Sunday 25 September 2016

Research shows 'enormous surge' in LGBT youth coming out since marriage referendum

A new survey shows LGBT youth are more confident but still face the same obstacles as before

Rachel Lavin

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

Sheer bliss: Panti Bliss celebrating victory in the referendum Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sheer bliss: Panti Bliss celebrating victory in the referendum Photo: Gerry Mooney
Katherine Zappone Photo: Tom Burke

Despite reporting 'an enormous surge' in the number of young gay people being open about their sexuality since the historic marriage equality referendum, a new survey from LGBT youth organisation BeLonG To shows that the same problems of bullying and a lack of support still exist.

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Nearly a third of LGBT young people believe that the referendum result has no effect on their lives.

The survey of 1,300 14-23 year-olds found that 39pc of those who identify as LGBT have come out to someone for the first time since the referendum, with 49pc feeling more confidence since the Yes vote.

More than half of all young people surveyed, 56pc, don't believe homophobic and transphobic bullying has stopped since the referendum; 55pc feel daily life hasn't changed much.

While 53pc of those surveyed know someone who came out since the referendum, 31pc of heterosexual young people believe equality for LGBT people has been achieved and that we should 'move on' to other issues. This is a stark contrast to the 7pc of LGBT young people who believe the same.

It seems the same obstacles still exist for young gay people, with 62pc agreeing that those who come out don't know where to turn to for help and support.

A further 62pc agreed that they heard hurtful comments about LGBT people during the campaigning, while 35pc of LGBT young people admit that they believe the marriage referendum has helped LGBT adults but not them.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone's High Court case to recognise her Canadian marriage to her wife is widely credited with kick-starting the debate on gay marriage in Ireland.

"We would have hoped the passing of the referendum would ultimately be a great beacon of hope for young people. It's great to see some evidence that that is, in fact, actually what's happening," she said.

She explains that not only did the referendum help young LGBT people accept themselves but for wider society to accept them, too.

"It helped parents and grandparents to provide more support and talk and about it with ease. I can't say how many parents who have come up to me in the last year to tell me how much of a difference it's made in their children's lives," she added

But Zappone remains hesitant to overstate the positive outcomes of the referendum, acknowledging that the campaign had an emotional toll on young volunteers, referencing the 62pc exposed to hurtful comments about the LGBT community.

"I would have witnessed a lot of very very difficult exchanges on the doorsteps, especially for young people going up and placing them in that position, asking other people to affirm their identity and vote for their equality.

"But they were willing to do it, they were very brave. There were many times they did experience very abusive remarks, it was very upsetting. We often had to stop and just do a group hug, I was surprised that I found it upsetting myself.

"It was disturbing to see others being abused because of the sexual identity that I share with them," she told the Sunday Independent.

"But having said that, the solidarity and support that we provided to each other during the campaign, that was what healed those difficult times and that is what made all of us in a better position to continue to fly the flag for this, post-referendum," she said.

Zappone hopes to continue to fly the flag of LGBT equality in her new role in Children and Youth Affairs.

Zappone said she is thrilled to be in a 'prime position' to develop a youth strategy, especially for LGBT people, focusing LGBT-friendly youth services, education settings, and mental health resources.

"There still is a specific experience of a particular type of bullying for LGBT youth happening in our schools that is important to pay attention to," she said.

"Mental Health is also an integral aspect of the strategy, there is a huge gap in the awareness and provision of services for everyone in relation to mental health, particularly young people and, of course, a key dimension of that is the LGBT population.

"Really, what we're trying to do now is offer services, settings and supports to young people, whoever they are, to feel good about themselves."

Despite continued obstacles for the LGBT community, Zappone is still optimistic the benefits of the referendum will continue to bear fruit long into the future.

"Achieving equality is not just a change of law. Law can provide a foundation to change our ways. It doesn't bring the magic wand effect right away. It's important to acknowledge that the referendum was a huge shift for society but, as research shows, that shift is only the beginning," she said.

On the next generation of LGBT, she concluded: "I hope that in growing up to be great human beings they can take on the challenges of their generation for social change and equality and by way of paying back or remembering and expressing their own gratitude for what they have had in their lives, they can take up the torch for the next big issue that only they can see."

Sunday Independent

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