Challenges still exist for LGBT community in Wexford and South East
As LGBT+ Pride Month is celebrated in Wexford and across the country, reporter Cathy Lee takes a closer look at the rural and urban divide and some of the issues that the community still faces
Although times have certainly changed since the passing of the marriage equality referendum in 2015, when every single ballot box across county Wexford delivered a majority yes vote, and indeed since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993, it appears that the reality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people today in Wexford is that they are still facing difficulties breaking the rural and urban divide.
'Things haven't changed as much as people think they have. The same issues are still coming up for LGBT people, like homophobic comments that are said often in passing and aren't meant to be hurtful, they still impact on what LGBT people are feeling. There's still some bullying happening but accessing services is the big one, as people in Wexford don't know where to go and who to talk to about issues they may be facing,' said LGBT youth worker Wendy Kearney, who is based in Gorey Youth Needs.
In Ireland's capital, there are the bases like the magazine, Gay Community News, as well as the charity organisations LGBT Ireland, BeLonG To Youth Services and the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI).
But that lack of visibility and guaranteed easy access to LGBT friendly services, appears to be the biggest challenge for people wishing to discover and fully explore their gender or sexual orientation.
Young people in rural areas who engaged with the 'Young and Trans in Rural Ireland' Youth Work Ireland resource, launched in April, found that things were more challenging in a smaller community with specific local dynamics, as being seen to be different to everyone else in the community is difficult.
Young people expressed fears of being labelled as a 'piece of town gossip' and felt that they were isolated due to lack of amenities, transport and having to rely on their parents, who may have a more conservative mindset around LGBT matters.
Young transgender people said that they can be made to feel lonely in rural Ireland, and they felt there was a lack of access to correct up to date medical information and counsellors who deal with LGBT issues in mental health services.
Schools also presented as a potential for stress in rural areas, with fewer options and often areas having just single sex school, which meant for them that everything about the school experience was gendered.
Young LGBT people can often feel that they have to be educators on issues, which can add pressure to their home and school lives, especially if they are just in the early days of exploring their sexuality or gender.
'Real inclusion is a whole community approach to ensure that LGBT+ young people are visible, valued, and fully included. Being LGBT+ does not mean you should experience unequal treatment when you go to school, access services, or start work. Yet LGBT+ young people can experience discrimination from a lack of understanding to outright hostility in their day to day lives from using the bathroom to visiting a healthcare provider,' said CEO of BeLonG To Youth Services, Moninne Griffith.
Youth Work Ireland advices to always show respect, use correct terms chosen by individual people or generally, gender neutral terms.
If you are unsure about someone's identity, ask them to be the guide, and apologise and quickly move on if you make a mistake.
These things can take time to adjust to, so parents and carers are advised to show support, even if you think it might be a 'phase'.
Through communication, you can show that you accept LGBT identities and a simple guide is to remember to listen, be open, don't judge and remember that it is most likely harder for them than it is for you.
Although homosexuality, bisexuality and non-conforming gender identities are more visible in society generally both nationally and internationally, as well as in the media, matters aren't helped by recent outcries from the Catholic clergy.
The Vatican recently produced a 31 page teaching guide, which criticises the modern understanding of gender complexity and closer to home, during this month Christian Brother Tom Forde, who was a former Chaplain at University College Cork, likened gay people to 'infected zombies' during a mass in Kilkenny.
The Brother's comments were widely criticised, as was the move by the Vatican.
Research commissioned by LGBT Ireland shows that while LGBT adults experience less challenges with mental health than young people, but some LGBT adults continue to experience feelings of stress, isolation, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
This can particularly be a factor for older LGBT people, over the age of 65 who have shown themselves to experience 'double isolation' particularly in rural areas.
This can also be true for LGBT members of the Travelling community.
Speaking to Gerard Sweetman, an LGBT health facilitator for the South East Region, he said that overall lack of transport and access to services can be a hindrance to the LGBT adults that he works with.
'I try to keep in contact with them if they aren't making groups for one to one chats, and link them in with other services in the region, from mental health services, counselling and sexual health,' he said.
He explained that often social events like bowling or wellness walks helps LGBT people to come out and get support.
'There is still a fear around being see, being outed by this but people talking to facilitators like myself if they aren't ready to go into a group setting, can be a way forward. Usually the age range at groups are those from 18 to 40 years old, but we had a 66 year old at one stage,' he said.
'With a lot of things happening now in the media, homophobia is alive and well and it's not going to stop. We have a lot more work to do, and part of that is awareness and more commonplace LGBT training,' said Gerard.
LGBT training advises that when approaching someone who is transgender or non-binary, pronouns can be sensitive but quite important.
Pronouns refer to gender, and always remember 'they' is gender neutral and so a person may be more comfortable being referred to as 'they' is they are unsure whether their gender is more fluid than simply male or female, and this is usually referred to as someone who is non binary.
Cisgender is if someone's gender expression is the same as they had at birth, while transgender is someone who's gender identity differs from the sex they were given at birth.
Being 'trans' is an umbrella term that includes diverse gender identities, including those who are non-binary.
Dublin's national LGBT pride parade and march takes place on Saturday, June 29 and LGBT groups from Wexford will be making the trip.
'Going to Pride is such a positive experience for a young LGBT person, coming from a town or from the countryside. To go to an event where they see such a diverse range of people, completely out and being themselves, it just brings in a sense of pride in who they are. A lot of people are coming from secrecy, trying to hide themselves and not put it out there or be flamboyant, pride is the opposite as you can be exactly who you are and want to be for the day and enjoy it and have fun with it,' said Wendy Kearney.
Wendy explained that although Gorey Youth Needs hosts groups for LGBT young people, that it is a port of contact for adults and a gateway into the rest of the Wexford LGBT community groups.
'Some people are forthcoming with what they want to talk about while others just come along to test the waters, just being in that space that's safe for them, they see other people talking about LGBT issues and they get a bit of confidence from that,' said Wendy.
Wendy explained that as peers, they are all very supportive of one another and together they share stories to work through difficulties together, creating solidarity that is led by the members of the group.
'Really our role is to try make those connections for the LGBT young people so they're not isolated, from going along to Pride with groups in Wicklow or combining together in events with other LGBT groups in Wexford,' said Wendy.
Wendy explained that for people of any age and background, that coming out can take time and there is no one size finds all solution.
'It can depend on situations like family, community, support links, friends and how confident you are to come out. People don't really know how to put things into words and there's no time scale. Whenever you're comfortable, you'll know yourself when it's the right time to come out but it's important to know that there are supports there for you, people who are more than willing to help if you want to reach out and take the first step,' said Wendy.
BeLonG To Youth Services advises considering location, timing, personal safety, and being prepared for questions when you do decide to come out as LGBT to someone you trust, and a youth or support group can be a safe space to get you to that place.
'Come along to a group with a friend, you can bring them to LGBT group as an ally, to make you more comfortable, it's not an issue. Just do whatever makes you comfortable and work from there,' said Wendy.
FDYS Wexford now has a new LGBT groups facilitator, youth worker Emma Whitty, and she will be on hand from now on as a port of contact for young people and adults.
To contact LGBT coordinators in Wexford in confidence, reach out to Wendy in Gorey by email firstname.lastname@example.org or to contact Emma in Wexford, email email@example.com.
Also in New Ross, reach out to Catherine by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The national LGBT helpline provides a confidential, listening, support and information service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, search www.lgbt.ie or call 1890 929539.