LGBT Ireland’s Annual Report for 2020 published yesterday (May 10) highlighted how the LGBTQ+ community was affected by the COVID pandemic with a higher number than ever of younger people calling the LGBT Ireland helpline with a correlating uptake in online peer support groups.
Of the 2,312 support calls, emails and online chats answered through the National LGBT Helpline service; there was a notable rise in young people calling the helpline for support, with 26% of callers to the Helpline aged 18 to 25 years compared to 16% from this age category in the previous year. However, while more young people than usual contacted the telephone helpline service during the pandemic, the vast majority of contacts from young people were online, with 64% of those seeking support through the online chat service aged 25 years or younger – 36% of these under 18. Over 119, 500 people also visited the LGBT.ie website for support and information and 60 online peer support groups were held during the pandemic year.
Launched by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman, the report shows an increase in numbers calling the LGBT Helpline in relation to violence, both domestic and homophobia including online abuse, “hence providing evidence-based data for the need for Hate Crime legislation to be urgently progressed and the ban on Conversation Therapy” according to its’ CEO Paula Fagan.
The 2020 Report contained revealing information on a number of issues dealt with through its’ LGBT Helpline now in its’ 10th year; categories of contacts with percentage increase on previous years were; making contacts to appropriate services and supports, violence and gender identity.
The COVID-19 restrictions were particularly difficult for younger LGBTQ+ people as they felt cut-off from LGBTQ+ supports and community spaces. For those aged 35 years and older, while the main reasons for calling were similar to younger people but also requesting information on legal rights, questions about gender identity, access to appropriate transgender healthcare.
Support with sexual orientation was the top reason for contacting the helpline and online chat service. People of all ages looked for support around the discovery and acceptance of themselves, or a loved one, as being lesbian, gay, or bi+, or questioning of their sexual orientation. Many callers in this category had experienced mental health difficulties resulting from the stress of concealing their sexual orientation and from the stigma they had experienced or associated with being LGBTQ+.
Gender identity and gender expression was the second most common reason for people contacting the services. For many callers under this category, simply being able to express their true gender identity or gender expression to another person, in confidence, and without judgement, was very significant. Many callers were not out to anyone about their true gender identity or expression and as a result, felt extremely isolated and battled with depression and hopelessness about their situation.
Findings in the report cited loneliness and isolation particularly for callers living in rural areas. Fear of rejection and discrimination forces many to hide their sexual orientation, and for those who are out, a lack of local LGBTQ+ services and social supports contributes to a heightening sense of alienation experienced by those living outside urban centres.
On a positive reflection of the year, the report states that over 100 LGBTQ+ parented families got legal recognition. The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 were signed into law in May 2020. This made it possible to register two mothers on an Irish birth certificate, enabling hundreds of same-sex female parents and their children to have their families legally recognised. To expedite this process LGBT Ireland worked extensively with the District Courts and the General Registration Office securing 6 days of dedicated online hearings. However, the report concludes that “despite this achievement, many LGBTQ+ families remain in legal limbo, this includes gay dads who have created their families through surrogacy, lesbian mums who have used a known donor, and those who conceived in non-clinical settings. For these parents, the fight to establish a legal relationship with their children is ongoing and we will continue to campaign on this issue until all families have a pathway to legal recognition.”
LGBT Ireland engaged with various Ministers throughout 2020 ensuring the LGBTQ+ perspective was prioritised during the political and legislative processes on issues such as legal parental protections for same sex families, the LGBTQ+ Community in Direct Provision, delivery of the National LGBTQ+ Inclusion Strategy and Hate Speech and Hate Crime.
In a year that highlighted the vulnerability of older people in Irish society, LGBT Ireland continued to work with healthcare providers to deliver training and supports to help create a more inclusive, welcoming Health Service for older members of the LGBT community.
By end of Spring 2020, it became apparent that the pandemic was simultaneously impacting the ability to deliver in-person training as well as the availability of Health and Social Care Professionals working in older people’s services. Adapting to a rapidly evolving situation, LGBT Ireland, with input from the newly formed LGBT Champions Expert Steering group, modified the LGBT Champions Training delivery to an online format. Altogether, 132 LGBT Champions, working across 90 services received training, considerably outperforming the initial target of 60 services.
The pandemic also highlighted the need to support older LGBTQ+ people directly. It was identified that social distancing and a lack of physical contact was leading to a rise in anxiety and isolation, with many older LGBTQ+ people feeling cut off from friends and family. In response, LGBT Ireland launched the Older and Bolder online community, a moderated Facebook group that created a safe space for older LGBTQ+ people experiencing isolation or loneliness. Throughout 2020, 260 members plus used the group as a source of support and friendship. Group events included a weekly online coffee event, film screenings, cooking and gardening demonstrations.
On the Transgender Family Line run in association with Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) 53% of callers were family members calling to ask questions and information about their loved one’s gender identity and gender expression. Many family members simply needed listening support with 24% of callers asking for gender-related information and signposting to services. Many other calls were received from professionals such as teachers, School Principals and organisations wanting information and resources to support transgender and gender non-conforming staff, students and service-users including information on navigating the healthcare system for transgender people nationwide and abroad.
Commentating at the launch of the annual report the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman said “the high level of demand for LGBT Ireland’s services demonstrates how difficult a year 2020 was for many people. Many LGBTQ+ people have been unable to connect with their friends or families, with some older and more vulnerable LGBTQ+ people having had to cocoon alone during COVID. I am hopeful that through the initiatives being developed and resourced through the LGBTQ+ Inclusion Strategy, more national, regional and local LGBTQ+ services will be available to reduce isolation and build stronger LGBTQ+ supports in the communities in which people live.”
The Annual Report can be downloaded LGBT Ireland’s website.
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