Aoife Hardesty looks at how UCD is changing to become more welcoming for its trans community.
2015 was a landmark year for LGBT rights in Ireland. The Marriage Equality referendum passed with a resounding “Yes” vote from the people of our country and people marched in celebration and with great excitement for the future.
The Gender Recognition bill also passed through the houses of the Oireachtas in 2015 and was signed into law. The bill enables an individual to be recognised by the government as a different gender from the one on their birth certificate and documents.
Like a passport, the individual fills out a document, supplies supporting documentation, and can then be issued a Gender Recognition Certificate which can be used to request a new birth certificate/passport etc. with the correct gender marker.
The bill didn’t garner the same volume of attention from the non-LGBT community of our country, and may have passed many people by, but it nonetheless changed the lives of transgender people in our country.
Laoise Fitzpatrick, a UCD Physics student, and former committee member of ITSA (Irish Trans Students’ Alliance, an informal support group for Irish trans youth between 18 and 30 years old) describes the importance of having your gender recognised.
“Gender recognition is, at its most basic, the acceptance of someone for who they really are. People define themselves in the way they dress and act and talk about themselves, and gender is just one way we talk about ourselves” she said.
Fitzpatrick believes the UCD community is generally very trans-positive. People seem to be willing and accepting of using people’s preferred name and pronouns (eg. he/him, she/her, they/them) and Fitzpatrick says she has walked around campus in feminine clothing and makeup and endured no harassment.
“TCD were one of the first to have a gender policy in place but UCD are doing better, we want our policy to be a document that can evolve with the times.”
And UCD is becoming even more accepting of trans people now, with a gender recognition policy currently being drafted that will enable students to have their preferred gender on official university documents.
Auditor of the LGBTQ+ society, Philip Weldon, describes the current process in place for officially changing gender in UCD documents as “jumping through hoops”. “It’s overly complicated and unnecessary and also invasive and it’s kind of archaic” he continued. But “it’s going to get better” when the policy is in place.
Weldon was confident that the drafted policy would be a positive one for the UCD trans community “I had a look at a draft of the policy before Christmas it seems to be pretty solid, the group wants to make it a document that can change with the times, it’s not going to be stagnant and out of date in two or three years.”
“TCD were one of the first to have a gender policy in place but UCD are doing better, we want our policy to be a document that can evolve with the times” continued Weldon.
An area lacking in our country’s gender recognition bill is the recognition of non-binary individuals, people who do not identify as male or female. Weldon hopes UCD’s gender policy will allow for non-binary recognition.
“We want everyone to feel welcome in university” said Weldon. With a policy coming in, UCD is becoming a more welcoming place for trans people, however the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus remains an issue.
“Most people, trans or not, would feel uncomfortable using a bathroom which is signposted as being for a different gender.”
When it comes to going to the bathroom, Fitzpatrick says “people just want to use a bathroom where they feel safe and comfortable.” She explains why bathrooms are such a hot topic for trans people: “Trans people spend so much of our lives trying to conform to labels which do not fit us, and so after coming out it can be a huge mental or emotional blow to have to use facilities which do not reflect your gender. Most people, trans or not, would feel uncomfortable using a bathroom which is signposted as being for a different gender, so people should just be left to pee where they feel most comfortable.”
But here again, UCD is trying to make improvements. Weldon received word that “before Christmas, Buildings and Services had done an audit of buildings on campus and this time in comparison to the last time has been overwhelmingly positive. I do believe that they are in the process of identifying which bathrooms can now be changed”.
The current system in UCD is not perfect, but change is coming, change that will make UCD a place where more people feel safe and accepted, and free to be who they are.