Northern Ireland

Transgender woman wanting to rejoin the Orange Order

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Media captionAdrianne says she hopes the Orange Order will one day accept transgender women

When Adrianne arrived in Belfast 11 years ago - living as a man - she became part of the Protestant organisation the Orange Order and protested against the city's Gay Pride parade. Now living as a woman, she hopes to rejoin the Orange Order in the women's lodges.

As members of Northern Ireland's LGBT community passed through the city on its annual Gay Pride parade in 2005, Adrianne Elson stood on the sidelines, forming part of a religious protest.

She had moved to Northern Ireland shortly before, in the hope that it would help her overcome the distress she felt over being born male.

A counter-protest began to form from those on parade, and as one young gay man walked past Adrianne the pair made eye contact. In a fleeting moment, Adrianne realised she should accept who she really was.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Adrianne once took part in protests, such as this, against Belfast Pride

"I just thought, 'what am I doing here? Why am I protesting against them? They're just human beings like me'," she explains to the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme.

"I knew at that moment that I had to start living as a woman."

Find out more

Watch Peter Coulter's full film on the Victoria Derbyshire website.

Adrianne says she first learned to suppress her feelings at her traditional-minded primary school in Merseyside.

There, she says, gender stereotypes were much more strongly enforced than they are now.

These experiences made a lasting impression, leading her - in her mid-30s - to Northern Ireland and the Protestant leader Rev Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church.

She had hoped that by immersing herself in the religious organisation, she would be able to take her mind off her gender dysphoria.

"My theory was like the plant analogy. If you don't water it, it will die. So if you don't give the transgenderism a thought then you can't dwell on it and it'll go away.

"I filled my life full of activities to try and distract me from it," she says.

But this did not work, and Adrianne began to formally transition around four years ago.

"I felt like an actress playing a male part. Although I had come to like the person I was playing, it was still acting," she says.


Adrianne has since moved to a new church, and resigned from the Orange Order. But faith and politics still play an important role in her life.

She has found it challenging to be both a transgender unionist and Christian.

"I feel marginalised. I don't feel like I belong in the LGBT community, because of my history and my political beliefs," she says.

"Conversely, I no longer feel part of the evangelical, conservative, Protestant community. The nature of what I'm doing excludes me from that social sphere."

Adrianne remains conservative on a number of issues and says she would have liked to have been given the opportunity to rejoin the Orange Order, in the women's lodges.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Adrianne hopes to challenge peoples preconceptions

"I don't know if it would ever really be possible [for a transgender woman to join]," she says. "Maybe in future I think it would be possible, but maybe that's something for another generation.

"It would be wonderful if they did [allow it]. You have to challenge the status quo, preconceptions and prejudices to move on."

A spokesperson for the Orange Order has said that "any application for membership of the Orange Institution is treated on its own individual merits."

Transphobic abuse

Adrianne has since married her partner, who is also transgender.

The couple have experienced transphobic abuse on the streets of Belfast, though the number of incidents has decreased as awareness of transgender issues has grown.

"They say things like 'you're a pervert... and you want raping'," she explains. "Some of it can be very hurtful and intimidating."

Image caption Adrianne with Mary Ellen Campbell

As part of Adrianne's film for the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire Programme, she met Mary Ellen Campbell. She has become the first openly gay person to hold a senior role in the city, as the new Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast.

Ms Campbell is a member of Sinn Fein and on a completely different side of the political fence to Adrianne.

She was keen to stress that Belfast is a "welcoming city".

"If you're LGBT, Belfast is a great place to come and visit. We're a progressive city and we're open for business," she said.

She also looked to thank Adrianne for leading the way on raising awareness.

"It is people like yourself, who go through those hard battles, that makes the journey easier for others," she said.

The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.

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