Opinion: Important International Happenings Concerning Trans Rights

The cases discussed include the US excluding trans people from military service and a UK Law firm compensating a transgender client for using her birth name.

A group of trans people with international flags behind them in a US courtroom

Over the last while, there have been two crucial updates to international views of trans people’s rights, and it is important to examine these, given that these changes could be influential to later approaches taken by Ireland.

The first was the US ban on trans service members. This ban, stridently opposed by the LGBTQ community, aims to limit the rights of trans individuals in the military. Under this new approach, there is a requirement that current service members must wear clothing which aligns to their assigned birth gender. Any opposition to this restriction will result in being potentially discharged. A transgender service member could also, under this new regime, face discharge if they seek to transition.

The response to this imposition has been succinctly summed up by GLAAD, who have argued that it is reflective of the fact that, “Trump has been targeting trans people from the moment he took office”.

The second international update is a positive step towards recognising and vindicating the rights and entitlements of trans individuals, and comes from the UK. A British law firm that addressed a transgender woman by her birth name was ordered to pay her compensation by the Legal Ombudsman. An initial investigation had argued that the firm had acted reasonably, but this was overruled.

Neil Rose of LegalFutures reported that this issue arose after the law firm asked the client to identify how she wished to be addressed. They alleged that there was no response to this request. In further correspondence, the law firm referred to the woman using her birth name, which was then used throughout a letter analysing her claim. She, understandably, contacted the firm to notify them that she felt disrespected by their treatment of her. This complaint followed the appropriate pathways, resulting eventually in an investigation by the UK Legal Ombudsman.

In vindicating the woman’s rights, reference was made to the protections enshrined in the UK Equality Act 2010. The Legal Ombudsman noted that this act deems gender reassignment to be a protected characteristic, arguing that, “we have included awareness of this as part of our training around vulnerable consumers”. The statement reiterated that these protections include sensitive areas, such as, “ensuring we use the correct name, or having the awareness to check how people wish to be addressed”.

It is interesting to note that the Legal Ombudsman also made reference to a quote by GLAAD, also mentioned above in the Trump discussion, where they here said, “When a transgender person has transitioned and is living their life as their authentic self – that is their truth. The world now sees them as who they truly are”.

The conclusion of this investigation argued that the actions of the firm and their overall service had not been reasonable, especially in light of the nature of the retainer and the claim for which the firm had been approached.

The individual at the heart of this case was reported as having been grateful for the Legal Ombudsman’s determination, saying, “Thank you so very much for your understanding around trans issues and the journey that I am on. I wish more people were like you”.

Although both of these international cases lie outside of Irish legal jurisdiction, it is important to flag their effects on trans individuals, because the UK and the US have been persuasive sources of precedence for previous Irish case determinations. One can only hope that we will learn from the approach of the UK Legal Ombudsman, in protecting trans rights, and not from the US, which in the stated case has failed its trans community.

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