We have marriage equality and gender recognition on our statue books, but has life really changed that much for young LGBT people in Ireland? For the annual youth issue of GCN we asked LGBT teenagers to write about the particular issues they face
Coming Out At School
Cody: I went through two schools trying to be out as trans while getting through my junior and leaving certs. In the end it didn’t really work out for me.
My work standard dropped, I was missing days, sometimes weeks of school at a time. My exam results were a joke, and it was upsetting to see how badly I was doing when I’d always been so capable in my first couple years of school. I was smart, but I was just overwhelmed.
This has been the case for many LGBT young people while they’re coming out or contemplating it. You get a lot of pressure put on your shoulders in the school system – exams and a work ethic are prioritised over mental health, and even the uniform code is often higher up on the priority list than emotional self- care. Sometimes, it’s not a change of routine you need, but actually a change of route.
Aiden: For many years being LGBT in a school environment has been one of the most difficult struggles for teenagers and young adults, especially in recent years as some identities within the community have become more well-known.
Fighting for LGBT rights within school has become a task many students have deemed impossible, but for some the war has been won. Many schools have now introduced gender neutral bathrooms, correct name and pronoun use, and the ability to wear your uniform of choice for transgender students. New laws have also come in, but a majority of schools won’t budge.
Cody: When it looked like I’d be failing my Leaving Cert, I thought there was nothing for me and any dreams I’d had for my future were lost. But that wasn’t the case. I joined Pleasants Street Youthreach, an alternative education centre that trains you in various subjects such as Catering, Hair Care, Computers and more, and it may have been the best thing I could have done at the time. They even brought someone from TENI in to train the teachers on how to address the situation of having a trans student. Nobody’s ever given me grief for it here – I actually feel safe, and that’s been so beneficial.
Aiden: Being a non-binary student myself, Pleasants Street Youthreach has made me feel like my identity is no longer a burden, or that it might limit my opportunities. I don’t feel different or weird. I feel just as respected as everyone else – I’m not just a sexuality or
a gender identity. There are gender neutral bathrooms, and freedom to use your preferred name and pronouns.
Cody: The structure of Youthreach is the same as school. You’re in the door at 8.45am and out at 3.45pm, but the environment is a lot more supportive. The teachers treat you as equals, and they’re understanding of your individuality. It’s so much easier to focus on yourself and your path to where you want to be, what career you want, what college you want to go to. They help you with forms, interviews, job- seeking, and offer you support by assigning you a mentor – one of the teachers who will speak with you and help you out with anything they can, whether it’s work-related or not.
School may be the exact surrounding some people need, but for those who don’t feel as if they can handle it all the way through, but still want to carry on with their education, Youthreach can be the exact place you need to be to put you in the right direction.
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Being young and LGBT in Ireland is different for different people, but for all of us the scene is seen as this wonderful place where everyone can come together to socialise and have a good time. But is that the Reality?
Once I became of legal drinking age I came under immense pressure to be out on the scene every weekend and up all night. Since then trying to find my own pace stick to has been almost impossible.
Excessive drinking and drug abuse are commonplace, while to me promiscuity seems synonymous with gay bars and clubs. Is this really how we want our community to be viewed, when we have so much more to offer? I’m not suggesting clubbing and partying are negatives, but when it’s the thing we seem to be most known for, I have to wonder are we really doing ourselves, and our community, justice?
The pressure created around nightlife for LGBT young people in this country is not healthy. Older LGBTs are out partying all the time, while younger people look up to them as role models.
It seems that almost all LGBT events have alcohol at their centre. This hugely excludes the younger LGBT community who are not of drinking age. This exclusion is being challenged by organisations such as BeLonG To, Outhouse and various other groups and societies where there is a significant effort being made to have social events and safe spaces that are alcohol-free.
I’m not saying that gay bars don’t serve a purpose. But I am saying that LGBT events and other spaces, such as cafés, bookshops and cultural events, where there is a different focus, are becoming more and more needed; and would complement, rather than threaten, the LGBT scene.
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Suicide & Self-Harm
I’m not surprised when I find out that a friend of mine has had a personal experience with self-harm, or even that they are currently harming themselves.
Queer teenagers face an uphill battle every day just for being themselves – not all, of course, but enough to make it a large problem. After coming out many teens have to deal with social ridicule and bullying, particularly at school. They may feel anxious, depressed and have other health and mental health issues. LGBT people rejected by their families are more likely to have substance abuse issues, while bullied students who are identified as LGBT tend to go to school less, get lower grades and are more likely to drop out altogether. It all builds up to a general feeling of loneliness and despair, a perfect recipe for depression and suicidal tendencies.
Last year’s LGBT Ireland study surveyed over 2,200 people and had a special emphasis on young people. In the survey 70 percent of LGBT people aged 14 to 18 said they had seriously thought of ending their own life while 56 percent said they had self-harmed.
But the world is changing for the better. LGBT teens still face an arduous journey of course, but with the same-sex marriage and gender recognition legislation in 2015, clear progress is being made in LGBT people’s lives and society’s attitudes to the LGBT community.
Hopefully, the experiences of LGBT youths will improve with this new mindset. The old hatred and fear of the word ‘gay’ must be discarded and stamped out and I believe, truly believe, we can make it to a day where LGBT kids won’t ever have to feel desperate enough to take their own lives – where we can all feel loved and accepted.
