During Pride this year the Rainbow Project was privileged to be involved in a production of the Laramie Project – a play based on the true events of Matthew Shepherd’s death in Laramie, Wyoming in 1988 – the play, staged by the Dundonald Association of Music and Drama and funded by the Policing Board, was performed in the Lyric Theatre over two evenings. – both performances were sold out!
Following the performance each night the audience participated in a panel discussion with representatives from the Policing Board, community representatives and the PSNI on the issue of homophobia and how it is tackled and dealt with in Northern Ireland.
Facilitating discussion on the first night William Crawley posed questions on prejudices held by society with debate focusing on the need for early years interventions through schools and education to help tackle hate in our community.
Harriet Long from the Rainbow Project led discussions on the second night and was joined on stage by Chair of the Board’s Community Engagement Committee Gerry Kelly MLA, Kamala Lakhdhir US Consul, Neil Jarman Institute of Conflict Research and C/Insp. Gabriel Moran.
The cultural similarities between Laramie and Northern Ireland and the role of passive homophobia in creating an environment where violent attacks can occur, was highlighted in both discussions. Personal experiences of hate crime and the willingness of victims to come forward and report incidents to the PSNI were discussed in some detail and the particular vulnerability of people who have been the victim of homophobic hate crime. It was agreed that ongoing work by the Rainbow Project in partnership with the PSNI in the Belfast area had gone some way to build confidence in the reporting of crime by the LGB&T community but there remained a lack of consistency in approach across NI. There was also the need to ‘signpost’ support services so that people knew where to go to if help was needed.
A straw poll of the audience also revealed that many people were not aware that hate law to tackle racism, sectarianism, or hostility based on sexual orientation or disability was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2004 and more work was needed to raise community awareness.
We were very privileged to have the Chief Constable Matthew Baggott attend the second performance, along with the US Consul General Kamala Lakhdhir and Gerry Kelly from the Northern Ireland Policing Board. Overall the events were a roaring success – many people commenting how nice it was to have something different in a new venue during Pride week. Thanks to those who helped to make it all happen.