The GAA has still a ‘long long way to go’ in accepting gay members, one of country's top players has said.
Donegal All-Ireland winner Éamon McGee was speaking at the launch of a new HSE-led national campaign to provide a safe school environment for LGBT students.
The defender was a leading campaigner for a Yes vote in the marriage equality referendum last year and said he was ‘ashamed’ that he didn’t step in to help gay and lesbian classmates being bullied when he was at school.
“Some of them were bullied. I never took part in the bullying but I never reached out my hand,” McGee told school principals and health workers in Letterkenny yesterday.
“I never helped them and I am ashamed to say that I never helped them.”
During the referendum campaign he said one of those former classmates had thanked him for his work.
However the school friend had also told him: “I wouldn’t wish being gay on anybody.”
McGee, from the Gaoth Dobhair club, said: “I thought that was very very sad because here was someone who was being told from a young age that he is not acceptable.”
But he said the GAA community had not moved with the times.
“I played with hundreds of different players through club, college, county, province – and the statistics will say that there has to be some of them who are part of the LGBT community and no-one I’ve played with has come out and that is a sad indictment of the GAA and a sad indictment on us,” said McGee.
“We need to push forward and make that unacceptable because we have not created an atmosphere where people can be true to themselves.
“We always say that we are an honest group (GAA) and honesty has always been a part of any group I’ve been involved in, but if someone can’t be true to themselves then we are not an honest group.
“It would be very hypocritical for me to say the GAA is all-welcoming when it’s not. It has still got a long long way to go.”
The LGBT Safe and Supportive Schools Project model was piloted by two schools in Donegal, Moville Community College and Magh Ene Bundoran.
It will encourage schools nationwide to address homophobic bullying with the help of experts from NUI Galway.
The project was delivered by Dublin-based BeLonG To support group and the HSE and supported by the Department of Education.
Moninne Griffith, Executive Director of BeLonG To, said: “Many children first begin to realise that they are LGBT from an early age and these formative years can have a huge impact on their sense of self and future mental health as adults.
“The LGBTI Ireland study has shown that homophobic and transphobic bullying is a major cause of higher rates of self-harm, suicide and depression amongst LGBT young people and how important early intervention is, particularly in schools, to allow them reach their full potential and not suffer as so many have in the past.
“This program will ensure that schools are a safe place for future generations.”
Lisa O’Hagan, HSE, Co- Creator of project told the audience at Letterkenny’s Regional Cultural Centre: “Homophobic and transphobic bullying unfortunately are still problems for young people in schools and communities across Ireland.
“The project had two key objectives, which are to increase teachers’ knowledge about this type of bullying, and their efficacy in responding to such issues. It seeks to enhance teachers’ skills in responding to and supporting LGBT young people who are ‘coming out’.
“It also aims to have a positive impact on students by increasing their knowledge of LGBT issues and engendering more positive attitudes towards LGBT young people. This, in turn, will impact on behaviour, in the form of rejecting and standing-up to homophobic and transphobic bullying.”