As we celebrate Pride Month across this island, we must confront the harsh reality that our community faces a rising tide of disinformation, scapegoating and hate. It’s time again for us to channel our collective pain and anger into action for social justice, ensuring the safety and celebration of present and future generations within our communities.
This is not our first rodeo, and it won’t be our last.
Again we stand shoulder to shoulder with brothers and sisters in other minority communities who are being targeted with hate. We are strong, we are resilient and we know how to change this country for the betterment of everyone. We won’t be dragged backwards by those who want to sow division and sell fear.
With a collective vision, we have curated this special feature in GCN for LGBTQ+ Pride Month, with the hope of cultivating a greater insight into the current environment regarding extremism and polarisation. Our shared goal - to spark meaningful discussions surrounding community safety, and the crucial importance of care and solidarity at this pivotal moment.
We are horrified by the relentless targeting of our trans community. Witnessing our trans siblings’ autonomy being debated and undermined, through disinformation that fuels division, is profoundly devastating.
We are committed to actively supporting the growing solidarity movement of migrant people, People of Colour, Traveller and Roma people, Muslim people, disabled people, women, LGBTQ+ people and our many steadfast allies. We stand together to affirm that Ireland is a country that embraces, cherishes and celebrates everyone.
In the face of polarisation, solidarity becomes our armour, shielding us from hate and opening up the possibility of a radically equal society. As a community we have to continue to welcome and uplift those who are marginalised as we commit to leaving no one behind. Many of us are hurting, tired, anxious and triggered by what we are seeing daily. We understand rest and healing are core in our fight for justice.
Since last Pride we have seen a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the United States and Europe and the growth of a toxic anti-trans narrative in our nearest neighbour.
At home we have seen intimidation and violent rallies targeting people seeking international protection. Dr Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children, has called out these rallies for the real harm they are causing to children - “It’s a terrible situation. They’re fleeing death, war, murder, and they come hoping for help, safety and calm. As children do, they take it personally...All they know is there are people standing outside their door, shouting ‘get out’, having sometimes fled horrific scenarios.”
For years our LGBTQ+ community has been targeted with hate online and this past year we have seen this spill out into violence. ILGA Europe found that 2022 was the most violent year for LGBTQ+ people in Europe in a decade, and according to the Gardai, 2022 saw a major increase in hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people in Ireland. Current rallies which target libraries and schools by spreading fear and disinformation about the LGBTQ+ community put our children and young people at real risk, and contribute to an environment where we are unfortunately seeing brutal assaults on teenagers.
The good news is that we know what works to overcome attempts to suppress our community - it is solidarity within our LGBTQ+ community and together with all communities. When we look to our immediate history we see how potent solidarity is.
When we organised against HIV, we came together and extended care to other at-risk communities. When we sought to have our rights protected in law we walked hand in hand with Travellers, migrants, People of Colour and disabled people to create equality legislation. When we built our youth, health and education programmes it would not have been possible without partnerships with other excluded groups. And maybe most memorably, when we campaigned for Marriage Equality, other communities on the margins, including working class communities, reached out to us to share their knowledge, resources and people power to bring about that resounding victory in 2015. Now we need to reach out to those communities who are also at risk.
Solidarity is the fuel that ignites our power. It is the understanding that our liberation is bound together, and that we must stand shoulder to shoulder, unwavering in our support for one another. When we come together, we form a formidable force that overcomes prejudice and disinformation, amplifying our voices, turning whispers into resounding cries for justice.
Solidarity means celebrating diversity and amplifying the voices on the margins. It means using our platforms to uplift and empower those voices that are too often silenced. It means building an unstoppable movement of hope and courage.
So let us yet again dig deep and rise stronger together. Let us harness our hurt, our determination, and our unyielding solidarity to protect our progress and each other, and build an unstoppable movement of hope and courage.
With unbreakable solidarity,
The Hope and Courage Collective
The Rowan Trust
Gay Community News
...It’s important that we try to find a way to have collective solidarity across everyone who’s disenfranchised...
Credited with being a working-class activist and a proud LGBTQ+ ally, Independent Senator Lynn Ruane has served in Seanad Éireann since 2016, campaigning for the needs of marginalised communities. With this advocacy being at the root of her politics, the rise of the far right is unsurprisingly something that she is paying close attention to.
When asked about the threat of the movement in Ireland, Lynn said that although it is currently made up of small numbers, “It’s significant enough for us to have to address”.
“We know with any movements, whether they’re movements that are to push back against progression or whether they’re movements to progress and have a more free and equal society, ideas take hold so quickly because of social media. People are able to organise, people are able to learn so quickly from each other.
“So I think the far right elsewhere in the world is probably a larger, more organised cohort, but I do think there are elements within Ireland that are now taking that organisation and trying to build those structures domestically here. I do still think it’s very early in its development, but I don’t think it will take very long to develop and to organise.”
Lynn added that while she doesn’t necessarily believe that there is a large portion of the Irish population who possess the ideologies of the movement, individuals may still become connected to it nonetheless, partially as a result of being failed by the State.
“People have become extremely politicised over the last 15 years or so, and people who have been unfairly disenfranchised have borne the brunt of that. And now, for me, it’s clear that that letdown within society or that unfairness or that kind of anger has now found a place to manifest, and the far right will give that a place to manifest because it will hear that anger and validate anger and give people a platform and a channel in which to direct that anger, either at the establishment or at other groups who are also vulnerable.”
She added, “If people have no power in their lives, they will find a way to exert power.”
While far right campaigning often establishes divisions between oppressed communities, it is essential that this segregation is resisted and instead, minorities find common ground, form alliances and work together towards ultimately achieving a more equal society.
“Marginalised groups, whether it’s migrants, Travellers, and particularly in relation to social classes, in many ways they all share the same characteristics…We’re all still pushing back against a system that has more power than us, more wealth than us, and for me, it’s important that we try to find a way to have collective solidarity across everybody who’s disenfranchised, marginalised or discriminated against in any way - in the political system and in society as a whole,” Lynn expressed.
