Representatives from Northern Ireland’s six biggest political parties have committed to outlawing conversion therapy and improving access to trans healthcare.
Political figures convened virtually on Thursday evening (1 July) for the PinkNews Virtual Summer Reception in Belfast, which was hosted in partnership with Citi and The Rainbow Project.
Leaders from across the political spectrum were questioned on their commitment to LGBT+ rights at the event by John O’Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project.
Kicking off the discussion, O’Doherty asked political leaders how much longer trans people in Northern Ireland will have to wait to access healthcare at home, referencing ongoing issues with the Brackenburn Clinic in Belfast.
Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance Party, said the trans community needs a service “that actually meets their needs, and that currently isn’t the case”.
Doug Beattie, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), drew attention to the high rates of depression and suicidal ideation experienced by trans people – but he pointed out that much of these issues are caused by lack of access to vital healthcare.
He also acknowledged that an ongoing review of trans healthcare in the region is taking too long.
“The trans community need to see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, adding that he will encourage health minister Robin Swann to accelerate work on introducing a “fit for service” healthcare system.
Cllr Malachai O’Hara, deputy leader of the Green Party Northern Ireland, said trans youth are spending so long on waiting lists that they often become adults in the interim, meaning they then have to join a new waiting list.
He said the provision of trans healthcare in Northern Ireland has “gotten worse” in recent years and said the current service is “not fit for purpose”. O’Hara went on to criticise the parties in Northern Ireland’s Executive, saying they have given “years of platitudes” on trans healthcare but there has been “very little action”.
O’Hara went on to note that there are trans and non-binary people who are no longer alive because of a “failure to act” on healthcare.
Paula Bradley, deputy leader of the DUP, said the issue of trans healthcare comes up “time and time again”, but admitted that the problem has only “steadily gotten worse”.