Training on trans identities ‘a must’

Transgender Pride flag raised at UCC.

Professionals working with young people must be properly trained about transgender issues which many of them do not understand, researchers have said.

Their work with young transgender people has revealed a lack of awareness or proper recognition of the validity of trans identities.

Fiachra Ó Súilleabháin and Máire Leane, who lecture future social, youth and community workers at University College Cork, heard from participants in their study about frustration at education and health workers’ ignorance of transgender issues.

Mr Ó Súilleabháin said they did not talk so much about feeling unsafe, but more about discomfort at having, for example, to be careful about holding hands with partners in public.

He and Ms Leane, who is UCC dean of graduate studies, have worked over the past year with a small group of people in Cork about their experiences.

While professionals can be very understanding and inclusive, their sample group still felt that many did not know enough about the issues affecting them.

One young person, who identified as non-binary, spoke about a talk on gender that three members of their LGBT youth group gave a few years ago to a group of youth workers in Cork.

“So I was like trying to give my own gender as an example and while I was in the middle of talking, one one of them was like, ‘Yeah but I just think you’re confused,” said 20-year-old Lou, a pseudonym given to one participant.

“Every trans person I’ve heard talking about counselling have said that they’ve had to explain it, they’ve had to explain being trans,” Lou said.

Mr Ó Súilleabháin said gender and sexuality awareness needs to be on pre-service training courses for a lot of disciplines, such as social work, youth and community workers, but also for those already working in these and other fields:

We’ve included it here as part of modules, but it could also be rolled out for doctors, nurses, teachers, occupational, speech and language and other therapists, or any services that young people might encounter.

At the beginning of its equality week, UCC became the country’s first university to raise the transgender pride flag, signalling its support to transgender and non-binary students and staff. UCC director of equality, diversity and inclusion Karl Kitching said a gender identity and expression policy is being finalised.

Mr Ó Súilleabháin and Ms Leane told colleagues this week about the need for people to become trans allies or LGBT allies, as it is up to everyone to create a gender-inclusive society.

“It shouldn’t be up to minority groups to explain or justify their existence, it’s up to the majority to welcome and cherish them,” Mr Ó Súilleabháin said.

Last November’s Stand Up awareness week by LGBT youth service organisation BeLonG To encouraged second-level schools to develop policies that address transgender issues like uniform rules, toilets, and use of the pronouns that young people choose.

BeLonG To members recommended school staff, and counsellors in particular, be given training around trans and LGBT issues.

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