She also noted the importance of looking at the structures within our own communities and organisations, examining how we can be more diverse and intersectional. While there is still a long way to go before LGBTQ+ people have achieved total equality in Ireland, as we move up through the class system and become more accepted in society, gaining further benefits from the powers that be, it is essential that we continue to fight alongside those who remain less fortunate.
“Once you’re in that dance with the state, more vulnerable groups who are being really left behind, who are living in dire conditions, whether it be because of their class, sexuality, gender or any of those things, they will lose if we can’t hold the state accountable. So I think the best thing that any of us can do is find a way to really maintain a level of independence and not be afraid if we do have funding from the state to radically uphold them and hold them accountable,” Lynn stressed.
“I think sometimes we’ve lost our creativity when it comes to demonstration, when it comes to challenge… For me, it’s important to continue to advocate for all marginalised groups who are on the margins of political decisions and are forgotten about within the political system so that everybody can transcend poverty and that you completely reorganise society in a really radical way,” she concluded.
While attempts continue to be made to create divisions within marginalised groups, Lynn’s message is clear - the strongest force comes from solidarity and togetherness.
“Intersectionality is really important. There are gay Travellers. There are trans Travellers. We don’t live on our own...
Rosaleen McDonagh isn’t an activist out of desire, but out of necessity. “I’m a Traveller woman with a disability,” she explains. “As a Traveller, you’ve no choice in this country other than to be political about your rights.”
In the 1990’s, Rosaleen worked for Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, and today she sits on the board of management. Reflecting on life in Ireland prior to the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic group, Rosaleen recalls ostracisation.
“When I was growing up, Travellers were treated very badly. And when that happens, you have no other option than just respond.” Years later, little has changed for the Irish Traveller Community.
“There’s a facade that we’re all doing well,” Rosaleen says. “Travellers are still on the roadside. Travellers are still not on a par with their settled counterparts in education. There has been some change, but nothing very substantial.”
Rosaleen points to recent strides made in Ireland – the abortion and same-sex marriage referenda – but recognises that Ireland is still a dangerous place for minorities. “It looks as if there’s a change, but we still see the racism towards migrants, we still see the homophobia.”
This year has seen an escalation of far right violence in Ireland, though Rosaleen suspects the current wave reflects a targeted campaign of hate that has been building for a long time.
“There was always conservatism in Ireland, and with conservatism, there’s racism, there’s homophobia. We assumed the far right meant outside Ireland, but I suspect that it’s been here a long time. It’s not a stretch to say they were part of the anti-gay marriage campaign; they were part of the No campaign for the Eighth Amendment. They have always been here, and I would have associated them with the church. It’s only in recent years that I associated them with global politics, and I connect them with a much larger cohort.
“When I was growing up, the far right was associated with racism in England and an anti-immigrant movement in England. I would never have thought they were here in Ireland. But they are. They’re part of the mainstream, and they’re considered respectable.”
For Rosaleen, the current climate jeopardises the safety of many and is chillingly reminiscent of some of the darkest moments of human history. To those unaware of what’s at stake, Rosaleen recalls the build-up to Nazi Germany. “They came for the Roma, they came for the Travellers, they came for trans people, they came for disabled people, and they came for Jewish people. These far right groups are coming for us all. We’re all under siege, and we have to mind each other in the trenches.”
Tackling this violence with solidarity is vital, Rosaleen says. “Intersectionality is really important. There are gay Travellers. There are trans Travellers. We don’t live on our own. They’re part of our community as well.”
Right now, Rosaleen is particularly concerned about transphobia in the UK and the USA seeping into Ireland. “At the moment, there’s a really dangerous, conservative, transphobic rhetoric, and they’re taking books about sexuality and race out of libraries, and we need to be really careful that we get the balance between freedom of expression and our laws around hate speech. I do think we need to pull together and support each other. It’s not my job at the moment to talk about Travellers’ rights, it’s my job to talk about gay rights and trans rights. I feel like that’s my job in the current climate.”
At the intersection of our communities there is power, and this is what will be crucial in countering far right violence and oppression. For instance, Rosaleen recalls her friendship with members of the LGBTQ+ community, and how these friendships strengthened her resolve in the face of racism. She mentions, in particular, her close friends Suzy Byrne and Michael Dillon, and Mikey Power, the son she never had.
“All these people have protected me from racism and ableism,” she says. “I love them for all they’ve given me and the journeys we’ve shared. That’s the thing. We don’t live in silos. When we’re under threat, our lives bump off each other because we all have the same enemy and we have to protect each other. At the moment, we have to build support in numbers and spirit so we can outnumber the far right.”
Ruahdán Ó Críodáin
As anti-LGBTQ rhetoric worms its way into school systems around the world, the necessity for positive, comprehensive LGBTQ+ education is at the centre of our community’s current struggles. With LGBTQ+ books being removed from libraries, schools banning discussion on queer lives and far right attempts to frame their attacks as some sort of ‘saving the children’ movement, Ruahdán Ó Críodáin, the Executive Director of ShoutOut, shared why education is always key.
In addition to his work with ShoutOut, Ó Críodáin has been an outspoken advocate for the expansion of the Irish Relationship Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum to include topics that are vital to LGBTQ+ students.
In an article describing the necessity for a more comprehensive sex education curriculum, the Irish Independent quoted post-primary students as saying that the current RSE curriculum they received was “too little, too late, and too biological”. Unfortunately, the push for curriculum changes has been met with backlash from those who would rather their children not be taught about topics like LGBTQ+ issues and sexual health.
