It is unclear if it would be possible for a transgender person to join the Orange Order or its female equivalent, after an ex-Orangeman expressed a wish to enter the fraternity again as a woman.
The News Letter raised the matter with both the mainstream male institution and its all-women sister organisation, following the broadcast of a BBC interview with Adrianne Elson.
Ms Elson had been born a man.
She told the corporation that she was formerly a member of the Orange Order, and had experienced a decisive desire to become a woman whilst at an anti-gay pride demonstration some years ago.
Ms Elson is originally from Merseyside and is now living in Northern Ireland, and attends All Souls’ Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Belfast.
She was quoted by the BBC as saying: “I don’t feel like I belong in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, because of my history and my political beliefs.
“Conversely, I no longer feel part of the evangelical, conservative, Protestant community. The nature of what I’m doing excludes me from that social sphere.”
Asked how she would feel about joining the women’s association, she said: “It’d be nice, but I don’t know if it’d ever be possible ... maybe it’s something for another generation.”
The women’s branch is officially known as the Association of Loyal Orangewomen of Ireland and has close ties to the all-male Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, but is a separate body.
When the idea of Ms Elson joining was put to Joan Beggs, grand mistress of the women’s association, she said: “That’s not something we’ve discussed in our grand lodge, so I wouldn’t make any guess about it ...
“Our central committee meets the third Thursday in November, and our Grand Lodge meets the last Saturday in November, and I certainly wouldn’t be giving any commitment or any talk about it until after that.”
Mrs Beggs indicated that a decision may not be taken on the matter, as they have a lot to discuss.
Orange chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson was asked what would happen if a man who was formerly a woman applied to join the Orange Order itself.
He said: “Every application would be looked at individually.”
However, when Ms Elsom’s case was put to a senior member of the Orange Order in Belfast, they said: “I can’t see how it would present a problem, because those situations are part of the 21st century.”
The News Letter agreed not to name the Orangeman.
He said the circumstances under which she had left the Order previously would matter; that is, whether Ms Elson left voluntarily, or was asked to leave.
He said that the main criteria for the Orange fraternity is commitment to the reformed Christian faith.
He had never come across such a case before, and while stressing that he could not speak for the women’s association, he said that as long as the basic criteria was met, “there is nothing, in my humble opinion, as I would read it, stopping them applying for the female section of the institution”.
He added: “At the end of the day, if people support the cause to which I believe, I don’t have a problem – full stop – [regarding] what their sexuality is.”
A report into the Orange fraternity in 2013 by auditors RSM McClure Watters estimated that there are around 2,500 members of the women’s association.
This is compared with slightly under 35,000 members of the Orange and Independent Orange Orders, while the Royal Black had around 18,600 and the Apprentice Boys 7,400.