According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Homophobic bullying is “a moral outrage, a grave violation of human rights and a public health crisis…it is also a loss for the entire human family when promising lives are cut short”.
This is something all the speakers at the Tackling Homophobic Bullying seminar were at pains to point out. Bullying and most particularly homophobic bullying has a detrimental impact on young people. Too many lives have been lost due to the feelings of isolation and fear felt by young people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The seminar, which was hosted by Tipperary Regional Youth Service in The Source Arts Centre last Thursday night, featured guest speaker, Colm O Gorman. Mr O Gorman, who is director of Amnesty International Ireland, spoke about how important it is ‘that we have more nights like this. That young people are celebrated and can celebrate who they are.’ He gave the audience an insight into what it is like for LGBT young people in other countries where an expression of who they are can mean the death penalty.
Other speakers on the night included local mother, Melissa Mulcair, who spoke about how her son came out to her at age 13 and how family and friends support means he is a happy teenager. Worryingly she told us about her younger son who doesn’t identify as gay but suffers verbal name calling and abuse every day. Youth worker, Lisa McGrath, spoke about working with young people and getting them to change their language. She said, ‘you have all heard at this stage the term “that’s so gay”, “that top is so gay”, that show on TV, so gay”. When a young person, who is struggling to come to terms with their identity, hears that on a daily basis what they hear is that being gay is crap. This is not a safe environment for young people. Ms McGrath went on to say that when young people were challenged about this language they said ‘we never really thought about how it might affect someone. We just say it because it what’s said’. They did, however, promise that in future they would try and refrain from using the term. Helen Walsh, who also spoke on the night, shared with us what it was like growing up a lesbian in the 80’s. ‘During dark periods, I used to pray to God to perform a miracle on me and make me feel attracted to boys. I had a certain devotion to the Catholic religion instilled in me by my parents and school. However needless to say I was totally naive this same church never had and never would accept my kind. And looking back that ignorance on my part was bliss as it gave me something less to worry about!!
I had always known and believed I was not responsible for my sexual orientation – it simply was a part of me, the same as the colour of my eyes and the colour of my hair. And I could always dye my hair if I didn’t like or feel comfortable with it the way it was. I suppose that is what I did with my feelings – adapted them to suit society.’
The seminar finished with a questions and answers section where Mr O Gorman answered that yes, Ireland has come on in leaps and bounds in relation to equality but that more needs to be done. People need to recognise LGBT identities as part of the normal everyday Ireland. The seminar tied in well with the fact that it was Social Inclusion Week. We claim to live in an inclusive diverse society. Let’s put that into practice. Tipperary Regional Youth Service would like to thank all the speakers and also acknowledge with thanks the funding received from the Equality Authority Ireland. If you would like to find out any information on the above topic please do not hesitate to call into our office on Croke Street, Thurles or call us on 0504 23426.