this is what law-makers should do. It is hugely regrettable, and I will continue to advocate on their behalf long after the Bill becomes law.

The first group of amendments provides for self-declaration by transgender people, which is a remarkable achievement of the legislation. In 2013, as the Minister of State is aware, I published a gender recognition Bill with the expert support of the TENI legal working group, to which Dr. Fergus Ryan made a significant contribution. It was supported by draughtsmanship from members of the public interest law alliance of FLAC. That Bill provided for a self-declaration model, and we considered it to be a benchmark Bill for the Government, as it was published prior to the heads of the Government's Bill. This model was not accepted in the Government's Bill originally. When the Bill left the Seanad on 17 February 2015, the Government even resisted adding a person's GP to the definition of "primary treating physician" for the purpose of certifying an individual's gender recognition.  When the Bill was last with us in the Seanad, it was a long distance from self-declaration. Even though, on that day, I produced in the Seanad a letter from the Irish College of General Practitioners supporting my amendment to include GPs in the list of primary treating medical practitioners, the Government still refused on the basis that more consultation needed to take place with representative organisations of GPs. With the help of Dr. Philip Crowley, an incredible ally and friend of the trans community, before the Bill went to the Dáil I was sent a copy of a letter written to the Tánaiste by the Irish Medical Organisation, which stated that it too recommended the inclusion of GPs as medical practitioners who could support the certification process of trans people.

As we all recall, the Bill went through Second Stage in the Dáil in early March, and paused for Committee and Remaining Stages to take place after the marriage equality referendum. This was when the extraordinary movement on the self-declaratory model occurred in the Government. The Government has reached the summit of best international practice in this regard and it is a fine achievement.

I particularly welcome that the wording now used in Government's Bill closely matches that used in the template statutory declaration in my Bill, which spoke of the person's settled and solemn intention formed after careful consideration to live permanently as a person of the preferred gender. I understand from information provided by the Department of Social Protection that the Bill, once enacted, will come into operation by the end of the summer. I note that the template statutory declaration contained in my Bill might be useful to the Government and the Department at this stage and they should use it and adapt it as they see fit.

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