New strategy for schools aims to eradicate LGBTI+ stigma

More work is to be done by schools and gardaí to discourage discrimination against and victimisation of LGBTI+ young people under a new Government strategy.

Any gaps in the law around hate speech and hate crime will be identified and corrected, and the Department of Health will work with regulatory bodies to ban the practice of conversion therapy that tries to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

A bill proposing such a ban was initiated by opposition senators in the Seanad in April but such a move is also proposed in the LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy 2018-2020 launched yesterday by Children and Youth Affairs Minister Katherine Zappone.

 

The moves come on the back of evidence that young people still suffer because of stigma and official policies despite progress since the 1970s establishment of Ireland’s gay rights movement, decriminalisation of homosexual acts in the 1990s and marriage equality in 2015.

As part of its work, a strategy working group heard from young people through an online survey run by SpunOut and seven youth consultation events around the country.

As well as legal reforms, increased visibility and tolerance, and greater support of young LGBTI+ people, ongoing challenges like discrimination and stigma, bullying and harassment, lack of education on gender, sex and LGBTI+ issues were also highlighted. 

So too were poor policies in schools, generation gaps in acceptance of LGBTI+, and poor health and wellbeing.

“I have been discriminated against, marginalised, intimidated, abused, and even assaulted for my sexuality by peers, strangers, business owners and family members,” one participant said.

The strategy’s goals are informed by these consultations, in which LGBTI+ young people identified a number of changes they want in education and training settings. Schools will be encouraged to develop policies with particular regard to the possible inclusion of LGBTI+ lives in teaching and the Department of Education will pilot a peer support system for LGBTI+ students in second-level schools.

Each Garda division should have at least two trained LGBTI+ liaison officers, and gardaí are also to collect and analyse data about LGBTI-related crimes. The Department of Justice will work with State agencies to ensure standards at centres for refugees and asylum seekers.

The strategy report said a change in policy on transgender issues has been slower and intersex developments continue to remain in their infancy, but foundations to be put in place by the strategy are intended to support greater progress in future years.

Asked about a recent attack this week with hurleys on two gay men, Ms Zappone said there is a long way to go and acknowledged there is still stigmatisation of young LGBTI+ people in Ireland.

Health Minister Simon Harris said one of the strategy’s key actions is the introduction of a widened pre-exposure prophylaxis programme, beyond the availability of the anti-HIV drug with a prescription from pharmacies since last December.

The strategy calls for increased access and availability of the drug through the HSE and rural access from GPs, and Mr Harris committed to the programme’s rollout in January.


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