Lord Mayor of Belfast John Finucane has criticised a lack of opportunity for people to identify themselves as neither male nor female as he spoke at a transgender rally in the city.
The Sinn Fein member was one of several people giving speeches on Saturday afternoon following a march through the city centre – a march which organisers said was a historic first for Northern Ireland.
Other well-known attendees included Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll, and the gay activist who took Ashers bakery to court, Gareth Lee.
The News Letter did not see any other news reporters in attendance.
Organizers Trans Pride NI defines “trans people” as something which “includes, and is not limited to: Transgender, Transsexual, Gender-queer, Gender-fluid, Non-binary, Gender-variant, Crossdresser, Genderless, Agender, Nongender, Third gender, Two-spirit, Bi-gender, Trans man, Trans woman,Trans masculine, Trans feminine and Neutrois”.
They do “not discriminate against people on the basis of their personal choices to have or not have gender affirming medical treatment” or “whether they live in one gender role all the time or not”.
Taking the microphone, organiser Michael Steven hailed the “spectrum of genders” and “spectrum of sexualities” in attendance, saying: “We’re really proud to have the first trans pride march in Northern Ireland. We’re going to be part of history today.”
For over an hour the roughly 100 to 120 attendees heard from drag acts, choral singers, activists, and a surgeon.
They were ushered on stage by a compere - introduced simply as Victoria - who told attendees: “I came out as a gay man about 25 years ago. I came out as a woman about 12 years ago.
“And in about six years time I’m coming out as a camel!”
Attendees ranged widely in age; many were teenagers, with others being into late adulthood.
Chants included “separate church and state” and “trans rights, abortion rights, same struggle, same fight”.
When the Lord Mayor (who has been in post for about a week) took to the stage, he told the crowd: “The colour and joy of our expression today, your expression today, can only benefit the public perception of all transgender people regardless of age, background, or disability...
“It rightfully celebrates the full range of gender diversity and the achievements of all trans people. But that long, painful struggle for recognition, for respect, for inclusion and fundamentally for your rights is still yet to be recognised and continues.”
He said “The trans community faces real practical and institutional barriers” when it comes to “their right to express their gender diversity”.
“For example, the lack of marriage equality in the north.
“The lack of non-binary identification.
“The inadequacies of the current gender application process and the UK Gender Recognition Act.
“The considerable waiting times to access hormone treatment or the Gender Identity Clinic.”
The Gender Recognition Act of 2004 allows people to change from being legally male or female without surgery, but it does require a commitment to live in their new chosen identity for life, and a vetting process before a certificate can be granted.
Many transgender campaigners want to replace this with a “self-ID” system, where no such vetting is required. The government in England and Wales is currently considering this.
The Lord Mayor added: “Belfast City Council is committed to equality and human rights, and will be under my watch for every single person in this city... the council is dedicated to doing all it can to support recognition for the transgender community in Belfast.”
Feminists who have voiced concern that transgender activists’ demands may harm women’s rights came in for sharp criticism; one attendee bore the words “F**K TERFS” on their coat (the term often used against such feminists), while a speaker from the Republic drew applause for condemning such “divisive so-called feminists”.
There was a PSNI presence at the rally, but in the event there was no trouble from either outside the rally or within it (with a policewoman at one point even hugging a number of the attendees).
The Trans Pride programme of events included further talks on Saturday, and one with the PSNI on Friday night, mainly taking place in Rosemary Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in the city centre.
Trans Pride NI was awarded £4,120 through Belfast City Council’s 2019/2020 Small Grants Scheme for the events.