I am deeply honoured to lead this year’s Pride parade as Grand Marshall. Pride is a celebration and, let’s face it, a fabulous party, but for many individuals, particularly our young people, it is much more than that.
Every time I hear someone say that we no longer need Pride, my heart sinks. I think of the young people in our community who pace outside the street, sometimes for months, before they work up the courage to walk through the door and access one of the BeLonG To youth groups.
Despite historic wins and many positive changes for the LGBT community in Ireland, our young people face fear and anxiety around coming out, especially trans youth. According to findings of our LGBTIreland 2015 report, compared to the general youth population, LGBT youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide, and four times more likely to experience severe stress, anxiety, and depression. I see the reality of these stark statistics in my work as Executive Director of BeLonG To every day and it’s what motivates me to keep working towards a world where LGBT young people are equal, safe and valued in the diversity of their identities and experiences.
There is also a growing need for a whole new generation of LGBT youth to receive information and education around sexual health. We need to keep talking about sexual health, including issues such as consent, STIs and safe sex with our young people who don’t remember the heartache of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s as the older generation do.
BeLonG To as the national organisation for LGBT young people is uniquely placed to work with this generation. The Ladybirds, our group for LBT gals and their non-binary pals are trained up about sexual health and are busy campaign planning. Our peer-led programme ‘In the Know’, is a safe, fun space for young men who have sex with men to learn about positive sexual health. When it comes to sexual health, our message is, safety is sexy!
Pride is needed because it shows LGBT youth that things can, and do get better. It offers them a glimpse of a world where they are equal, safe and valued, while we work on making that a reality for them. It’s a place where everyone belongs. You cannot underestimate the importance of that.