State of the Queer Nation

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It’s been two years since the Irish people voted by 62 percent to include same-sex marriage in the country’s constitution…

A moment when it seemed Ireland had emerged from the dark days of Catholic oppression and we were on course for a new, liberal, egalitarian society, in which the rights and welfare of LGBTs would be enshrined. But is it coming to fruition?

This month, as we celebrate that historic day for the Irish LGBT community, we take a look at how Ireland continues to shape up – and not – as a world leader for social change.

TRANS RIGHTS

In 2015, Ireland became only the fourth country in the world (after Argentina, Denmark and Malta) to pass legislation which allows trans people to obtain recognition on the basis of “self- determination”. Applicants for gender recognition need only con rm that they understand “the consequences of the application” and are seeking state acknowledgement of their own “free will.” However, trans people under 16 are completely excluded, while those 16 and 17 years need two doctors, parental consent and a court order to apply.

This month, Sinn Féin TD Fintan Warfield introduced a Gender Recognition (Amendment) Bill to the Seanad that seeks to extend the right to self-determination to trans people aged 16 and 17 years to self-declare their gender identity. The legislation would also open a legal pathway to trans people under 16 years of age. Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, said that a review of the 2015 Gender Recognition Act would begin in September and would be completed and presented to the Oireachtas no later than September 2018.

Warfield, who is a member of the LGBT community, said that with his bill, which the Government will not oppose at second stage, “the State will truly recognise the existence of trans young people, acknowledging that one does not just turn trans on turning 16 years of age”. A cross-party committee on abortion is in the process of being set up, which will be tasked with considering the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly. Táinaiste Frances Fitzgerald said an abortion referendum should be held as soon as possible, but Fine Gael leadership contender Simon Coveney has said he does not fully support the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly, while his main leadership rival, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, declined to comment on the specific recommendations.

This month there were major protests against the ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital being given to the religious order the Sisters of Charity. The €300 million hospital is due to be built on their land in Dublin 4.

Amid the protests, master of the Holles Street hospital, Dr Peter Boylan resigned from the board of the National Maternity Hospital. He wrote in the Irish Times: “Modern maternity and gynaecological care encompasses contraception, sterilisation,
IVF, gender reassignment surgery and abortion, as well as the usual day-to-day activities of a busy maternity hospital.

“Are we seriously expected to believe that if the hospital goes ahead according to the proposed arrangement it will be the only maternity hospital in the world owned by the Catholic Church, and run by a company owned by the Catholic Church, that will allow these procedures? This stretches credibility to breaking point. Indeed it would seem to be naive.” Health Minister Simon Harris, however, said the need for a new hospital should outweigh any concerns members of the public had over the site’s links to the Catholic Church.

REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

In April of this year, members of the Citizen’s Assembly voted 51-38 that the 8th Amendment in the Irish constitution, “should be replaced with a constitutional provision that explicitly authorises the Oireachtas to legislate to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn, and any rights of the pregnant woman.” The assembly also voted that abortion should be available in Ireland without restriction.A cross-party committee on abortion is in the process of being set up, which will be tasked with considering the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly.

Táinaiste Frances Fitzgerald said an abortion referendum should be held as soon as possible, but Fine Gael leadership contender Simon Coveney has said he does not fully support the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly, while his main leadership rival, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, declined to comment on the specific recommendations.

This month there were major protests against the ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital being given to the religious order the Sisters of Charity. The €300 million hospital is due to be built on their land in Dublin 4.

Amid the protests, master of the Holles Street hospital, Dr Peter Boylan resigned from the board of the National Maternity Hospital. He wrote in the Irish Times: “Modern maternity and gynaecological care encompasses contraception, sterilisation, IVF, gender reassignment surgery and abortion, as well as the usual day-to-day activities of a busy maternity hospital.

“Are we seriously expected to believe that if the hospital goes ahead according to the proposed arrangement it will be the only maternity hospital in the world owned by the Catholic Church, and run by a company owned by the Catholic Church, that will allow these procedures? This stretches credibility to breaking point. Indeed it would seem to be naive.” Health Minister Simon Harris, however, said the need for a new hospital should outweigh any concerns members of the public had over the site’s links to the Catholic Church.

MARRIAGE EQUALITY & NORTHERN IRELAND

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK without same-sex marriage because the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party has employed peace process powers known as ‘petitions of concern’ to block all progress of legislation in Stormont. Following a devolved assembly election earlier this year, the DUP is required to form a new power-sharing government with second-largest party, Sinn Féin – but talks have repeatedly stalled, and now there’s a postponement until after the June snap election called by UK Prime Minister, Teresa May.

Former DUP minister Jim Wells said that Sinn Féin’s insistence on same-sex marriage is a “red line” for his party that would prevent a power- sharing government being formed, adding that “Peter will not marry Paul in Northern Ireland.”

At a meeting in Limerick this month Church of Ireland General Synod members voted down a proposal to soften its attitude to same-sex unions. Almost every speaker against the motion was from Northern Ireland with Rev Trevor Johnston of Connor diocese describing the motion as “impossible” adding that “inbuilt into it is discrimination against those who didn’t act on their same sex attraction”.

LGBT STRATEGIES

Ireland is to become the first country in the world to carry out a national LGBT youth strategy, which aims to address the challenges faced by young members of Ireland’s LGBT community.

In April, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone launched an online questionnaire for the strategy, urging young people around Ireland to share their views. The programme plans to consult young people between the age of 15-24 about all aspects of their lives so as to provide key recommendations in certain policy areas.

