Brynn Craffey

LGBT in the ROI....

Filed By Brynn Craffey | October 20, 2007 4:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: European Union, Ireland, LGBT rights

First off, let me thank Bil and the Bilerico Project again for welcoming me onboard! It’s both a pleasure and an honor to be a part of such a distinguished blog.

And then let me introduce myself. As I’m a rather opinionated guy, some of you may know me already from Shakesville, where I used to contribute, or from comment threads here and there across the web.

For those of you who don’t know me, though, I live in Dublin, Ireland, where I moved to in July, 2004, from NYC—my reasons being both to flee a particularly difficult break-up and to escape what I increasingly perceived to be an intolerably immoral US-led war against Iraq.

For me, the war is personal. Along with hundreds of thousands of other individuals across the globe, I demonstrated during its lead-up to try and stop an invasion, taking to the streets in NYC, DC, and San Diego. I was devastated when Bush rebuffed this outpouring of grassroots opposition and embarked on his war of choice anyway against a country that had never threatened the US. The war has to date killed an estimated one million Iraqis (at last count), displaced 4 million or more others, and destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure.

The population of the city and county of Dublin is less than 1.2 million. In fact, according to the 2006 census, the entire population of the Republic of Ireland (ROI) is only 4,239,848. That means George Bush’s needless war has killed or displaced more people than reside in Ireland. It’s staggering to contemplate. (Census data here.)

I reached a point in the US where, frustrated by the seeming ineffectiveness of mass demonstrations, I contemplated upping the ante and engaging in a non-violent symbolic action that would likely get me arrested—say, chaining myself to federal property, or maybe taking a hammer to a US warplane. As a transman, however, I have an inordinate fear of prison. While I personally don’t know of any truly bad incidents of police brutality against anti-war demonstrators, trans or otherwise, anything can happen when you’re under custody or in jail. That’s the point of incarceration: you are rendered utterly powerless.

I decided to come to Dublin instead of risking it.

I came here with what I could carry on a Ryan Air flight (very little), almost no cash, several credit cards, and most valuable of all, Irish citizenship from my grandparents. Both my father’s parents emigrated as young adults from the poverty-stricken west of Ireland to Boston around the turn of the last century, which meant I had the right to petition the Irish state to be added to the “book of foreign births” and eventually get an Irish passport.

It’s weird. I’d never been to Ireland before I moved here, moreover, I didn’t grow up in an Irish-American enclave. In fact, I’m only half Irish—my mom’s folks were ethnically German. I barely even know any of my dad’s relatives as they all lived on the East Coast and I grew up in California. And yet, Ireland held a mythic fascination for me as long as I can remember.

Luckily, fortune smiled on me when it came to the timing of my move. I arrived during the “Celtic Tiger,” an economic boom in which the real estate industry, banking, light manufacturing, film, and entertainment were all thriving in Ireland. And while that also meant the cost-of-living in Dublin rivals New York City’s (and I’m not exaggerating!) there was a zero unemployment rate when I began looking for a job.

Even better, in the past 10 years or so the ROI has experienced an unbelievable inundation of immigrants from every country imaginable. Ireland now has the largest ex-pat Polish community in the EU. Walk the northside’s Parnell Street, and you will hear more Russian, Chinese, Polish, Spanish and Italian than you’ll hear English. In my apartment complex of seven tiny studios on Dublin’s southside, only one apartment houses an Irish-born person. Lots of immigrants from the Middle East reside in my neighborhood.

Even the tiniest villages in the remotest areas of the countryside are now home to black, brown and Asian faces. The Irish national cuisine of over-boiled vegetables and stringy meat has—thankfully!—been superseded by Thai, Chinese, kebab, Japanese, Italian and Indian. Dublin has become one of the most multi-cultural capitals in Europe, which I absolutely love!

Which brings me to the topic of being a queer-identified FtM in the modern Ireland. One of my scariest concerns about moving here sight unseen—and, if I’m honest, with very little research ahead of time—was how would it be to be trans here? Would I be discriminated against in employment and housing if people found out? Would I be able to find doctors who would prescribe testosterone without a fuss? What about finding friends?

These questions filled me with greater trepidation Ireland being a Catholic country, steeped in a religion I know well, having been raised in it (though I renounced it decades ago). And, as we all know, Catholicism is anything but queer-positive.

The good news is, the Catholic church no longer holds sway over the Irish population as it did even 10 to 15 years ago. The big reason cited for the fall-off in attendance at Mass and the growing cynicism toward Rome is revelations in the 1990’s of rampant sexual and physical abuse of Irish children by the clergy over the preceding decades, along with subsequent cover-ups that extended to the highest levels of the Church.

I feel Irish people would have moved away from the Church anyway, as have the citizens of many EU countries, but the abuse scandals hastened the process. With the pope’s influence waning, homosexuality was formally decriminalized in 1993--historically speaking, just yesterday! The changes have been coming fast and furious ever since.

On the down side, same-sex marriage is not yet legal, gays cannot adopt children, nor do we have civil partnerships like in Northern Ireland. Two Irish lesbians’ pending challenge in the Supreme Court to have their Canadian marriage recognized in Ireland, however, will likely force change on all these issues.

Irish-born transsexuals cannot yet change their birth certificates. A 10-year legal challenge to the state by dentist Lydia Foy, however, was favorably decided just yesterday. I'll post separately in more detail on that.

On the up side, discrimination in employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements, and the provision of goods and services is forbidden on either the basis of sexual orientation or transgender identity. Religious institutions, unfortunately, are exempted—a policy some trade unions and political parties want to change. The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act (1989) includes sexual orientation, although not transgender identity.

