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Dublin: 6 °C Wednesday 26 November, 2014

Column: It’s unrealistic to expect oppression to disappear overnight, but we now have hope

Important debates about gay rights have taken place in Ireland and the world in the past few months, leading young people to feel more valued, more included and more heard, writes David Carroll.

David Carroll

AS READERS OF TheJournal.ie will have observed, LGBT people, and our rights have featured heavily in the news recently.

Worldwide we’ve seen the introduction of severe anti-gay laws in several countries and the controversy in relation to the staging of the winter Olympics in Russia. Closer to home, both the ‘Panti-gate’ controversy and the emerging discourse about the forthcoming Marriage Equality referendum has ensured that LGBT issues are very much to the fore at the moment.

At BeLonG To, we welcome these important debates, as long as they are healthy and respectful.

But – and it’s a big but – we have to remember in these dialogues that all too often it is LGBT young people who still find themselves the most vulnerable and isolated in our communities. The prejudice and intolerance LGBT young people can face was highlighted powerfully by those who contributed to a recent article on this website asking LGBT teenagers to share their experiences of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Ireland today.

And while it’s important to stress those overall things are getting so much better for LGBT young people in Ireland, the testimonials shared in this piece reflect the findings of Irish research which shows how all too often these experiences still occur in communities all around the country.

Stand Up! awareness week

In this context, the aim of our Stand Up! awareness week which begins in hundreds of schools and youth services around the country today, has never been more pertinent.

Now in its fifth year, and firmly embedded in the school calendar, the STAND UP! awareness week is a call to arms to all young people to show their support to their LGBT friends.

Over the five years, the campaign has grown and has garnered endorsements from most educational stakeholders, as well as politicians and celebrities such as Colin Farrell, who recognise the importance of positively affirming LGBT young people. In addition to this, we’re delighted to have the support of The Department of Education and Skills, who now co-sponsor and financially support the campaign. The Department’s commitment to the eradication of Homophobic and Transphobic bullying is explicit, and BeLonG To were a key stakeholder in developing the first ever action plan on bullying, of which participation in Stand Up! is a key action. In many ways, these endorsements are a measure of just how much things are changing, and for the better. With the Department’s support, we’ve been able to invite every secondary school around the country to participate, something perhaps unimaginable for an LGBT youth organisation in Ireland five or ten years ago.

On the ground the campaign continues to grow too, with hundreds of schools and youth services utilising the main tool of the awareness week, a detailed education pack of suggested activities and events sent out by BeLonG To in the weeks preceding the campaign. The pack itself is brim full of suggested activities and policy supports that schools can undertake in order to make their schools a welcoming and safe space for LGBT students.

Inspiring examples of future leaders

Yes, the problems of isolation and homophobic bullying continue to persist. And while it would be unrealistic to expect the residue from years of oppression and invisibility to disappear overnight, it’s important to emphasise that it’s simply not good enough for us to ask thousands of young people across Ireland to wait for things ‘to get better’ either.

There are so many inspiring examples of future leaders emerging from the many young people who originally came to BeLonG To for support and to make friends, but who stayed on to help us create a tidal wave of positive change, taking a stand for LGBT young people across the country. These young people are testament to the fact that things can become better right now.

Stand Up is largely directed at schools and youth services, but its reach and scope extend beyond this. At BeLonG To, we strongly believe that by drawing on the support of people like you – our friends and allies, we can create significant and lasting change. Working towards the eradication of homophobia and transphobia is the responsibility of everyone, because the lasting result will be a fairer, safer and more equitable society for all.

Please Stand Up! whenever and wherever you can. Today we launch our new short film to mark this year’s awareness week, Stand Up For Your Friends on YouTube. Pass it on to your friends, colleagues and families. It can feel like a fairly basic thing to do, but for every single person who lends their support to this initiative, there is a young LGBT young person out there who may feel more valued, more included, more heard.

More than ever, it’s time to Stand Up! www.belongto.org

David Carroll, Belong To Executive Director.

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