Sara Phillips has been involved with the trans community for over 20 years and has been a member of TENI since its inception in 2006. She is now in her second term as Chair, having originally been appointed to the position in November 2012.
For over four years Sara was the facilitator of the Dublin Trans Peer Support Group and is still a member of its steering committee. She has extensive experience and education in group facilitation and support mechanisms.
She is presently National Manager [Ireland] for an American, multinational, construction coatings company. She is also a proud parent of three adult children.
Sara has just been announced as the Grand Marshal of this year’s Dublin Pride Parade. Earlier this week we sat down and had a chat…
It’s fantastic news that you are going to be Grand Marshal for the parade, congratulations! What does it mean to you to be selected?
It’s such an honour to be asked to be Grand Marshal. This year is actually my 20th Pride. I started in TENI in ’97 and missed just one in 2011. For the trans community, we’ve had only two previous grand marshals (Lydia Foy and Anna Grodzka), so to be chosen to represent my community in such an important way is a huge compliment to me and I’m very very proud of it.It is an amazing honour.
Is there a significance for you in the theme of this year’s Pride being ‘We Are Family’?
I’ve been one of those lucky ones who still have a very supportive family
I’m delighted that that’s the theme Pride has chosen this year because without family, I don’t think many of us would have survived. Whatever way that family looks, in whatever shape or form, I think it’s very much part of who we are. I think that showed as a hugely positive thing throughout the marriage equality campaign, that family was and still is such an important thing for us as an LGBT community
I’ve been one of those lucky ones who still have a very supportive family in terms of my parents, brothers, sisters; even my three kids have been all very supportive. The family is crucial to me and it’s been very much part of my coming out process in my own life.
I’ve also spoken very regularly to the people within support groups in the trans community. The people within these groups are very much our family because we also form our own families. They don’t have to be blood-related, they don’t have to be relatives as such, but we form those families in different ways and they’re so important for our support.
How do you think the trans community has integrated within the wider LGBT+ community, compared to 10 years ago?
I think that the trans community is very integrated into the LGBT community and we’ve always felt at one there. I know when I came out 25 years ago, I think I quoted a line a while back about the fact that we were hanging on the coattails of the LGB community and we felt LGB places as safe spaces to be able to express ourselves.
Sometimes our voices are not necessarily heard and supported in certain smaller areas, moreover maybe they’re misunderstood.
Even organisations such as Running Amach are very inclusive of trans women and these things were not necessarily there ten years ago. It was very much a case that we would socialise with the LGBT community, but we would always be still very careful, very knowledgeable that we were not fully part of that community as such.
I think that’s slightly different now. Sometimes our voices are not necessarily heard and supported in certain smaller areas, moreover maybe they’re misunderstood. That’s more about education and about understanding sometimes, but I think compared to ten years ago, we were only basically forming our community.
There were only a few of our own support groups and I think the LGBT community as a whole were very supportive of organising for us in TENI. They were crucial to our growth, but I think that we are now very much part of that community, rather than necessarily just leaning on LGBs for support.
Trans people are a vibrant part of the LGBT community, there’s no doubt about that. If you look at BeLonG To, their individualiTy group is one of the most vibrant parts of their organisation these days. Within Running Amach, quite a lot of trans women are organisers; they’re very much part of the social events. I think we’ve grown up in the community and I think we are very much a part of it now.
In terms of trans representation in a wider Irish context, what are your thoughts?
When I came out 25 years ago, trans representation in any sort of media, whether it was worldwide or in Irish terms, was very negative and voyeuristic. I think a lot of the representation nowadays is very much from a positive visibility point of view.
It is getting better there’s still always going to be the odd situation where people are not respectful and they’re going to continue being disrespectful and things are difficult in that regard.
Some of the more recent representation of the trans community that has been on Irish television, newspapers, and radio has all been very positive. We’re not afraid to engage with the media anymore. We’ve learned that over the last number of years that positive visibility is crucial to our own welfare and our community’s welfare. You see this throughout the world, we’re starting to see much more positive visibility. In the States, you’ve got the likes of Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, even people like Sarah McBride, who is very young, vocal trans person who has spoken out in the media quite a lot about trans representation.
Here we have chosen people in the media to work with, people who will respect us, people who will educate themselves before they come into interviews. In fairness a lot of the trans people that have gone out and done anything within the Irish media have tried to portray that. We have tried to continue that positive visibility over the last number of years and we’re learning.