In short, while Ireland still has a long way to go before LGBT folks are not second-class citizens, the modern Irish state is moving rapidly in the right direction. As I've found, Ireland is not a bad place to live for a queer-identified FtM. Well, except maybe when it comes to getting a date. Irish folks older than their mid-twenties don’t seem inclined to think outside the box when it comes to gender and dating. But maybe I’ll blog on that at a later time.

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What a cool story, Brynn! How brave and how principled - I was moved. I'm glad to hear about progress in the ROI on transrights. Thanks for sharing your story, and I look forward to more.


Great first post on our pad, Brynn!

I didn't know Ryan Air did trans-atlantic flights.... When I packed to come to France this year I did the same thing, but because I took Ryan Air from Dublin to Grenoble. Gawsh, they're cheap, but they'll get you on hidden costs!

You mention that trans folk can't change their birth certificates in Ireland, but to my knowledge they can in the US. If you don't mind my asking, did you have any problems with an American birth certificate that said you were male over there (if you had it changed in the US)?

And yeah, we are having that debate over the religious institution protections as well.... I'm with Bil on that one, if religious institutions get a loophole on LGBT protections, then queers should get an exception on protections based on religion. Fair is fair.

Brynn, I've been reading in the Ulster and Irish press about the role of Sinn Fein as a standup defender of GLBT rights in the Republic and the occupied North and have a few questions, if you have the time.

Is SF becoming a major force in the Republic? Is SF analogous to the NDP in Canada or Labour in England?

How do its positions on GLBT rights compare to other parties?

Is there an expectation in the Republic that the occupation government in the north will devolve into a united Irish state? Is that talked about?

In the US the National Coalition of Anti Violence Programs keeps a count of murders and beatings; are there groups that do that for Ireland and England?

I'm sure you already know but the antiwar movement is alive, growing (in terms of sentiment) and poised to go nuclear when the inevitable disasters occur. It's very much like the long quiescent period between the Tet Offensive in ’68 and The Cambodia/Kent State/Jackson State upsurge in 1970. Strong bonds have been forged between the AFL-CIO Labor Against the War and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq. That’s huge.

Bill Perdue,
[email protected]


Great first post and welcome! It's interesting...even though I'm actually of Russian decent (my great-grandmother came to the US in 1910 fleeing the Kossacks), because of my very fair skin and red hair everyone thinks I'm Irish. Ireland is one of those "someday" places for me...a place I'd love to see one day.

Your story is really interesting, and tells me a lot I never knew about the Emerald Isle. To be honest, I've always kind of assumed they're still socially pretty homo-transphobic since so many of the Irish people I've met in the US seem to fit that bill. I hope you'll write more on the topic. Personally, I find it fascinating.

Once again,'s great to have you here! :)

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | October 20, 2007 6:40 PM

Thanks for the welcome, folks!

Now to answer some of your questions:

First, Ryan Air. You're right, Alex, they don't fly trans-Atlantic (yet!). I flew from NYC to Paris first, to visit my daughter, then on to Dublin. And boy did I get hit with hidden costs! First cuz my bags were slightly over-weight. Then cuz I missed my flight, the airport being so incredibly far outside Paris!! Live and learn.

As for my birth cert, no problem because I changed it in California then applied for citizenship as a man.

Then regarding Sinn Fein. They are without a doubt the farthest left party in the ROI, Bill, and their platform staunchly supports LGBT rights--including same-sex marriage. If any party introduces a bill to change the law to allow Lydia Foy a new birth certificate, it will likely be SF. Unfortunately, their violent past haunts them from the time of the troubles, scaring and strongly alienating many voters. They lost one seat in the last general election, giving them a total of only 4 seats (in a 166-seat parliament) which is an abysmal showing. I don't know the NDP in Canada, but SF is much more radical than the British Labour Party.

As for a united Ireland, SF is about the only party that still openly talks about it. But many--perhaps even the vast majority--of residents in the ROI support the idea. Will it happen in my lifetime? I have my doubts. A significant segment in Northern Ireland oppose it.

I honestly don't know about keeping count of beatings and murders, but I'd guess that there is some government entity that monitors it. Ireland is big on statistics. The census is taken every 10 years and the data is fascinating.

I know the anti-war movement exists in the US. But honestly, I'm shocked at how invisible it is. Of my friends who were active before the war? Almost all are totally uninvolved now. I just got back from a visit a month ago throughout New England. I was dismayed at the number of American flags I saw everywhere and the relative absence of any visible signs of protest against the war. The feeling I got, and this may be false but it's what I felt, is that for most people consumerism is a much more vital pursuit than ending the war. It made me very sad. And scared,
what with an invasion of Iran being so clearly desired my Bush & Co. Now is the time to stop it, not after the bombs fall.

Rebecca, it's well remarked upon here how much more conservative the Irish American community is than their relatives here. The St Patrick's Day Parade is a case in point. You're familiar I'm sure that NYC still won't allow an LGBT contingent? Whereas the parade here is totally wild--like carnival, with a smattering of uniformed marching bands and pipes thrown in. The idea that an LGBT contingent wouldn't be allowed to march here is unimaginable. As far as I know, there is no LGBT contingent per se, but that's just because the queers are mixed in with the samba bands and puppet-headed stilt walkers!

That's not to say there aren't homophobic, xenophobic and racist Irish citizens! Of course there are. And anti-immigrant sentiment simmers to flare under prompting from reactionary forces. Moreover, I don't know what turn the general sentiment would take if the economy were to seriously falter.

But the important thing is that the government and societal institutions stand firmly in support of equality, and LGBT is a protected category. Likewise, the EU is a very progressive force, which tends to work for change in its member states. Those factors make such a huge difference.

Welcome to the family, Brynn. I look forward to learning more from you!