In the latest instalment of the ShoutOut series, Know Your Queer History, LGBTQ+ activist and TENI chair Sara R Phillips shared her experiences of trans life in Ireland over the previous two decades. While positive trends have emerged, it’s clear that there is much to be done before society can be deemed fully inclusive and accepting of trans people.
Speaking with host Domhnaill Harkin, Sara traces back through her history with trans activism and community support. “My first involvement is within my own coming out. I came out in 1992… But as I came out, and because I started to probably educate myself quite a lot, I started providing support for other individuals on a small scale.”
Despite coming out in some circles, Sara still concealed her identity in her job and family life in fear of losing both due to lack of acceptance. She remembers that “being trans at that stage was not understood, it was also dangerous. Sometimes it could be violent and you needed to be very careful.”
“There were no support groups. There were no organisations because we’re talking about the early 1990’s and you know, for trans people, we were still very much in the shadows.”
It wasn’t until the first phase of TENI was formed in 2003 that these support groups began to emerge. Originally a very small set up based in Cork, the service was reimagined by Sara and her peers and has provided vital help for trans people all over the country. With sustainability at its core, Sara importantly notes that should we ever reach “that perfect moment” where “trans people are accepted in society and we have all the healthcare we need, all the rights we need – support groups are still going to be needed because it’s still always a difficult thing for individuals to come out.”
Speaking on the progress the country has made, she noted the significance of increased visibility, the 2015 Gender Recognition Act, and the development of more support services. However, the shortcomings of Irish society cannot be ignored, and she mentions that while “there has been so much change, actually most things are still the same.”
In fact, according to the activist, the healthcare system has actually become worse – “it even predates my transition!” she explains. Comparing it to the ‘50s and ‘60s, trans identities today are being looked at in a “dysphoric” and “disordered way”, and waiting lists can be up to three years long.
But where there is a will, there is a way, and many groups like TENI continue to fight for the rights and improved living standards of trans people all over the world. There is hope for young people, and Sara Phillips finished the ShoutOut interview by assuring them that “We’ve always been here. Many of us have gone through these issues before.”
“Look out, find your community, find your family. There is support out there to help you.”
Know Your Queer History, a series from LGBTQ+ education charity ShoutOut, features interviews with 12 trailblazing individuals instrumental in securing equality in Ireland. You can watch it on ShoutOut’s Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram channels.
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