The Transgender ‘debate’ in Northern Ireland

Featured Image: Belfast Pride Parade passing in front of Belfast City Hall. A small group of protesters can be seen at front of the City Hall gates. Connor Fleming

By Aidan Lomas – Editor-in-Chief

Of the many heated debates taking place in western societies these days, Gender has been perhaps the most central of them all. Whether it’s conservatives invalidating trans-women with “men are not women”, or whether it’s progressives guising as liberals labelling anti-trans individuals as “outdated”, “gammons”, or “nazis”, the debate over the nature of gender dysphoria and trans-rights has become heavily entrenched and, maybe worse of all, heavily combative. When you combine this intensity with the particularly conservative nature of Northern Ireland’s zeitgeist, it is no surprise to learn that many in Northern Ireland fear the country’s approach to liberal democratic standards may slip further and further behind.

Take, for example, the simple question of Pro-Life or Pro-Choice. The essence of this question is a personal and moral one. Are you, as an individual in your own right, in favour of having an abortion should the “preferred” circumstances arise? Or, do you feel that, regardless of when, why, or how, the child that has been conceived should be respected equivocally to the mother, father, and neighbour? It is, I would argue, the most Hobbesian or Lockean liberal question of them all; it is about YOU, not the stranger you crossed eyes with on the Bus or Train. Yet, despite this foundation, the question has now become one of ‘authority vs anarchy’ in the mind of those who possess either the political cunning or lack of IQ to misrepresent it. This same understanding can be expanded to include the question of transgender rights and healthcare.

The question of “are you Pro-Trans or Anti-Trans?” is a personal one; the experiences in life and the beliefs those experiences have created are personal to you, and so your position on the matter is your position on the matter. However, it has now become, like abortion laws, a question of the state’s power. No longer do we ask ourselves “do I support the right of a women to an abortion?” or “do I support the right someone to transition?”. Instead, we ask ourselves “Should the Government and NHS/HSCNI provide or prohibit abortion clinics?” and “Should the government legislate for or against trans rights?”. This is where the nature of the debate turns its coldest. Once the government decides that it is empowered to legislate or act upon a decision, regardless of any actual public vote or mandate, the rare sensation of a truly liberal liberal society is diminished; it’s a cultural shift that poses a risk to us all.

There was a small group of religious protesters in a fenced off area at Belfast City Hall during the festival parade. For the record, the gentleman with the placards appears to be wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. Rossographer

Whilst I am not, myself, a transgender person, I am nevertheless aware of the harsh environments my friends and acquaintances face every day. I don’t pretend to be able to claim I know for myself their realities, nor do I believe that everyone is required to recognise their transitions. But that doesn’t mean that the appropriate response to someone being trans is abuse. Take for example, the story of Anna Montgomery. On Monday 19th of October 2020, Anna was punched in the face. Why? Because she’s trans. The 20 year old was assaulted in the Church Lane area of Belfast.

Anna had been out for a meal with her boyfriend. Thinking she was safe in that establishment, Anna tragically soon found herself being repeatedly punched in the face. Worse still, Anna’s story bares no uniqueness. I don’t want to discredit or invalidate the trauma Anna received, but we all have to recognise these events, these moments…they keep on happening. This report came at a time when the PSNI were reporting a steady increase in the number of anti-trans hate crimes in Northern Ireland. Between 2013 and 2017, there were 290 hate crimes on average per year. Between 2019 and 2020, when Anna was assaulted, there were 69 reported. However, despite the data’s story telling, the hidden understanding is that most crimes go unreported. Why? Well, as Anna herself said at the time, victims often feel embarrassed and humiliated.

It’s no surprise that these crimes occur. It would seem that, at the very least since the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, hate crimes of varying types have persistently increased; this isn’t a Northern Ireland-centric understanding either as hate crimes of varying types have increased across Europe, North America, and pretty much everywhere else around the world. Perhaps – and maybe I’m too under qualified to know for sure – when a government consistently reduces the provisions needed to ensure the people at the bottom of society’s hierarchy, as well as those who need support for reasons out of their own control, stay there, that is when the inclination towards domestic tribalism really gets going. But then again, who am I to know for sure?

In all, it seems there’s still a long way to go before the Trans-community, as well as the broader LGBT+ community, are seen as equals. I don’t personally believe that hate crimes towards trans people is a widespread issue; in fact, the majority of people I have met on and off campus aren’t particularly bothered by who or what a person identifies as. But, we should never allow this understanding to understate the importance of us all discouraging hate crimes. Violence, as our International Affairs Editor, Ellie Fletcher found, is rarely the means to the individual’s ends.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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