There’s still always going to be the odd situation where people are not respectful and things are difficult in that regard. You try to continue educating but for the best part it has improved dramatically from the ’80s or ’90s and things we were seeing then was a disrespectful, negative, voyeuristic view of trans people.
As you say we’ve come a long way in many respects, but what do you think is the single greatest issue that still needs to be resolved for trans people?
There is still such a major range of issues that have to be considered. The trans community is still one of the most marginalised sections of Irish society and there’s still clearly a lack of understanding with regard to trans needs. Some of the issues that remain unresolved are things like improvements to appropriate healthcare, which is an ongoing issue. Also clear guidelines in education and the education of teachers, principals and especially boards of management.
We have to get to that positive message out there, that we are ordinary people dealing with an extraordinary issue.
Improvements to the equality act to include gender identity and gender expression, these are hugely important. Obviously, the ongoing review of the Gender Recognition Act to include trans children, adolescents, and non-binary individuals. There is so much still to be done in employment, for employers to have clear guidelines and have clear working practices to allow trans people either to be employed or to transition within employment.
So there’s still a huge amount of work to be done, but ultimately the one big piece I suppose is education. Education is key across a wide spectrum of society. We need to educate everybody: healthcare workers, teachers, employers, the government on the issues I mentioned. It’s such a big body of work and within TENI we do a huge amount of that work. We did training for 6,500 people last year, but that’s still a drop in the ocean. We have to get to that positive message out there, that we are ordinary people dealing with an extraordinary issue.
Issue 309: The Director of @tenipics, Broden Giambrone, and chair of the TENI board, Sara Phillips posed for this special cover commemorating the passing of the Gender Recognition Act in July 2015. The resulting legislation is some of the most forward-thinking in the world, and that largely comes down to the campaigning work of everyone at TENI. #GCN30 . . . #gcnmag #lgbt #lgbtq #lgbtireland #gaycommunitynews #gaynews #gaymagazine #gayireland
What is the single biggest thing cisgender people could do to support the trans and non-binary community?
I think the single biggest thing is to listen to the trans community; listen to our voices, listen to our concerns, our anxieties, our fears and our needs. Trans people are the best ones to express what we need. Educating of everyone, including ourselves and cis people, can actually help to support what we need.
The more help and acceptance and allowing the space for a trans person to develop through whatever direction they’re going actually makes for a healthier outcome, for not just the trans person, but also for their families, friends, allies, their network and their employers.
All that is about listening to what trans people need, allowing them space to develop and supporting them. There are lots of ways you can try and allow that space for people to develop, and that is crucial for their wellbeing and their healthcare.
How long have you been reading GCN?
It’s definitely since the early ’90s, when I came out. I would have always looked out for whatever was going on in the community. I would always look out for whatever trans pieces were being put in or reported in the magazine in mid to later years.
I would look out for pictures to see if I could see myself at some event or whatever. I probably still have copies of them at home because I’m a bit of a hoarder and an archivist. I probably still have some of those older GCNs, going back to the mid to late 90s anyway!
A friend of mine maintains that my epitaph would be: “Here lies Sara Philips, she never wasted a second,” so I think I definitely live life to the full!
Do you have a motto or any kind of mantra that you live your life by?
Live life to the full, that would be my motto if anything. A friend of mine maintains that my epitaph would be: “Here lies Sara Philips, she never wasted a second,” so I think I definitely live life to the full! Life is such a vibrant and wonderful thing and I think we should always try and embrace it as much as we can.
Who would be your hero and why?
My parents are my heroes. We were brought up in a very particular way at home; we were taught to treat everybody equally, to believe in everybody’s right to be respected. I think that served me well when I came out. They very much supported me all the way through. Between the two of them, they very much formed the person that I am today.
If you could invite anyone to dinner who would it be?
I actually thought about having two dinners, in reality, if I wanted people to dinner I would pick my Mam, Dad, three kids, and my girlfriend. But I would also invite, John Lennon, who is my musical hero, Nelson Mandela, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Ailbhe Smyth and I would invite my Dad and that would be three men and three women, including myself.
I think my Dad would be the troublemaker in the whole lot of them, and that might sound funny considering some of the women that are in there, John Lennon included, but I think it would be an interesting conversation over dinner.
Both Bernadette Devlin and Ailbhe Smith are two people I have looked up to both in my formative years and in more recent years. I’d be interested in hearing all the things Nelson Mandela would have to say.
The Dublin Pride Festival takes place June 21st to 30th, see http://dublinpride.ie/ for more details.
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