I’ll fight for people who, like me, feel politics has failed them, says first transgender candidate Ellen Murray
Green Party hopeful Ellen pledges to stand up for rights of LGBTQ people if she wins Assembly seat
Northern Ireland's first transgender candidate to stand for Assembly election has revealed how her own astonishing journey to become a woman influenced her decision to fight for a seat at Stormont.
Ellen Murray (22) grew up a young boy in Belfast and two years ago completed the transition to become the woman she says she knew from a young age she was destined to become.
In the past few years she has become a renowned activist for the transgender community in Northern Ireland which she now hopes to champion as an elected politician.
Ellen only announced yesterday her plans to stand as a Green Party candidate, contesting a West Belfast seat held by Sinn Fein in the upcoming election.
Regarded as a stronghold for Sinn Fein it will be no easy battle, but after everything she has come through Ellen is undoubtedly a fighter who is up for the challenge and hopes she can make history in the constituency and in Northern Ireland.
As well as the transgender community she will be campaigning on a ticket to represent "those who feel marginalised within west Belfast, including young people, people on low incomes, women and the LGBTQ community".
She also plans to support the abortion law reform as well as "provide LGBTQ people with equal rights and respect under the law".
Having also battled mental health problems and recently discovering she has autism, her clear agenda also includes working for a better health service.
She says: "I will work to ensure that the health service is given the support it needs, especially in mental health care. I will also press to develop a kinder and more compassionate welfare state to ensure a comfortable and dignified life for everyone.
"I aim to address the transport poverty experienced by many within the constituency, and enable people to travel safely and cheaply throughout Belfast via public transport, walking and cycling.
"I am delighted and excited to put my name forward as a Green Party candidate in the upcoming Assembly election.
"Having spent a number of years working with marginalised young people, I believe the time is right for change in Northern Ireland, to bring about equality for all.
"There is clear under-representation of many groups within the Assembly, including women, young people and the LGBTQ community. I will give a voice to those who need it most.
"I am standing for election because I believe that our political system, which impinges on every aspect of our lives, should be accessible to everyone.
"As a young, queer, trans woman, I hope that standing for election as an MLA will offer choice and hope for those who need it most."
Ellen established and is current chair of Gender I Am NI and has been campaigning since April 2013 for better access for transgender healthcare provisions in Northern Ireland.
She works full-time as director of SAIL NI, which offers support for families of transgender and gender-variant people.
She is also a board member of Cara-Friend, established in 1974 as a voluntary counselling, befriending, information, health and social space organisation for the LGBT community, and is a consultant on trans youth issues to several public and statutory sector bodies.
Ellen, who came out to her family and friends in 2013, said she knew she was a female from the age of 10. "I knew from the start of puberty but I didn't have the language or know-how to express what I was feeling until I was about 16," she adds.
"It seems fairly obvious looking back, but at the time there is a lot of stumbling around in the dark and it is a long, slow process.
"You are not furnished in school with the knowledge of how to figure out you are trans so you learn from other things like TV and reading about it.
"When you come out it is hard and I was lucky because my family and friends were fantastic about it and very supportive and I had very few problems.
"It is a culture shock and hard to get your head around and again nobody teaches that sort of thing in school.
"You know that people are processing you differently and you have to also think of your safety and getting yourself home safe when you are out."
Ellen came through the transition to become a woman two years ago and has been open about what it entailed in an online blog.
It was when she turned for help to the health authorities that she got involved in campaigning.
She was told not to expect any treatment in the foreseeable future and decided to lobby MPs for support, succeeding in getting the matter raised at the Assembly.
Her efforts were rewarded with a letter from the then Health Minister Edwin Poots, pledging to look into the matter. Just a few months later she got an appointment. She says it took a couple of years for it "to come together" and described it as a difficult time and "not something you rush into."
Before telling her family and friends, she came through severe depression in her mid-teens and then earlier last year discovered she has autism. With as many as one in 100 people thought to be trans-variant she feels strongly that more needs to be done to support children.
She says she knows of two schools in Northern Ireland alone that between them have 10 children who are transgender.
Ellen was brought up in Andersonstown and Finaghy and went to a Catholic grammar school where she studied A-levels before starting a course in engineering at university that she did not complete.
She says: "Historically, schools have been poor to support or refused to accommodate transgender children.
"Nowadays a lot of schools are reaching out to our organisations and specialist groups for support which is great but we still have a long way to go.
"There has been an explosion recently in the number of children and young people presenting as trans-variant, although we don't have true statistics which is something else that we need to address."
Ellen joined the Green Party a year-and-a-half ago after attending an event organised by NI21 about women in politics.
She then became active in both the Young Greens and the Queer Greens before deciding she wanted to stand for public office. Her 23rd birthday is on May 6 when the election results are due to be announced.
Aware that she is contesting a seat where Sinn Fein has a strong mandate, she is still hopeful for a good outcome.
Ellen says: "It would be quite some day if it happened as it's my birthday but I'm not really sure how it will go. Hopefully it will go well.
"The response since yesterday has been about 99.5% positive which is fantastic.
"Almost two decades after the Good Friday Agreement, west Belfast is still one of the most deprived and disadvantaged areas in western Europe, which is in part due to the wasteful zero-sum politics at Stormont by the Executive parties.
"The Fresh Start Agreement has exacerbated this by cutting welfare and benefits while gifting tax cuts to corporations, something which, as a social justice campaigner, I strongly oppose.
"I am proud to stand for the Green Party which has such a strong record on social issues. Having more Greens in Stormont can only help to improve the quality of life for everyone in Northern Ireland."
Speaking after Ellen announced she was standing, Green Party leader Steven Agnew MLA said: "I am delighted that Ellen is standing as the Green Party's West Belfast candidate. She is fantastic campaigner for transgender rights.
"I am proud to be part of a party that is open and welcoming to all, culminating in Ellen's selection by the grassroots membership in west Belfast.
"She would make an excellent representative for the people in west Belfast."
Deputy leader Clare Bailey added: "I would like to congratulate Ellen on her nomination.
"I worked closely with her as we set up the Queer Greens caucus and know her to be a tireless advocate for the LGBTQ community.
"I am certain the majority in west Belfast will also support Ellen coming forward as a candidate."