“Unfortunately,” Ó Críodáin shared in a recent statement, “what those loud voices are doing when it comes to the topic of LGBTQ+ education is drowning out the most important people in this discussion: young LGBTQ+ people themselves. Those young people have asked, time and time again, to learn about the realities of the world they live in. In particular they’ve begged for an RSE curriculum which prepares them for adulthood and relationships, regardless of how they identify.”
When asked how he became interested and involved in reforming Ireland’s RSE curriculum, Ó Críodáin explained, “I’ve been involved with ShoutOut for about ten years, since the organisation started, and not long after I left school myself. ShoutOut arose from a lack of positive LGBTQ+ representation in schools, in RSE or otherwise.
“LGBTQ+ identities were rarely spoken about in the curriculum, but homophobic and transphobic bullying was, and unfortunately still is, widespread.”
Ó Críodáin continued, “I started with ShoutOut as a volunteer in 2013, visiting schools to tell my story of growing up LGBTQ+ and to offer students an accurate, human understanding of LGBTQ+ identities which was missing from their education.
“At that point, lesbian and gay identities were a brief mention in SPHE (Social, Personal, and Health Education), but students didn’t get to learn about them in any detail, or to ask questions which might help them figure out their own journeys. Trans, bi, intersex, asexual, or other identities simply weren’t considered,” he added.
Ó Críodáin went on to discuss his experiences visiting schools around Ireland in hopes to offer students supplemental education that was not included in the RSE curriculum.
“The first school I visited as a ShoutOut volunteer was actually my old school! I left it at the end of third year and moved because I had a tough time, and didn’t feel able to come out while I was there, but it has changed a lot since. I would have been grateful to have a ShoutOut volunteer come to my class and give me some hope for growing up LGBTQ+.”
Ó Críodáin commented that during his visit to his alma mater school, he noticed that the RSE curriculum was still sorely lacking in areas such as STIs, consent, and staying safe online.
“There were lots of risky situations young people should have had guidance on – I remember a friend sneaking into a pub bathroom to buy condoms from a machine because he was worried a pharmacy would turn him away, and other friends starting to use the likes of Gaydar to date because there were so few options to meet other queer people.”
“We didn’t have smartphones really,” he added, remembering his own schooldays. “But porn was becoming pretty ubiquitous online and we were too young to understand its impact on our psychology or sexuality. Funnily enough, I probably got a lot of my safe sex info as a teenager from the back pages of GCN, especially on HIV and condom use – though a lot of the content was for gbMSM.”
While Ó Críodáin hopes that the proposed changes to broaden the RSE curriculum will “give students a chance to discuss and understand vital topics like consent, online safety, and sexual health,” he insists that it is vital that these curriculum changes address these topics “for all relationships and all gender identities”.
When discussing the role that ShoutOut is taking in an effort to advocate for a more inclusive RSE curriculum, Ó Críodáin reported that the organisation has been “engaging with the NCCA on the development of the RSE curriculum for junior and senior cycle, emphasising the importance of teaching about a full range of LGBTQ+ identities, and the importance of young people understanding these aspects of identity as existing on spectra.
“We’ve also flagged the importance of intersex identities in a curriculum which usually looks at biology in a very binary way. We train teachers across the country - in their schools, but also as they’re working towards teaching degrees - to embed LGBTQ+ inclusion in the classroom. And we’ll be there, with our community of volunteers, to support schools as this curriculum is rolled out, taught, and as these conversations develop and grow in the classroom. Young people will still have questions, and we’ll be there to answer them and to tell our stories, to ensure LGBTQ+ young people know they have a gorgeous future ahead of them.”
Supplement Solidarity -Hope -Courage
The simple act of signing a petition takes 30 seconds. Then suddenly it will grow in numbers to 5,000 people, then 10,000 people...
Born in rural Ireland and going on to live across three continents, it’s easy to understand why Yusuf Murray has a unique understanding of the world. Coming from a part-Muslim and part-Irish Catholic household, Yusuf ’s queer life has also taken its own long and difficult journey. Yusuf took a tiered approach to coming out - “First to friends, to safe people, in safe spaces to eventually just saying ‘Screw it!’ and coming out totally a couple years ago.” While he has a strong emotional attachment to Ireland as his place of birth, there is a bittersweet relationship with its queer scene; “As someone who doesn’t drink, largely for religious reasons, sometimes I wonder ‘Where can I go?’” Although there are a handful of queer spaces to visit that are not alcohol-oriented, he wishes there were more. Yusuf ’s Muslim identity that has taught him a lot about being thick-skinned. “Growing up as a Muslim in a post- 9/11 world wasn’t easy,” he admits. That intense negativity towards Muslim individuals in the media in previous years has helped him empathise with the trans community due to the current media tirade they are being subjected to. Having grown up with headlines that criticised his orientation and weaponised ‘problematic’ minority groups within his religious identity in the hopes to spur on hysteria and moral panic, Yusuf says it feels “all to similar” to what’s currently happening to trans people. Yusuf works for Uplift, an independent people-powered organisation who are consistently campaigning for change throughout Ireland. He explains the importance of his role in communications; “We know the far right put so much time and money into their messaging with simple and powerful slogans like ‘Make America Great Again’. As progressive people ourselves, sometimes I worry we get ourselves caught up too much in our own discourse when that doesn’t concern the wider public. I work on the final hurdle of public communications in my organisation. I think it’s so important because we’re living in a dangerous time where the far right is able to co-opt people in ways that don’t even make sense.” “The story that we tell - that a better world is possible, and that people can live in harmony - is a powerful tool… Love is better than hatred. It’s so easy to believe it can’t be done, which is where the search for those negative scapegoats starts. That intervention is where our work at Uplift comes in.”