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Coming Out On Social Media
In this digital age there can be a lot of pressure to come out online. Because of this, even if people aren’t really that comfortable doing it, or it won’t be safe for them, they still go ahead and press send.
People can feel like if they don’t come out on their social media, they aren’t telling the truth, or aren’t proud of who they are. But it’s not always the best decision, and there are many reasons not to do it.
One of the first and most obvious is that everybody can get this information about you at the click of a button. It can be a terrifying prospect to have anybody able to know something like this about you, while barely knowing you. Young people especially can find it to be a difficult thing to do, as many have family members following them on social media.
This is the main reason why I have chosen not to put my sexuality on my Facebook. I honestly cannot tell what reaction all of my extended family will have, and them finding out online may not be the best way to test the waters for me. I’ve had to un-tag myself from things so that I’m not ‘outed’ and I’m still wary about what I choose to post.
Despite all the good that the marriage equality referendum has done, there is still a large amount of homophobia and discrimination against our community. Putting yourself out there on social media has the possibility of opening you up to that homophobia.
There is so much pressure on everyone to portray a ‘perfect life’ on social media, and I actually think that this is heightened if you come out. People can sometimes see you as a ‘spokesperson’ for the community, and anything you say wrong can be used as ammunition against you, or an excuse for hate. People can put you up on a precarious pedestal and watch your every move, waiting for you to fall. Of course, most people aren’t like this, but there are always a few.
Coming out is always going to be a personal decision for someone to make, and I don’t think it will ever get much easier. Social media is such a huge arena that presents new and evolving issues, and they can cause plenty of stress for anyone, especially young people. If you’re coming out online, don’t do it without thinking carefully. Just stay safe, and remember that it’s your decision how and to whom you come out to.
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Sex & Sexual Health
Being a member of a community that’s supposed to be so sexualised, it’s surprising how little I know about sex that isn’t ‘traditional’.
Growing up in a world where the majority of people are straight, it makes sense that sex education in school and, well, most everything about
sex is tailored for straight people. Before I went to BeLonG To the only mention I heard of gay sex was when it was the punch-line to a joke, because of course gay men never stop having sex while no lesbian has ever had a thought that’s not innocent (but when she does, it’s really about displaying her sexuality to straight men).
Even though we have marriage equality, being gay is still seen as adult and utterly sexual. I was watching The Simpsons recently with my 12 year-old brother and he said that I was ‘gay’ in relation to something on the show. I asked him if he knew what ‘gay’ meant. This led to me being given out to because my brother is “too young too know about that kind of stuff” and “hasn’t even had ‘the talk’ yet”.
The sexualisation of the gay community made it harder to admit to myself I was gay. It all seemed too ‘adult’ and ‘wrong’ for my 12 year-old self. My sex education in school was a lovely presentation on how you could get pregnant, how to stop yourself from getting pregnant, and what will happen if you do get pregnant. My school is very LGBT-accepting but it isn’t inclusive when it comes to sex, so I learned nothing of practical value there.
Services like BeLong To are a huge help for young LGBT people looking for information. Even on the BeLonG To website they show all the different types of STIs people can get and how to treat them. Other services include spunout.ie (which deals directly with STIs and provides treatments). Or the HSE’s website, where there sexual health services for gay men are advertised.
Thankfully, we do have a lot of services in place, but we do still have to go looking for them. Even though I am grateful for what we have, there still is a lack of education and negative connotations around gay sex. If gay sex was talked about in schools when teachers are talking about the ins and outs of straight sex, it would help LGBT young people feel more comfortable in their sexuality.”
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Drugs & Alcohol
Not much advice is given to young people about how to properly take care of themselves when drinking or using drugs.
Young people using drugs and alcohol has been a controversial topic for many a generation, and while much is said about abstinence, the truth is it does happen all the time. I’d like to give some clear advice for any young people reading this who are using drugs and/or alcohol, or are thinking of it.
Planning is a crucial part of looking after yourself – planning your route home, where you will stay and who your sober friend is going to be. Watch your drinks being made and never mix drink and drugs. Going to the bathroom alone is never a good idea.
If injecting drugs, never use the same needle twice or a needle another person has used.
If going to sleep after taking drugs or alcohol, sleep in the recovery position, on your side with your knees up towards your chest; it’s the safest way to sleep in case you vomit during your sleep. Water before bed is always a good idea if you are drinking or taking drugs, as it can help with hangovers the next day.
Eating food before taking anything will decrease the chance of you having a bad trip. If you do have a bad trip, eating foods that are high in sugar will help calm your system. Food is good at absorbing alcohol in your system too, which will help the alcohol hit you less intensely.
Research the drug you’re taking before you take it. It should be you who makes the decision to take a substance with your own informed consent, and not through peer pressure.
Get the ‘setting’ and ‘set’ right. The ‘setting’ is the place, and the best place is in a house with people you trust and feel safe around. The ‘set’ is your mindset – make sure you are mentally prepared to do the drug. Some psychoactive drugs will bring out repressed memories and feelings, so make sure you can handle the effects of the drug you’re taking.
Substances you buy on the street aren’t pure. A lot of the time powders and pills are mixed with flour or other household products. Never take extra amounts, even if you don’t fully feel the effects. A lot of overdoses happen in this way.
While taking care of someone who is in difficulty while using alcohol or drugs, remember to put them on their side with their knees towards the chest. Call the emergency services if you feel you are unable to handle the situation. Remember an ambulance is there to help not to arrest.
© 2016 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.