The Irish Government has adopted a once-obscure academic theory and is rolling it out through national strategies which have wide reaching consequences for all sectors of Irish society including prisons, sports, health and education. These strategies have enormous implications for human rights in Ireland.
No women’s advocacy groups were involved in the development of these strategies
Gender identity theory involves the idea that a person’s internal sense of gender is different from, and often more important than, their biological sex. The theory can be recognised by language (such as “cis”, “sex assigned at birth”, “everyone has a gender identity”), by questions such as “what gender do you identify as?”, and by pronouns in email signatures and social media profiles. Although the theory is contested, it is now being taught as fact in the Irish education system. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, the largest teachers’ trade union in Ireland, has an online video learning-resource which teaches that boys can change into girls and girls can change into boys.
The theory is being embedded in Irish society through two Government strategies — the LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy 2018-2020 and the National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy 2019-2021. These strategies involve “whole of government” approaches and their implementation involves government departments, national agencies and LGBTI+ organisations.
The strategies, on casual perusal, seem laudable. They have the noble aim of ameliorating challenges faced by the LGBTI+ community. However, adoption of the strategies has far-reaching consequences that may not have been considered or envisaged at the time they were drawn up.
No women’s advocacy groups were involved in the development of these strategies, and no women’s advocacy groups are on committees that oversee the strategies. Yet these strategies have major implications for women’s rights.
The strategies deal with categories of sexual orientation, gender identity and differences of sexual development, under the same umbrella. These categories are very different and, as such, require different considerations.
Sexual orientation, unlike gender identity, does not involve changing names or pronouns. It does not require medicalisation or surgery. Gender identity has implications for language, including the use of the word “woman”. It also impacts single-sex spaces and sports.
‘The clinic struggled to accept it when Sinéad changed her mind’
This week, Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ was requested to attend a government committee meeting after three shows were aired on RTÉ Radio 1 during which members of the public phoned in to talk to Joe Duffy, presenter of Liveline, to discuss the removal of the word woman from proposed maternity legislation. The topic of gender identity was also discussed. The shows featured a range of perspectives including trans and non-binary speakers. [Disclosure: I did speak on one of these shows. I compared gender identity theory to religion.]
The Government committee requested the meeting after Dublin Pride terminated its media partnership with the state broadcaster. Dublin Pride described the shows as “extremely harmful anti-trans ‘discussions’”. It said that it had worked with RTÉ for three years “to increase positive representation of LGBTQ+ people”, and that the programmes had caused untold hurt.
Dublin Pride is on the LGBTI+ National Inclusion Strategy Committee. One of the core principles of the Strategy is to increase the positive representation of LGBTI+ people. The words of this principle are echoed in Dublin Pride’s statement. Dublin Pride’s statement suggests that a discussion of the word “woman” and about gender identity theory is somehow in conflict with the National Strategy.
The Strategy lists RTÉ and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland as “lead partners” on the development of the action for “positive visibility”. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is the regulator of broadcasting in Ireland. Remember that women’s advocacy groups were not consulted in this strategy. They had no voice.
Beyond the events of this past week, the strategies also have major implications for the healthcare of children. Plans are outlined in them for LGBTI+ training for everyone in the healthcare sector as well as for all staff in education.
Linda*, a mother from Dublin, emailed me in recent days with the story of her autistic daughter Sinéad* who, at the age of 14, self-identified as a boy and changed her name to Jacob. (*Names have been changed to preserve their anonymity.) Linda believes that the treatment Sinéad received at a public Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) clinic in Dublin was ideologically driven, so much so that “the clinic struggled to accept it when Sinéad changed her mind” one year later.
There are many other actions planned as part of these strategies. Priorities listed include more gender-neutral toilets and changing rooms, education of the wider society on issues including the use of pronouns, and review of hate crime legislation.
Other priorities include the inclusion of non-binary within the Gender Recognition Act, LGBTI+ training for the national police service (An Garda Siochána) as well as for the judiciary and legal services, and a plan to review equality legislation to ensure that transgender and gender non-conforming people are included within the equality grounds.
Many people accept the theory of gender identity as fact
Transgender people are already included in the equality grounds in Irish legislation in the same way as every other citizen of Ireland. The Gender Recognition Act 2015 means that adults can legally change their gender by self-identification without medical intervention. Gender is a protected characteristic in Irish legislation where gender refers to “male or female”. Transgender people have their preferred gender recognised under law and under equality legislation.
In 2019, a report about gender recognition law was compiled by the world’s largest law firm, Dentons. The report was developed as a tool for activists and organisations who are working for trans rights. It recommends practices for advocacy including: “tie your campaign to more popular reform”. Ireland is cited as an example of how effective this strategy can be. In Ireland the campaign for gender recognition was tied to the marriage equality referendum. Most members of the Irish public were unaware that the gender recognition act had been passed or that it even existed, as there was little to no public debate about it.
Other techniques recommended in the Dentons document include “the limitation of press coverage and exposure”, the lobbying of individual politicians — particularly youth politicians — and the collaboration of activists from trans rights organisations at national and international level.
Gender identity theory has also been adopted by the National Women’s Council of Ireland which last year was awarded €8,496 for its project “NWC — A Transinclusive Feminist organisation” under a Government LGBTI+ funding scheme.
The first caller to RTÉ’s Liveline show which kicked off the three-day debate was a woman who had been refused entry to the NWCI AGM despite being invited to attend and having tickets. She had wanted to ask the NWCI about the removal of the word “woman” from Irish maternity legislation.
It is already at the stage in Ireland that many people accept the theory of gender identity as fact rather than as a contested belief. Its roll out by the Government may, or may not, have been done with full awareness of the implications of its adoption but either way, it is having a profound effect. Its adoption is curtailing freedom of expression, impacting the rights of women and children, and excluding people who do not subscribe to this theory from the conversation.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe