Mum of two Aisling Gannon has just been named a 2019 Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender + Ally Role Model in recognition of her work on workplace diversity and inclusion. She told Ray D'Arcy this afternoon that a few short years ago, she didn't know what the "T" in LGBT+ stood for, even though she had used the acronym many times.
Her teacher came in the form of her son Steve. Now aged 11, he was two and a half years old when he began telling her that the gender he had been assigned at birth was not the same as his gender identity. Being two and a half, he didn't put it in those exact words, but he was "consistent, insistent and persistent" about it as she told Ray:
“He says he was always a boy, I just thought I had a girl.”
Steve attended a primary school where the genders were mixed for the first few years. Aisling says the school made no fuss about what kind of uniform he wore, but Steve was very keen to change his name from the one given at birth, and to get people to stop using the word "tomboy". He told his mum:
"A tomboy is a type of girl. I am a type of boy."
Aisling cannot speak highly enough of Steve's teacher, who proved herself more than prepared to learn from a child who challenged her about casting him in the school play:
"He goes, 'You don't know where to put me.' And he's standing in this class in front of her and she says, 'I'll never teach like this again.' Because they used to have a girl líne and a boy líne to come in from the yard or go out to the yard or to go to the loo or whatever, and she goes, 'This poor kid doesn't know what to do.' She could feel it was becoming a bigger issue."
Making contact with TENI, (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) was a game-changer for the entire family. Aisling attended a TENI event with Steve and his older sister. They each went to separate sessions and reported back. Aisling says it was a huge success.
“He came out of his session and said, 'You know, it's just amazing to meet people like me and they're all totally normal like me.' And I came out of mine just saying I'd been crying on the inside for about the entire session because it was just such a warm, compassionate hug to be around other parents who'd had similar experiences.”
Aisling's work as a champion of workplace diversity has been recognised globally, but she says the journey began by listening to her son when he tells her:
"You don't know how I feel, you only know because I tell you."
You can find out more about Aisling Gannon's journey as a mum of a transgender child, the LGBT+ Ally Role Model Award and the idea of "bringing your whole self to work" in the full interview here.