An event being held in Belfast today aims to increase awareness of the existence of transgender and transsexual people in Ireland.

The Transgender Symmetry conference is the first time such a gathering has been seen on either side of the Irish border.

Richard O’Brien, presenter of TV show The Crystal Maze and star and writer of musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is attending the event.

The conference was organised by the Belfast Butterfly Club, a support network for transgendered people and their families.

The group, founded in 1991, holds meetings in towns across the province and runs a telephone helpline.

In September 2004 they received a lottery grant of £31,370 to run a three year project for transgendered people.

“Here is an opportunity to challenge ignorance and fear and create awareness, understanding and acceptance of diversity,” Linda Marshall, president of the club, told the BBC.

An invited audience of community representatives, police, trades unionists and others will hear seminars on trans issues in the workplace and how young transgender people and families can be given greater support.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commissioner said the conference was an indication of progress in society.

“For those in gender transition from male to female or female to male, or for those who are permanently stuck between genders in this society, that dignity and respect sometimes seems like a distant dream,” Monica McWilliams told the BBC.

“This conference is about starting to change that, changing attitudes and opening up a new vision where equality, dignity and respect are the norm.”