Yusuf also believes that legislative change can come from the power of the individual. “The simple act of signing a petition takes 30 seconds. Then suddenly it will grow in numbers to 5,000 people then 10,000 people. It catches the eye of policy makers and politicians. It’s a great example of what Uplift can do.” Uplift has managed many successful protests and inperson events in recent times. Though these are essential and important, an interaction the organisation had with an individual when Uplift was just starting to take off still resonates strongly. “We were contacted by a disabled woman from Co Clare. She said ‘I watch the news and read the papers every day and I want to do something, but I can’t get to protests, it’s too difficult for me with my disability. But now I can be involved, I can sign the petitions I can be part of the conversations.’” That alone shows the importance of the digital side of Uplift - how the organisation can help liberate everyone and that every voice can make a change to combat the far right movement. When asked what advice he would give his younger self, Yusuf shares, “I would say that it’s fine to have different parts of your identity, that you don’t have to reconcile them. Sometimes those parts can be contradictory, or maybe they just don’t fit together easily in people’s minds. Like how I am Muslim and gay. You can just exist. You can have different pieces of yourself and when you start to embrace all of them, you start to come together as a whole instead of being different people in different rooms. Just embrace the differences within yourself.”
The key to overcoming the threat of the far right is to understand exactly what it is they’re doing...
The Hope and Courage Collective, formerly known as the Far Right Observatory, is, in their own words, “a national civil society organisation that works with community groups, advocacy groups, trade unions, activists and academics to stop hate organising in our communities and workplaces.”
“We support communities and civil society to stay grounded, caring and resilient in the face of far right hate, bigotry and extremism,” HCC concluded in their introduction to the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability and Youth in February 2023.
Niamh McDonald, a coordinator for HCC, furthered, “We also work to build a body of knowledge and understanding across the civil society about the threats of the far right, and to develop strategies and tactics for different organisations and different affected communities.”
Niamh expanded upon her definition of the threat of the far right by describing, “The far right are small, to a certain extent in our country, and we’re in a good position that they’re not in our government or elected seats in any way. But I also think we can’t sit on our laurels in that.”
For example, Niamh suggested, “We’ve seen, especially, that LGBTQ+ hate has always been here, but I think, now, as we can see hate and extremists becoming more organised in our country, the hate is becoming more pronounced, more aggressive, more violent, more of a targeted threat. And so, from our perspective the far right works on a number of different things.”
Niamh defined what she called the three main intersections of the far right as;
1) Fundamentalist Christians
2) The anti-science / anti-vaccination crowd
3) The ethno-nationalists, including anti-Islam and antiasylum seekers
“When those circles come together and they intersect, that’s kind of what creates the far right,” Niamh added.
The Hope and Courage Collective and Niamh are dedicated to counteracting that movement by providing victimised communities with knowledge. According to Niamh, the key to overcoming the threat of the far right is to understand exactly what it is they’re doing.
“The far right can present itself in different ways to different communities,” Niamh explained. “So for the HCC it’s about sharing the knowledge that we’ve built up with other organisations and different groups so that they understand how to respond. What we find is that being prepared is the most important part.”
When asked to describe how this threat has been affecting the LGBTQ+ community, Niamh pulled an example from America’s bookshelf. “Why are people going into libraries at the moment trying to remove LGBTQ+ books? A lot of these anti-LGBTQ+, anti-trans movements, are coming out of the US. America’s where an awful lot of the hate is being imported from and shipped into Ireland through a specific framework.”
Niamh concluded by sharing her own advice for communities targeted by the far right: “I think it’s critical to be able to respond in a safe way and keep everybody safe.”
The continued work of the Hope and Courage Collective is supported by Uplift, Irish Network Against Racism, Irish Council of Civil Liberties, Migrants Rights Centre, SIPTU, Unite, Community Work Ireland, Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, Transgender Equality Network Ireland, Pavee Point, National Women’s Council, academics and activists countering far right extremism.
“ I’m hopeful that we can go down the path we chose to go through, and we can bring some good changes for the community...”
Originally from Hungary, Tina Kolos Orban is the head of Trans Equality Network Ireland (TENI), appointed to the position in April 2022. The CEO has numerous years of abundant experience in leading development and management of trans groups across national and international domains.
Speaking about their role within the non-profit, overseeing general operations and deciding how best to lead the organisation, Orban said that they are “the face of the organisation; I’m the one who connects TENI to the outside world mostly. At the same time, I’m the one who must make sure that we do everything that we have to do. That has been quite a large part of my journey since I arrived last April.”
Tina described their long-standing admiration for the organisation that they are now the head of, saying that it has been a role model establishment for other groups on a European level. Following TENI’s progress since 2012, the chief has viewed the group as one that is looked up to and followed by many people.
Orban’s robust commitment to trans rights has found them in what they describe as “my dream job, if I may say that. I feel like it absolutely fits me, I’m really hopeful that TENI and I are a good match. I hope that I can serve the organisation and the broader Irish trans community with the work that I do.”
That aforementioned work is achieving rights and advancements for the trans community here in Ireland, through providing vital information and resources. TENI coordinates support groups for trans people and their families, while also assisting community members or professionals working with trans folk.
This crucial provision of education and support does not cease, especially in light of rising anti-trans and far right narratives. It is imperative to the head of TENI that the association’s focus will not be skewed, despite increasing vitriol and attacks. The recent phenomenon of rising anti-trans rhetoric is something that they think is where “we need to adapt, because it’s a new situation.” They take the stance to not directly combat with these aggressors; rather the goal is to signpost to the community that TENI is there to support them.
Tina said: “It affects us personally, it affects us as an organisation, and it affects us as a community. Our first point is that when we try to adapt, we want to make sure that they are not telling us what we do. So, we don’t focus on those attacks, because TENI has a role. We are here to do something for the community. We are not here to fight any anti-trans actors or any anti-trans movement, we are here to best serve our communities.
“I’ve been fighting the far right and anti-trans voices for many, many years. The best way to cope with this, I have learned, is just not to let that touch us. Because they want to disrupt. They want us to deal with them, instead of doing what is our job.”
