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. As part of the #StrongerTogether initiative in collaboration with the Rowan Trust and the Hope and Courage collective, GCN interviewed Ruadhán Ó Críodáin, the Executive Director of LGBTQ+ organisation ShoutOut, who spoke about the importance of education amid the rise of the far-right.
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, Ruadhán 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, speaking of far-right protestors, “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 Relationships and Sexuality Education curriculum and to combat the false narratives spread by the far-right, 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.”
This story originally appeared in GCN’s Pride issue 378, as part of an ongoing feature on solidarity that was created in cooperation with the Rowan Trust and the Hope and Courage Collective. Read the full issue here.
Want to be featured in this special campaign? Share a message of solidarity using #StrongerTogether, tagging GCN or email [email protected].
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This article was published in the print edition Issue No. 378 (June 1, 2023). Click here to read it now.
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