Saturday 20 December 2014

For far too long society has turned a blind eye to violence against transgender people

Published 18/06/2014 | 02:30

There’s a lack of legal protection for the transgender community
There’s a lack of legal protection for the transgender community

Beaten, raped, harassed and verbally abused – a new report into transphobic violence in Ireland details the hate crimes and daily degradations suffered by transgender people.

STAD – the Stop Transphobia and Discrimination report – by Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) will be launched today at the University of Limerick.

It includes first-hand testimony from some in the trans community who have personal experience of abuse.

"Every day called a 'tranny', 'lezzer', 'lesbian', 'it's a man', 10 to 20 times a day every day in Dublin," said one respondent.

A trans woman denied entry to a bar, was told: "She? HA! IT is not allowed back in and I don't have to give a reason."

Another trans woman who used public toilets in Merrion Square during a festival recalled how "the door was repeatedly kicked and the toilet rocked violently by a woman calling out 'gay man', and 'tranny'."

Others spoke of having stones hurled at them on the street or wigs ripped off their heads, being called 'faggot' and 'queer' and being humiliated by being denied entry to female public toilets in shopping centres.

More serious incidents of harassment and physical abuse were also documented, including one trans woman who received anonymous phone calls in which she was threatened with being "hanged from a tree with a live electric cable".

In the most sickening attack, an 18-year-old trans man was beaten, chased and raped by an unknown assailant.

The motive for the attack, which was apparent from the language used throughout the rape, was simply that the victim was trans.

Like the majority of people whose stories feature in this study, he did not report the incident to gardai.

"Happens nearly every day here," said one respondent, asked why she had not reported verbal abuse.

Others cited fear of reprisal, not being out to friends and family, doubting the severity of the incident and not believing anything would be done by gardai as reasons that incidents were not reported.

Having dealt with ignorant, prejudicial abuse for most of their lives, people in the trans community have become inured to verbal and physical attacks as things that they just have to deal with – an unpleasant fact of life.

Those no longer willing to subject themselves to the casual cruelty of strangers stay indoors, prisoners in their own homes.

Much of their suffering stems from the caricatures that have developed of trans people as nothing more than cross-dressers, ignorance of gender being about more than mere anatomy and misplaced feelings of disgust, fear and contempt that are directed at trans people for being 'different'.

But being transgender is not a mental illness and it does not simply mean a penchant for dressing up in the clothes of the opposite sex.

It goes to the core of one's gender identity, what makes you innately you.

It is not something that can be switched off, no matter how much bullying or discrimination one endures.

Some people feel that they were born in the wrong bodies and mocking, humiliating and abusing those who don't conform to gender norms makes their already difficult lives immeasurably worse.

For example, a 2011 survey on transgender discrimination in the US found that 41pc of respondents had attempted suicide – a staggering 26 times the national average.

It also found that trans people were twice as likely to be unemployed and up to five times as likely to live in poverty.

In Ireland, the lack of legislative protection for trans people makes their situation particularly precarious, denying them basic rights and protections that other groups take for granted.

For instance, trans people are not expressly included in any of Ireland's equality laws and are also omitted from our already limited hate-crime legislation.

Unlike other countries, crimes like assault or criminal damage that are motivated by hate are prosecuted as generic offences, as if the motivations for the crime are immaterial.

Hate crimes may not exist on the statute book, but they are a depressing reality in many people's lives and their absence, according to University of Limerick's Dr Jennifer Schweppe, gives society "permission to hate".

Also absent in Ireland, despite a 21-year battle by Dr Lydia Foy and condemnation from the international community, is any method to change one's legal gender – an egregious infringement of their human rights.

At least there is finally light at the end of the tunnel on that score, with yesterday's announcement by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton that the details of the Gender Recognition Bill have at last been finalised and it will be enacted as quickly as possible.

The message from today's TENI report is that trans people are not looking for any special treatment, merely the same legal protections and freedom from discrimination that other citizens enjoy.

Colette Brown

Irish Independent

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