With that in mind, it is important to know that the work done at TENI involves connecting members of the community. Tina took last year’s breakfast event during Dublin Pride as an example, saying: “It was a great event for us. That breakfast we had was a moment where we had loads of participants come into us the morning of Pride. It was great to meet the people there and spend time with them. I think that was a moment that we all cherish.
“I think every time that we connected with the community - that was the most important thing for me in the past year.”
Thankfully many moments like this do occur, irrespective of the other hardships the community face.
A report from Transgender Europe (TGEU) published in October 2022 named Ireland as the worst in the European Union for trans healthcare. This is sure to calibrate TENI’s priorities for the coming year, with Tina concluding: “There are big issues for our community. If we want to name one, there is no competition; it’s going to be healthcare.
“Our community is suffering. But our approach to reform gender affirming health care is ready, we have a plan. I’m hopeful that we can go down the path that we chose to go through, and we can bring some good changes for the community.”
When Bulelani Mfaco was a secondary student in South Africa, he and his fellow classmates marched to government buildings.
“We had gone for months without receiving learning materials like textbooks and workbooks,” Bulelani explained. “Generally, the South African government provides these for each school year, but it’s delivered through provincial administrations.
“It was August and there had been no delivery of textbooks for the school year which began in January. Our student representatives sought support for a protest to government offices,” he continued.
“The offices were in the CBD in Cape Town and we were in Khayelitsha - on the outskirts of the city. We walked from school to the nearest train station, ran through barricades at the station and boarded the train. Police arrived and there were hundreds of students so they couldn’t possibly get us out of the train without calling for backup or causing delays for hours. They let us travel to town.
“When we arrived in Cape Town CBD, we were greeted by riot police who escorted us to the government buildings we were marching to. Struggle songs dominate protests in South Africa. Songs that would have been sung during anti-apartheid marches. When a Black person hears them, they will sing along even if they are not part of the protesting group. So as we marched through the CBD, we received a lot of support.
“Seeing the public’s reaction to the protest ignited a passion in me to challenge the status quo,” Bulelani continued.
According to Bulelani, it was this protest he attended as a teenager, as well as the repercussions of being a “Black, gay, Mpondo man” living in Apartheid South Africa that led him to a life of activism.
“I lived in a Ghetto that was created by the Apartheid government for Black people in Cape Town which has always been under-served,” Bulelani continued. “So naturally I got involved in protesting for access to land and basic services like water, sanitation, healthcare and the like. My circumstances called on me to protest and there was always a community around me with similar views.”
In more recent years, after relocating to Ireland as an asylum-seeker, Bulelani has set his sights on dismantling the country’s Direct Provision system. Bulelani himself was placed in the system in 2017. At the time, he recalled, he was invited to join a protest hosted by the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), though he declined this initial invitation.
“MASI was formed by asylum seekers in Direct Provision to collectively campaign for an end to Direct Provision, for the right to work for all asylum seekers, the right to education and against the deportation regime. Today, MASI does that campaign work and provides peer-to-peer support to asylum seekers. We have weekly meetings where asylum seekers from Direct Provision centres across Ireland gather. We also organise information sessions for asylum seekers who are new to the country,” Bulelani explained.
For those who may not be aware of what the reviled system entails, Bulelani shared: “In April 2000, the Irish government rolled out the system of Direct Provision for asylum seekers by removing them from the general welfare system. This meant that instead of accessing benefits like Irish citizens, asylum seekers would have their needs met in kind.
“The state contracts the provision of a bed and three meals a day to private companies and pays a petty weekly allowance to asylum seekers. This allowance was set at €19.10 per week when the system was rolled out and remained unchanged for more than a decade. Today it’s €38.80 per week and the government refuses to increase it. In the last two adjustments to welfare payments, the weekly allowance for asylum seekers remained unchanged,” he continued.
When it came to the effect of Direct Provision on accommodation for asylum seekers, Bulelani described that, in order to maximise profit, “Operators of Direct Provision centres force strangers to share intimate living spaces, including a bedroom, for years. In some cases, an entire family unit (a family of five for instance) can be expected to stay in a single hotel room for many years.
“For LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, this can mean sharing intimate living spaces like a bedroom with strangers who hate you for who you are. Today, asylum seekers can be moved from one part of the country to another with no say on the matter. Some asylum seekers are allowed to work and some are not. Those who are not allowed to work have to watch others go on with their lives and see the positive changes that work brings to a person’s life. It is cruel.”
Bulelani is not alone in his call to dismantle Direct Provision. In fact, he shared that “numerous human rights bodies, including several UN committees, have criticised the system of Direct Provision and called for its abolition. There is no excuse for denying people their basic/ fundamental human rights so Direct Provision should be abolished. Any system that takes away our innate human dignity ought to be condemned and dismantled.
“[Direct Provision is] also racist and encourages racism to flourish as the segregated nature of Direct Provision creates conditions for racist far right organisers to spread myths about the segregated group.”
That being said, Bulelani is excited about the progress that MASI and other human rights organisations have made towards its abolishment. While many of these victories may seem small in the grand scheme of things, Bulelani said even the smallest bits of good news are enough to make his day.
MASI has aided many asylum seekers to overcome the influence of Direct Provision on their lives. Bulelani shared the following anecdote:
“A woman we supported through the asylum process kept updating us. One day she texted that she got her status. She was recognised as a refugee. This is huge because this meant that she could finally live without fearing that she would be deported and returned to her site of trauma. The next text was her telling us that she wanted to go to university. She texted again confirming admission. Then she needed funding. She sent a text later confirming that she got funding. She texted when she was looking to move out of Direct Provision and later texted saying she found a place. I suspect her next text will be about graduation from college. Life would be more enjoyable if she did not face barriers when accessing any of those services from housing to education.
“At the core of MASI’s work is challenging structural racism so that she and many others would not have to constantly face barriers for having sought sanctuary in Ireland.”
