BeLonG To Youth Services is the national organisation supporting young LGBTQ+ people in Ireland and provides phone and email support to young people, as well as youth groups nationwide.
While in many ways we might feel we have made progress in LGBTQ+ rights in Ireland, there is still a long way to go. Take, for instance, the results of the most recent School Climate Report by BeLonG To, which surveyed 1,000 young people about their experience at school.
“76% of them said that they didn’t feel safe in school and they shared stories with us about how that impacts on their lives,” explains CEO Moninne Griffith.
“Sometimes it’s casual homophobic remarks, sometimes it’s bullying online, sometimes it’s physical violence in school and right up to even sexual assault.”
“We work with people aged 14 to 23, but we’re beginning to really understand that we need to work with a younger cohort,” explains Moninne.
Research has shown that 12 is the most common age for young people to realize that they might be LGBTQ+. BeLonG To also aims to support and educate parents and teachers so that they can support young people.
“We get calls from parents quite regularly – especially if their child is trans – saying: ‘My seven or eight-year-old is trans, how can I support them?’” states Moninne.
Importance of visibility
Visibility has helped adolescents realise that they might be LGBTQ+. Moninne identifies as a lesbian.
“I always knew from a young age there was something different about me, but I never had the language or the role models to understand what it was. It took me a long time and a lot of stressing and worrying about being different,” she shares.
“If I had known that there were other people out there like me and it was okay to be like me; that I was normal and there wasn’t anything wrong with me, it would have reduced a lot of the stress and the anxiety that I experienced as a young person.”
A lot of young LGBTQ+ people have been coming to BeLonG To; saying they feel unsafe due to homophobic attacks.
“The majority of Irish people would be horrified to hear that, and they would be horrified that anybody is being attacked or harassed verbally or physically or in any other way because they’re LGBTQ+,” says Moninne.
Moninne advises that if you experience this, seek support and if it’s a criminal matter, contact the gardaí. If the guards are unhelpful, reach out to BeLonG To.
“We’ll put you in contact with the head office and get you a guard who will be able to help you and will help you make complaints and support you through that process,” Moninne explains.
Some people will need medical support and sometimes they’ll need psychological support or counselling. BeLonG To are there to help.
All Different, All Together
BeLong To has four strategic goals and each of those come with activities. These include “delivering LGBTQ+ youth work, campaigning for change, building safe spaces and services, and being a learning and developing organisation,” states Moninne.
One example of their work is the LGBTQ+ quality mark with post-primary schools.
“This is an accreditation process for schools,” explains Moninne. “They look at policy, at curriculum and at the building. We provide them with lots of training and support. At the end of the year, they get an award and accreditation that involves everybody in the school.”
There is also the Stand-Up Awareness Week, which has been running for 13 years. Every year has a different focus and this year it’s running from 6-10 November.
This gives youth groups and post-primary schools a chance to stand against homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying. For instance, they might run classes that week that have an LGBTQ+ theme, such as LGBTQ+ history, artists and, in geography, countries that have marriage equality.
“We provide them with resources and tools and lots of knowledge and training on how to run the week. And then they share lots of photographs of the various different things that they do,” Moninne explains.
Over the last year, BeLonG To have made submissions and lobbied in relation to online safety and social media regulation, the hate crime legislation, the new updated anti-bullying policy and strategy that the Government published last December called Cinéaltas, relationships and sexuality education and the banning of conversion practices.
BeLonG To collate information for submissions from focus groups and surveys, such as the School Climate survey. For more information and support visit www.belongto.org