"The next Seanad needs to prioritise the rights of minority communities", says candidate Laura Harmon

Laura shares how when the last Oireachtas session concluded, it still left many rights unfulfilled and left much work to be done.

A headshot of Laura Harmon outdoors, her hair waving in the breeze

Laura Harmon is a candidate for the Seanad NUI panel and an equality campaigner.

While the LGBTI+ Youth Strategy and Inclusion Strategy were important, they will remain a wish list without the legislation and the political will to action them. The Oireachtas should not forget its duty to eventually achieve a society where LGBT+ young people grow up never knowing any discrimination either through the law or their lived experience in a modern Irish society.

The referendum on civil marriage equality and the gender recognition act are the two most significant milestones in recent memory in our pursuit for LGBT+ equality. We must finish this job. In terms of marriage equality, we must ensure that all same-sex parents have equal rights to raise their children. The Children and Families Relationships Act 2015 will, after much delay, finally be commenced fully in May but that still leaves out so many family formations. A fully inclusive Assisted Human Reproduction Act, as suggested by Equality for Children, can achieve this but the political will of the next Oireachtas needs to make this a priority. Families cannot afford to wait for another five years.

The Gender Recognition Act 2015 was a hugely progressive step at the time but we need to go further. The state needs to recognise that trans people don’t decide they’re trans at 18 and that non-binary people actually exist. Before leaving office, Minister for Employment and Social Protection Regina Doherty suggested that Gender Recognition was only to be extended to trans 16 and 17 year-olds, by a self-declaration model and that trans youth and non-binary people must wait. The Oireachtas needs to have courage in this regard, to rise above transphobia and misinformation. The next Oireachtas has a choice – it can lay the groundwork for a better Ireland for trans people or leave them languishing without state protection.

Trans healthcare needs to be reformed. We cannot continue a system that is clearly not fit for purpose which neither benefits the state’s health system nor our trans community as patients. HRT (hormone replacement therapy) prescribed by GPs under an informed consent model, as it is done in all other instances, would mean we comply with WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) standards and provide the healthcare that truly supports trans people.

Our state also needs to face the reality that our society is not as welcoming for LGBT+ people as they would like to believe. The recent spate of assaults on our LGBT+ people surely highlights this under no uncertain terms. The fact that we lack robust hate crime legislation means the state fails to provide legal security. We have a long way to go before we can feel safe in our daily lives, the state must start by addressing hate crime firstly and this needs to happen without delay.

Like a lack of Gender Recognition laws, the Oireachtas would be negligent to believe that people become LGBT+ at 18. Our teenage years usually are the age where we feel most vulnerable. The scourge of bullying over one’s identity in school is a horrific experience and this needs to be given very real focus. Additionally, the lack of inclusive Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) fails to equip our young people to navigate their way through a safe, healthy and positive adulthood. Instead, it perpetuates isolation, confusion and an unhealthy relationship with our bodies and how we assert personal boundaries.

While we await government formation, the duty of every member, whether in government or opposition, still remains to bring about these changes. That falls to the LGBT+ members and their allies particularly, to lead our community to a better tomorrow and a better society for further generations of LGBT+ young people to grow up in. If I am elected to the Seanad NUI panel, I will champion the rights of our community and of all minority groups.

Laura Harmon is the Women in Leadership Coordinator with the National Women’s Council of Ireland. She was president of the Union of Students in Ireland in 2014/2015, during the marriage equality referendum campaign.

Laura Harmon was also the Head of Mobilisation for the Together for Yes campaign in 2018. 

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