When you have combined voices and the strength in numbers, it just becomes so much more powerful...
Ranae von Meding
Ranae von Meding is the CEO of Equality for Children, a non-profit organisation formed in 2019. Equality for Children’s mission is to achieve equal legal status for same-sex parents, consequently achieving equality for their children. At the time of its founding, a child born to an LGBTQ+ family in Ireland could only have one legal parent. In these cases, only the biological* parent to the child would be recognised lawfully, rendering the other a legal alien.
Ranae recalled the time the grassroots group was formed, noting the injustice she was aiming to combat, saying “This was the situation that my wife and I were in; this is the case for so many other families in Ireland. When Equality for Children was formed, it was all parents who found themselves in that same situation. Really our mission was simple, to get equal standing for both parents under Irish law.”
This issue had been one that Ranae was advocating long before the organisation’s founding. She then found a group of like-minded people, all of whom were equally tenacious in facing the same injustice. She continued: “When there’s one voice speaking loudly, it’s hard to get people to listen. When you have combined voices and the strength in numbers, it just becomes so much more powerful. Almost immediately we started getting taken much more seriously by the relevant departments in government.”
Looking back on the foundation of this community with a common goal, Ranae described it as a “unifying” and “exciting” experience. It was a community of “people who were in the same boat, who understood the pain of the everyday. As a parent, when your child doesn’t have a basic, fundamental, right, it’s painful. Every day is painful.”
After intensive and enduring lobbying from the group, May 2020 saw the enactment of the Child and Families Relationships Act. This led to pathways being created for LGBTQ+ families to achieve equal parental status, albeit some who met certain criteria. Plans for the group to usher in further equity were already in place, and Ranae reflects on the significance of the event.
The activist said: “It was the first time in Irish history that we saw these families finally getting the recognition that they should have had from birth. It was amazing to see them being able to go to court and get a declaration of parentage or get their children’s birth certificate reissued.
“That was what was incredible to know; our organisation had a part in lobbying for this to finally be commenced. We had been putting pressure on the government and it was amazing to see that a very small, not-for-profit organisation could have an impact like that.”
While celebrating these milestones within the organisation, the CEO is also focused on the work that is left to be done. She resumed, “At this point in time, the only families who are covered are certain same-sex female couples, who have had their children through a fertility clinic in Ireland and gave birth to their children in Ireland. It’s very prescriptive. It’s very small.
“We cannot stop until it is done because equality for some people is not equality. If anything, it’s a kick in the face to all of the families who fall outside of those prescriptive criteria.”
Ensuring that the forthcoming Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) Bill is capable is also a main priority for the lobby group. It’s a work in progress, with Equality for Children focused on creating an inclusive legislation, that leaves no LGBTQ+ family behind.
Ranae shared, “We’ve put a lot of time and resources into working with government and working with other groups to progressing that, and making sure that when the law does come in, that it’s fit for purpose.”
“We really try to show the politicians that what they’re doing needs to be all encompassing and needs to be inclusive. Some iterations of that bill have been very narrow and would essentially be quite limiting, especially in terms of where same-sex male couples can access surrogacy. So, we’re still not at the end of the road on that one.”
Anyone who believes that children deserve equality, regardless of what their family looks like, is welcome to join the team. Whether your expertise lies in social media, advocacy or legal advice, the group is always looking for new volunteers. The current team of active members meet weekly, and despite it being a relatively small group, the CEO is vocal about the immense pride she bears for the work that it does.
“I won’t sugar-coat it, it’s been very difficult when you’re fighting for something that is so deeply personal. However, it has also been incredibly rewarding, seeing the results of hard work and the progress that we’re making.”
It was amazing, because those stories haven’t ever been heard or shared...
Since moving to Ireland from India in 2012, activist and artist Pradeep Mahadeshwar has been a boisterous voice for the queer Asian community. He founded Queer Asian Pride Ireland (QAPI) in 2022, along with Tess, a social justice activist with South Asian roots. This intersectional community faces a unique set of barriers than that of the rest of the queer community here in Ireland. It is the mission of QAPI to educate and inform people on what these barriers are, and how we can work together to improve queer Asian people’s lives in this country.
The founder of QAPI identified the urgent need for such an organisation, saying that “there is not much awareness or understanding about the queer Asian presence in Ireland. If you consider Asian queerness, it embraces the landscape, the political landscape. So, it is very diverse, no two countries share the same perspective about LGBTQ+ [people].
“It also involves distinctive religious and cultural influences on people’s lives and sexuality, gender performative roles and the freedom of sexual expression.”
Those who migrate from Asian countries to Ireland are not newly introduced to anti-LGBTQ+ ideologies. However, for queer and Asian people that move to Ireland, issues such as sexual racism and inclusion become even more apparent.
Speaking about Asian LGBTQ+ folk being displaced from anti-queer environments, Pradeep said that “the bare minimum requirement to what we see (as a reason) to migrate is that if that country has decriminalised homosexuality.
“You bring different distinctive physical features, like your skin colour, body type and all those other aspects. These make you stand out and appear different; you can become a vulnerable or easy target for the right wing. People see you as easy to poke, call names or throw eggs at you, even to spit on your backpack.”
Regarding the last example, Mahadeshwar recollects an experience in Ranelagh when an adult Irishman spat on him. He notes how the incident took place in a so-called posh area of Dublin, highlighting firstly the prevalence of this abuse against queer Asian people, and secondly how it exists on a multi-class level in Irish society.
The need for Queer Asian Pride Ireland and the amount of work left to be done is clear, in light of Pradeep’s experiences. Fortunately though, Pradeep experienced somewhat of a breakthrough in the campaign’s mission in 2021, after he took part in the Proud AF campaign.