Last month, Dublin City Council (DCC) of cially launched their LGBT Inclusion Strategy. The Strategy is comprised of a three-pronged approach: facilitating LGBT visibility in DCC, promoting and strengthening LGBT inclusion at all levels in the City Council and providing education and awareness on LGBT-related issues.

As part of the first element, Facilitating LGBT Visibility, DCC plan to ensure the public can access LGBT literature through a range of channels including the Library. Speci cally mentioning GCN, DCC will ensure that the LGBT publication will be available in all library branches on a monthly basis.

HIV & HEALTH

More than 500 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in 2016, the highest rate since records began. Nearly half of the new HIV cases resulted from sex between men, and over half were people born outside of Ireland, but who came here in recent years. So far this year, there have been 183 new HIV cases and if this trend continues, 2017 will surpass last year’s gure.

Last July a group of gay men formed ACT UP Dublin to campaign for the government and the Health Service Executive to offer PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) pills, also known as Truvada, to those who are at risk of exposure to HIV. Although it has been approved in Europe, PrEP is currently not availble through the Irish health system. The largest PrEP study to date (McCormack, et al, The Lancet, 2016), showed an 86 percent reduction in incidence of HIV infection amongst those taking the drug.

A ban on MSM giving blood was lifted in January of this year. The Irish Blood Transfusion Board replaced it with a 12-month deferal, so if a man who has ever had anal or oral sex with another man wishes to give blood he must abstain from such activities for a period of a year.

In 2016, GLEN, in association with BeLonG To and TCD, launched the LGBT Ireland Report, national study of the mental health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Ireland. Fifty-six percent of LGBT teens aged 14-18 in the study said they had self-harmed while 70 percent of this age group had seriously thought of ending their own life. The report found that school continues to be a very difficult place for many young LGBT people. Only one-in-five feel they belong completely in their school, while less than half feel they have received positive affirmation of their identity.
Only one-in-three of the 2,200 respondents felt safe showing affection or holding hands with a partner in public. Some 15 percent said they would never do either.

EDUCATION

In the Burning Issues 2 report (produced by GCN’s publishers, the National LGBT Federation), which surveyed over 2,600 people last year to find the issues most important to Ireland’s LGBT community, 96 percent of respondents said that the Irish education system should be reformed so that no child is excluded for their religion or non-religion. Research carried out in 2015 by Equate, an NGO lobbying for the secularisation of Irish schools, found that 84 percent of the general Irish population agreed with this general statement. Currently in Ireland 93 percent of schools are run by the Catholic Church.

In January of this year, Minister for Education, John Bruton announced plans to remove the baptismal barrier, but it remains to be seen whether it will be a complete ban on religious schools using religion as a factor in admissions.

According to Michael Barron, Director of Equate: “How identity is taught in schools, and particularly sexual identity, is coloured by the religious ethos of the school. As long as we have a Catholic Church that maintains gay people are intrinsically disordered, it’s going to be an issue around how sexual health and sexual intimacy are taught.”

ASYLUM SEEKERS

In 2015 the BeLonG To LGBT youth organisation lost funding for its LGBT Asylum Seekers and Refugees Project, which organised a group comprised of asylum seekers and refugees from around the country. Most of the group’s members were under Direct Provision (DP), the government’s ‘cashless’ system of handling asylum seekers whose claims are mired in endless processing.

Many LGBT asylum seekers have suffered huge trauma and have arrived in Ireland completely alone. In DP they in the vulnerable postion of being shunned by other members of the community because of their declared sexual or gender orientation, or are afraid to come out because they are vulnerable to attack.

The campaign to end Direct Provision continues, but there are currently no state or NGO supports for LGBT asylum seekers in the system.

 PENSIONS

David Parris, a retired Trinity College Dublin lecturer is currently being denied a survivor’s pension for his husband because they were unable to be married before Mr Parris had turned 60. Other LGBTs are being excluded because of a rule in their pension scheme that they be married before they retired in order to get a survivor pension for their husband or wife. The government is currrently blocking older LGBT people who have lost out on a survivor pension from bringing a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission.

In April, Senator Ivana Bacik introduced a private member’s Pensions Equality Bill to the Seanad, which would have the effect of making an exception for gay and lesbian couples who were unable to get married because of the prevailing marriage equality legislation. The government, however, is now ready to put a provision for pensions equality for LGBT couples in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017. However, it contains a condition that a complaint for discrimination must have been, in the past, laid before a circuit court, which will effectively invalidate the claims of the majority of the couples the provision seeks to address.

THE BURNING ISSUES

In June 2016, GCN’s publishers, the National LGBT Federation, released findings from Burning Issues 2, a national survey of over 2,600 LGBT people and ten nation-wide focus groups in seven cities and towns across the Republic of Ireland. The full report is available at nxf.ie

The key findings of the consultation require the Government to:

  • Introduce hate crimes legislation to protect minority groups in Ireland as the prevention of bullying and violence is the key concern of the LGBT community.
  • End the lifetime blood donation ban on gay and bisexual men and ensure that all health services are LGBT inclusive and in particular mental health services.
  • Integrate LGBT inclusion within the ministerial brief of the Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht to ensure the needs of LGBT rural people are central to rural policy. More than 85% of LGBT people in rural areas do not have enough community supports or services or opportunities to socialise.
  • Campaign for marriage equality in Northern Ireland.
  • Introduce mandatory LGBT equality and awareness training for all public service providers in education, health, social care, elderly care and parental support services.
  • Amend the Gender Recognition Act so it covers transgender young people and provides for the legal recognition of non-binary and intersex people.

© 2017 GCN (Gay Community News Ireland). All rights reserved.

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