My name is Lydia Foy. I was born transgendered in 1947.
I come from a very conservative family and they struggled to understand my situation. The antagonism I experienced was fairly vicious, to put it mildly – there was a huge lack of understanding of transgender issues at the time, compounded by the attitudes that prevailed in the media, the medical profession, the Church, the law… In this type of conservative society, it was difficult for my family – and for me – to gain accurate medical knowledge about my condition.
Eventually, I got treatment – both physical and psychological. Since 1991, I have lived as a woman.
In March 1993, I wrote to the Office of the Registrar General for a birth certificate recognising my female gender. My application was refused. That was the beginning of a 22-year struggle to have my identity recognised by the Irish State. Throughout that time, I had no birth cert and no privacy.
During the 1990s, I approached FLAC [the Free Legal Advice Centres] for help. The people there actually listened to me and recognised the reality of my situation. Everybody else was ridiculing me at the time but, when the people in FLAC listened, that kept me going.
In 1997, after a number of years of writing unsuccessfully to the Registrar General, I began High Court proceedings to compel the Registrar to issue me with a new birth cert. My case was heard in October 2000 by Mr. Justice Liam McKechnie. His judgement was delivered in July 2002: my claim was rejected due to the lack of Irish or UK legislation to facilitate the overturning of the existing jurisprudence.
At the time of his ruling, Mr. Justice McKechnie called on the Government to deal with the position of transgender people as a matter of urgency. He highlighted how the European Court of Human Rights had repeatedly urged the authorities in other countries to review their situation. Ironically, two days after Mr. Justice McKechnie’s decision, the European Court of Human Rights held that the UK was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights because it did not allow for recognition of transgendered persons. However, the European Convention did not have direct effect in Ireland at that time, so the Government was not legally bound to address this issue.
With the help of FLAC, I appealed the High Court ruling to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 (ECHR Act) was finally enacted, bringing the European Convention into Irish domestic law.
In November 2005, citing the ECHR Act, I made a new application to the Registrar General. Once again, I was refused a birth cert, so I began new proceedings in the High Court, seeking a declaration under the ECHR Act that Irish legislation was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the registration and issuing of birth certs.
At this point, Ireland was pretty much last in Europe in terms of addressing the rights of transgendered people. International bodies were becoming alert to what was going on, and FLAC was keeping the European Commissioner for Human Rights well informed of the lack of progress in my case.
My second High Court case was again heard by Justice McKechnie. His judgement – delivered in October 2007 – expressed great frustration at the Government’s failure to take any action following his urgent plea five years earlier. He found the State to be in breach of its obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights [the right to respect for private and family life] because of its failure to recognise my female gender and provide me with a new birth cert. This was the first declaration of incompatibility with the European Convention to be made under the ECHR Act.
The Government appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court, but eventually caved in, withdrawing their appeal in June 2010. Attitudes were changing and they knew they were out of sync with the Courts.
The following year, the Gender Recognition Advisory Group, which had been established by the Government, published recommendations for gender recognition legislation and the Government committed to introducing such legislation. In February 2013, however, I was forced to announce a return to the courts – to take the Government to task for its failure to produce this legislation.
I settled my case against the Government in November 2014, when they committed to publishing the long-awaited Gender Recognition Bill in full, and to having it enacted as soon as possible. The Bill was published one month later.
The Gender Recognition Act finally came into law in July 2015. It allows trans people in Ireland to obtain a new birth certificate in their true gender. I obtained the first Gender Recognition Certificate to be issued in Ireland and finally received my new birth cert in September of this year.
Last month, I was awarded the European Citizen’s Prize by the European Parliament, in recognition of my campaign for the rights of transgendered people in Ireland.
Over the years, my struggle left me penniless, homeless… you name it. All my privacy, all my life was dedicated to it. I was subjected to all sorts of invasive medical tests by the Government, and the process was incredibly traumatic.
With the passing of the Gender Recognition Act, I feel we have made great progress. If our health system and social attitudes mature in line with the law, everything will be better in the future.
Thanks to the work of wonderful organisations like TENI, BeLonG To and FLAC, attitudes have changed significantly. We were very much a subdued and restricted minority, but trans people are part of the rainbow of life in Ireland now, which is great. Hopefully, people don’t have to leave Ireland anymore. If their gender orientation doesn’t match “the norm”, they don’t have to run for their lives.
This is one of a series of personal stories of equality and human rights that we are publishing as part of Make Rights Real. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for updates and news.