Last Tuesday (22nd Jan) RTÉ aired a Prime Time special which examined the experiences of Transgender individuals in Ireland. The programme aimed to explore the ‘exponential growth in the number of young people seeking to change gender, and the implications of the proposed new law allowing them to do so without parental consent.’
Under the Gender Recognition Act (2015) individuals under the age of 18 who wish to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate (to amend or change the gender they were originally assigned at birth) must do so through the courts, with consent given by a parent or guardian. Despite claims from the documentary, there are currently no proposed changes to amend the law to remove the element of parental consent from this process. In terms of medical intervention, many minors are referred to the Child Adolescent & Mental Health Service from which they can access further relevant supports.
The show featured controversial individuals to the transgender community including Graham Linehan and other speakers who aired their criticisms and concerns regarding transgender people occupying the spaces of cis people (for instance women’s changing rooms), questioning whether children really know what they want before they arrive into adulthood, in particular in regards to medical intervention and the use of ‘blockers’, which essentially postpone the onset of puberty to assist in hormone replacement therapy further down the line.
The show also featured voices from the transgender community including Sara Phillips, Chair of the Transgender Equality Network, Sam Blackenese and the parents of Will, an 11-year-old trans boy.
Will’s parents explained the hardship of trying to accommodate their son’s needs, in particular, they outlined their difficulty in accessing a child psychologist with expertise in the area to support their son.
Social Media Backlash
The special was met with large social media backlash from the Transgender community. An email campaign was led by the ‘This Is Me’ transgender healthcare campaign, fronted by Noah Halpin, to contact RTÉ and the producers of Prime Time to urge the show to remove Graham Linehan from the show. An online petition also gained traction online, with over 6,000 signatures at time of writing.
Most well-known for his work on The Black Books and the IT Crowd, Linehan has hit the headlines in recent months for his comments on the transgender community. Last year, Lenihan received a warning from UK police after a complaint was made regarding comments he targeted toward a transgender activist on social media. Within the prime-time documentary, regarding the treatment of transgender children he commented, “you do not tell kids that they’ve been born into the wrong body just as you don’t tell anorexics that they are fat.”
In the lead up to the airing of the show, RTÉ issued a response defending its plans to feature Linehan in the programme.
The special went on to be aired in full on Tuesday night, a completely documentary-based show led to instances of misinformation being left unchallenged and the experiences of the three trans individuals being somewhat overshadowed by the more controversial figures views featured.
The special was met with a strong online reaction after airing, with many commenting that the topic discussed deserved a more balanced, nuanced exploration. Sara Phillips, Chair of Transgender Equality Network, took to Facebook to share her outrage at the unbalanced nature of the piece, despite providing over 90 minutes worth of interview footage.
‘I was assured by them that my piece would address all the issues raised negatively. However, @RTEprime_time chose to highlight in, many instances, a negative view of trans lives in Ireland.’
Allies of the community also came forward to share their support and solidarity including Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan, who posted alternatives to watching the Prime Time special with the hashtag #TurnOffPrimeTime. In addition to Ailbhe Smith, LGBT activist and Co-Convener of Together for Yes, who came forward to denounce the comments made about transgender women on the show.
Following the aftermath of the programme, many have highlighted the potential for the damage the sentiment expressed in the programme could cause to the transgender community, and indeed those who don’t have a knowledge of these issues. Organisations such as BelongTo and TENI came forward to reassert their commitment to supporting and advocating for the Irish transgender community.
If you have been affected by the contents of the Prime Time special you can access support through, TENI.ie, where you can also find more information on what it means to be transgender.