Speaking about the initiative, he said “That campaign gave me more visibility, from Australia to Canada and North America. Particularly Asian gay men and lesbians started reaching out to me. That was the goal and I think we achieved the understanding; that we exist. The marriage referendum has happened and that’s amazing of course, but that’s not the end point of all problems we have.”
Pradeep was also selected to be a part of the 2021 Gaze Film Festival jury. With representation and inclusivity being some of the issues that he advocates for, this was a fitting development in the artist’s mission.
He continued: “That was a lovely thing, it gave me more scope as an artist and activist. Because after migrating, my art has definitely changed. It’s influenced now by the prejudice, sexual racism, marginalised experiences as a Person of Colour in this queer space. It gave me more access and visibility to the community. That was one person who advised the decision to invite me to the jury and I really appreciate those people in the community.”
The QAPI head also outlined the “whole-hearted support” he received from GCN founder Tonie Walsh, as well as former managing editor Lisa Connell.
He concluded: “(Writing for GCN) opened many doors for me, and it was amazing because those stories haven’t ever been heard or shared. This is also how my art has changed; I wasn’t a writer initially. I had a huge fear since English wasn’t my first language, but it was Tonie who pushed me to start to write.
“You can do all these things, but you also need someone who’s established in the community to raise you up, hold your hand.”
One of the tactics that far right actors use to push their distorted narrative is framing certain groups as a threat because doing so allows them to justify their violence and hateful rhetoric in the name of protection.
One such group that they target is drag artists. Far right anti-drag rhetoric is especially prevalent in the US, where several Republican legislatures are passing purposely vague laws in order to restrict the freedom of drag artists to perform. And while here in Ireland the rhetoric against drag performers is not as strong and widespread as it is in the US, we are starting to hear its echoes in the form of protests outside drag storytime events or live performances, with threats and complaints around shows that are not even intended for a young audience.
To have a better understanding of the current situation, we had a chat with Irish drag queen Victoria Secret. Amid the false and negative narratives that far right groups are trying to spread, she told us about what drag actually is. “Not only does it give me an ability to use my voice and connect with our community, with so many different types of people, it also gives me a chance to create some fun and entertainment,” she said. “And I love that we’re able to gather together to celebrate having some fun.”
Recalling the beginnings of her career as a drag artist, she spoke about a business degree in an art school, where she was surrounded by all types of artists and creative people. “I had come from a strict Catholic school and I met people that were a bit more free, if that makes sense. They didn’t care so much about what people thought. I went, in the space of one year, from being so shy to being kinda loud. And it was definitely because I was inspired by people who were a bit more authentic to themselves.”
Victoria recalled falling in love with drag artists in Dublin and spoke of how her fellow performers influenced her own art. “I think I would be naive in saying that I would have learned as much about my drag without being surrounded by other people who were open to giving me opportunities,” she said. “I’ve developed lifelong friendships through drag, both with customers and with other drag artists.”
Educate ourselves in every single way that we can, have the important conversations...
Speaking about how the rise of the far right is impacting her, as well as the other drag artists in Ireland, she said: “I can feel my confidence has been shaken in public places, as opposed to our own community. And that’s not something I’ve experienced before. I do find that worrying. I’m worried about not just myself, but everyone”.
“It’s clear that there’s an increase in hate crimes and I think that is the main worry and talking point amongst all of us. We’re all just trying to stay safe more than anything else,” she explained. “I am finding myself planning both getting to and from places a little bit more than I probably would have thought of before, because the streets are a little bit more crazy.”
Victoria also pulled back from certain online spaces, particularly Twitter, where hateful rhetoric against minorities has been on the rise since Elon Musk took over. “It’s not a place that I feel that people who have certain opinions want to learn from other people. So if I can’t have conversations where we’re all able to listen to each other, then what am I gaining except it causing me stress or upset?”
When asked whether she feels that the broader Irish community is supportive of drag performers, she said that they not only feel supported but celebrated. As she explained, the rise of the far right “is currently such a huge talking point with my friends who perform drag in America and amongst their community. But I don’t want people to get the lines blurred here. We’re not living in America, we are living in Ireland.”
“Ireland’s had a love affair with drag for many decades,” she said. “This is not a new thing. There is drag in so many different areas of entertainment, from panto to bar entertainment, both in and out of the queer scene.”
Talking about how we as a community can come together against the far right, Victoria said: “I think the best thing that everyone can do is use Pride month as the great time that it can be to educate ourselves in every single way that we can, have the important conversations and with the right people. And then, obviously, to get out and use our voice every time that we get to have a chance to vote.”
The drag queen also encouraged the community to gather at marches and protests, saying: “There’s power in seeing numbers on the street, even if it’s just the people feeling that they’re supported, or just the country as a whole seeing that there are so many people out.”
" It may mean taking some risks sometimes, but if we are together these risks can be shared, can be prevented... "
“When trans rights are under attack, stand up, fight back!” This is just one of the chants that has been projected loud and proud at recent protests and demonstrations countering the far right and anti-gender movements as they gain momentum in Ireland. Whether it be through physical, verbal, legislative or policy attacks, trans and non-binary folks have been increasingly targeted as of late. But, strong as ever, the community is standing up to the attempted oppression, demanding justice.
One such person who is challenging the hate-fueled action is Giulia Valentino, an Italian trans woman living in Dublin. Giulia plays GAA with the LGBTQ+-inclusive club Na Gaeil Aeracha, and while there have been many positives for her, there have also, unfortunately, been many difficult times.
Regarding why she wanted to get involved in the sport, she explained, “It’s something that gave me the opportunity to learn much more about this country, about the culture, to know more Irish people and become a bit more a part of this community.”
Although joining Na Gaeil Aeracha as a trans woman was a “very, very positive” experience, the challenges emerge outside of the club when Giulia is participating in a less safe and inclusive environment.
In 2022, Na Gaeil Aeracha reached the Dublin Junior J Ladies Shield football final, facing off against Na Fianna’s E team. It was a historic occasion for the club as they earned silverware for the first time ever, beating their local rivals by a score of 7-11 to 1-5.
