Ian Begley: 'Nothing wrong with making young people feel as if they belong'
Leaving home for the first time can be the most exhilarating experience in a young person's life.
At the moment, thousands of Leaving Cert graduates across the country are eagerly getting ready to start their new life in college. For them, the idea of living on-campus is associated with new adventures, friends and total independence.
But for many members of the LGBT community, the thought of sharing a dorm or room with complete strangers is extremely daunting.
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While the vast majority of students today are tolerant of all lifestyles and cultures, living with someone who doesn't accept your identity can ruin anyone's college experience.
The University of Limerick's decision to provide on-campus accommodation exclusively for the LGBT and allied community will certainly be an enormous comfort for those coming to terms with their sexual identity.
Some will see the 'rainbow housing' initiative as the perfect opportunity to find friends with common interests. Others will use it as a supportive base to launch themselves comfortably, proudly and assertively into campus life.
According to the university's accommodation manager Carol-Jane Shanley, the accommodation will provide a "safe, secure living environment" for all residents.
But while the launch of the scheme was largely welcomed yesterday, some sceptics have argued that UL is segregating the LGBT community.
This is wholly rejected by Dr Amanda Haynes, co-director of UL's hate and hostility research group.
"For those LGBT people who choose not to live in LGBT housing, and there will be many, the presence of rainbow housing is just as important," she said. "It provides visibility for the community on campus which, for students in many cases, coming from schools, where they may have felt culturally invisible, can have a big impact."
Last year, the University of Sheffield in the UK introduced a similar concept when it opened a set of LGBT-only student flats. It followed concerns from its student union that gay and transgender students were subjected to "bullying and harassment" in mainstream accommodation.
But the director of the UK's largest student accommodation service, Simon Thompson, criticised the plan, saying it will "ghettoise gay youth and divide student communities".
However, those who criticise the initiative seem to forget that anyone who falls under the LGBT banner is not obliged to live in these residences.
If I was a student at UL, I would probably opt to live in one of their standard on-campus apartments.
However, I believe this new concept will be extremely popular at the university. For decades, members of the LGBT community have chosen to live in gay districts in large cities around the world.
This new living arrangement at UL will act in a similar way on a much smaller scale, but by no means prohibit their ability to integrate with other students. If all goes according to the university's vision, it will simply make their students feel like they belong. And what could be wrong with that?