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Image / Editorial

Why everyone is talking about this evening’s Prime Time


by Erin Lindsay
22nd Jan 2019
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Tonight, Prime Time will air a special episode on RTÉ on transgender people in Ireland. You may have noticed that many people are talking about the show, and complaining about the appearance of TV writer Graham Linehan as a contributor. But what will the show be discussing? Why is Linehan’s appearance on Prime Time so controversial? And what do the experts in the matter say?

What’s being discussed on Prime Time?

RTÉ’s Prime Time tonight will be covering transgender issues in Ireland. The title of the programme is ‘Generation Gender’ and, according to a statement being circulated to media outlets by RTÉ, will examine “the exponential growth in the number of young people seeking to change gender, and the implications of the proposed new law allowing them to do so without their parents’ consent”. RTÉ has also said that the show will look at “how society should treat ‘female-only’ spaces in light of the growth in the number of transgender people.”

The Gender Recognition Act, which was passed by the Oireachtas in 2015, allows for individuals to apply for certificates to be legally recognised by the State under the gender they identify. A Gender Recognition Review took place last year, which presented the government with recommendations to amend the current legislation to allow transgender individuals under the age of 18 to achieve gender recognition. It is likely that the Act and the Review will also be discussed.

Who will be interviewed?

RTÉ has said that there will be “ten contributors representing a broad range of views” interviewed on the programme. Most of these contributors have not been confirmed, but one that has is TV writer Graham Linehan. The appointment of Linehan as a contributor has caused controversy around the episode.

Why are people angry?

Linehan has a history of engaging in public debate with trans activists, especially on his Twitter profile. In October 2018, he was given a verbal harassment warning by UK police after a transgender woman accused him of using incorrect pronouns. Linehan was also involved in a campaign by the online parenting network Mumsnet to block funding to Mermaids, a charity that “supports gender-diverse and transgender children and their families”. The campaign eventually led to the Big Lottery Fund ‘reviewing’ their £500,000 grant to the charity. There appears to be, at the time of reporting, little update on the current status of the campaign. People have complained to RTÉ that Linehan is not qualified to speak on the subject of the tonight’s show based on his previous actions.

What has been done so far?

A petition has been set up by online activists calling for RTÉ to remove Linehan from their panel of contributors. On its page, the petition states that “Graham Linehan is not a medical expert and he is not transgender. He has frequently expressed transphobic views in public and has used his social media platform to denigrate transgender people”. It has almost 6,000 signatures at the time of writing.  There has also been a number of complaints made to RTÉ directly about Linehan’s appearance on the show.

What has Graham Linehan said?

Last night, an interview with Graham Linehan was published on the Irish Independent’s website, in which he defended his position on Prime Time and denied that he is a transphobe. He said in the interview: “It’s a very, very complicated and nuanced conversation and people are dying to have it and it’s being prevented by idiots sending in petitions to no-platform people… on Twitter I amplify the voices of 12 or 13 trans people who agree with me, but the word transphobic is now completely meaningless. Essentially, the word transphobic now means you disagree with the ideology and the trans ideology at the moment is just a bunch of ridiculous dogma that if you don’t repeat it like a good boy, then you get in trouble.” Linehan added: “I’ve been looking very closely at this for quite a number of years now and I’ve been speaking and meeting with feminists and trans people and lesbians who are extremely worried about what is happening in trans activism.”

What do the experts say?

IMAGE contacted two organisations that deal with the transgender community in Ireland to comment on the story; the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) and BelongTo, a charity that supports LGBT+ youth in Ireland. Both organisations declined to comment on Linehan’s individual involvement with Prime Time, but both said they hoped the show would treat the matter as sensitively as possible.

Moninne Griffith, CEO of BelongTo, said that it is important for the narrative around transgender people in Ireland “to be factual, to be based on their lived experiences and not to further stigmatise”. Griffith said that she hoped the programme would feature “young [trans] people, parents and lawyers — we don’t really need anyone else weighing in on the debate. If there are others present, it must be questioned why they are being given a voice or a platform.”

Griffith added that she hoped the show would not “stir up fear, worries or myths about the lives and experiences of trans people”, especially surrounding the Gender Recognition Review’s recommendations, which she stressed should not be conflated with “medical transitioning”, as no one under the age of 18 in Ireland can have gender reassignment surgery. Griffith concluded that she hoped that the show will be “respectful and will add to public awareness and education, and more acceptance and support for trans people”.

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