However, the celebratory day was overshadowed, as certain members of the opposition and the match official took issue with Giulia’s presence on the pitch. After the match, the hurtful comments escalated on social media, with false claims and photos of her playing also being shared without her knowledge. As all of this took place, Giulia was never given the opportunity to take part in the discussion.
“Not being included in the conversation is a thing that trans people are quite used to. Having our privacy violated - same. Not feeling safe, feeling overexposed, is another thing that we are quite used to. None of it is nice.”
The effects of these events last long after the final whistle of the match blows, and Giulia admitted to being really impacted in the aftermath. “For a couple of weeks, I was literally afraid to leave my house, and I was tracing my way on the street. I was pinging people when I left or arrived to a place.
“I never go to matches on my own, I try to get a lift from some teammates. So yeah, I don’t feel particularly safe.”
For many, this would understandably be enough to deter them from sport, and while Giulia considered quitting, she was determined not to let her oppressors win.
“I want to play, I want to do sport in general…I want to keep playing with the team because I like this group, I feel I’m part of this group. I also got the role of Trans and Non-Binary Officer for the club. So I am trying to help out and continue the development of inclusion regarding trans people.”
Not only is Giulia working to improve participation within her own club, but as a result of her visibility, she has also influenced the LGFA to create its first-ever Trans Policy, under which she became the first approved applicant to play.
Although stating, “The policy itself is not perfect, there is huge room for improvement,” she added, “I was incredibly happy because this is a milestone. We made this in this country, in an environment that I was told is historically quite conservative.”
It is ultimately a step forward for trans inclusion, something Giulia can certainly be proud of. “Once I got the policy, my mission was kind of complete because I achieved the most I could achieve in my sport career - obtaining some rules to grant inclusion to the future generation…Now that I have rules on my side, I can play.” In a powerful message to other trans folk fighting for visibility and inclusion in the currently hostile climate, she emphasised: “If we are not given our space, we have to take it over. It may mean taking some risks sometimes, but if we are together, these risks can be shared, can be prevented.”
She concluded: “If there is a community demanding and taking space, the game is very different. We can achieve more, we can achieve it more quickly, and we can achieve it more safely…It may be scary, but we have do it.”
Javier Vaquero Ollero
Although the far right community in Ireland currently remains small, as the nation continues to grapple with its growth, the successful work of international organisations serves as excellent case studies to learn from.
One such group to examine is La Intersección, a Spanish collective dedicated to conducting research surrounding hate-related movements and creating digital strategies in response. It focuses largely on online communities, analysing the messaging that spreads on social media and acting according to the data. Passionate about collaboration, La Intersección connects with other like-minded organisations, entities and public figures and inspires collective action, designing campaigns optimised for reaching audiences far and wide.
To gain more insight into the work, Javier Vaquero Ollero, a communications and creative professional with the team, shared their journey.
While La Intersección aims to develop projects for the benefit of all targeted minority groups, it has created impactful campaigns specifically helping queer folk. “One of the main goals of La Intersección is to combat hate speech, whether it is LGBTQ+ orientated or not,” Javier explained before detailing some of the initiatives the organisation has created.
“One of the things that we have developed was a project around teaching people how the algorithm works towards polarisation, and giving them tools in order to not respond or not amplify the speech…People have to know how to protect themselves…Because I don’t think platforms are really doing their best to protect us,” she said
In terms of LGBTQ+-specific initiatives, La Intersección has particularly worked to counteract anti-trans narratives. A great example of this could be seen as Spain underwent months of debate regarding introducing improved gender ID laws.
During this period, La Intersección was incredibly strategic in its approach to encouraging support for the new legislation. Instead of creating a campaign about legalities, the group instead opted to work towards influencing general attitudes towards trans people, and thus building greater support for the bill as a result.
“We didn’t want to do a campaign around the legislation because we knew that if we would name the law, people would get really reactive. So what we did was kind of a parallel campaign…[to] mobilise certain emotions towards kindness and respect for trans people,” Javier explained.
“It was very important for us. Most of the people of the collective are LGBTQ+, so it was something very, very close [to us],” she added.
" One of the things we found very relevant was trying to put different organisations together to think: ‘ What is our common agenda?’ "
Guided by its research, the organisation created and distributed content that reinforced a positive narrative and spread emotions of gratitude and respect. It was able to change the attitudes of people outside of the queer echo chamber by using its incredibly detailed findings to optimise its output, not only knowing what words and feelings its target audience would respond to best, but also knowing how to optimally deliver the messaging in order for it to have a meaningful impact.
Ultimately, the groundbreaking self-declaration law passed overwhelmingly on February 17, allowing trans people aged 16 and older to change the gender on their identification documents by completing a simple form. There are also special permissions for 12 to 16 year-olds. While La Intersección certainly does not claim credit for the victory, there’s no doubt that its trans-positive work is changing attitudes for the better.
Building off the success of the campaign and in order to help other organisations achieve similar results, La Intersección has also created a comprehensive toolkit to guide those interested in reappropriating its methods.
Emphasising the importance of collaboration, Javier stated: “I think one of the things we found very relevant was trying to put different organisations together to think: ‘What is our common agenda?’”
She continued, “This is one of our bases, to not just say, ‘Let’s do a campaign, and that’s it’, it’s more like, ‘Let’s get together, let’s try to organise people, let’s try to facilitate context for people to do things together, and let’s lead the process’”.
Within the toolkit entitled How We Can Change Trans Narratives Collectively, La Intersección goes into great detail about its research, and campaign conception, design and evaluation. It offers expert guidance that can be used by anyone with an interest in mobilising against hate speech and serves as a valuable document for Irish organisations to learn from.
Learn more about the incredible work of Javier’s team at www.lainterseccion.net