A Government Minister has spoken of her “immense” pride in her transgender son and urged parents to seek supports and advice if their child is experiencing gender dysphoria.
Mary Butler, Minister of State with responsibility for Mental Health, said her son, Jay, now in 5th year in St Declan’s community college, Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford, experienced bullying “comments” from some younger pupils when he began transitioning, which was “very, very difficult”.
He was “doing absolutely fantastic” now, she said. “The school... their supports for children who find they want to travel a different pathway in life, have been exceptional”.
Ms Butler was speaking on the Déise Today programme on WLR radio on Friday about anti-bullying strategies for schools, and said she had not intended to speak about her family’s experiences. “But the bullying piece can be very, very difficult.”
Gender dysphoria and transitioning were real, she said, though these issues could be “very difficult to explain to an older generation”. Nonetheless, she said it was her “proudest day” when she spoke to her own mother about her youngest child.
“I’ll always remember, she turned around and said: ‘Mary, I have 12 grandchildren and I love all of them equally.’ And I have to say when a person of 84 or 85 can have that type of an outlook on life, on young people, I think we can all learn from it.”
Asked where parents in a similar position to hers could get information and advice, she said her family got great support from their local GP.
“Supports for children who are trans are not where they should be. They are actually very, very poor here in Ireland. They are extremely poor.” While children may be referred into the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), mental health supports were not the main issue.
“It’s the psychology supports, the talk therapies, somebody who listens to them, who hears what they have to say.” She said Transgender Equality Network Ireland (Teni) and BelongTo were helpful and important resources too.
She was following the case in Co Westmeath of teacher Enoch Burke, who refused to call a pupil by their preferred pronoun.
“I just think every time I see a report on the television about a teacher, who is entitled to his own beliefs, I always think of the child behind this where a teacher believes he can’t call them by their preferred pronoun, I just think of the damage that is doing to that child.”
Comments on social media by adults could be “extremely hurtful” too but she “put it down to people who don’t really understand it”.
“I didn’t understand it myself... But people have to put the young person who is going through a difficult time front and centre. Always remember there’s a young person there crying out for help.”
“In relation to gender issues and in relation to young people who feel they are not comfortable in the gender they were born, it’s great when schools can give the support. In fairness to most schools they are really, really good. They are learning. It’s a learning curve for everyone. It’s a learning curve for schools, for boards of management.”
To parents she said: “The most important thing if you can at all is to sit down and listen to the child, give them a hug and tell them you’re there and we’ll get through it... I am a firm believer in taking one day at a time and tomorrow we’ll do something else.”
She has three children, she said. “I have Jack, Jane and Jay. They are great. Like every mother and father, we are all so very proud of our children. And I am immensely proud of mine.”