I am the staff member within The Rainbow Project; funded through the Together For You Programme to work within communities across Northern Ireland to develop Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and or Transgender (LGB&/T) peer social and support groups, the aim being to reduce the social isolation experienced by people within the LGB&/T community. Many people from these communities may feel fearful of identifying as LGB&/T in a society which is deemed to be ingrained by heterosexism; where the ideology is that everyone is heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior to other forms of sexual identity and or gender identity.
How much do these communities and people need support?
Growing up in a heterosexist society and identifying as LGB&/T (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender) is not easy as people may be unable to be their true selves. This causes many problems and issues, and a major problem is social isolation and the impact this has; feeling alone as ‘the only gay in the village’ with no opportunity to meet other LGB&/T people for social support, friendship and no opportunity to express their sexual orientation and gender identity in an understanding and safe environment. Social isolation can reduce a person’s quality of life, which results in people just existing but not living, because of the lack of social contact, separation from social groups and a lack of meaningful relationships.
Some LGB&/T people may hide their true sexual orientation and gender identity to fit in with society’s heterosexual norms, and as a result become socially isolated from the LGB&/T community. This is one of the main ways that LGB&/T people may become isolated; additional reasons include; fear of rejection; because they are socially stigmatised; because of other people’s religious beliefs; because of the way they have been brought up, or because they may have been victims of homophobic/transphobic hate incidents/hate crimes.
What are the benefits of these groups – how do they help LGBT people?
LGB&/T peer social and support groups can offer both social and professional support. This type of provision can reduce or diminish social isolation by providing safe places and opportunities for people to meet other LGB&/T people, which will increase their social and support network; people can form healthy meaningful relationships.
The support provided by LGB&/T staff, delivery of programmes, workshop and awareness sessions provide professional support. This can increase personal and social development, which in turn can increase people’s confidence, self-worth and self-awareness. These groups are invaluable to reducing social isolations within the LGB&/T community and the impact this has on people; diminish loneliness and be a positive impact on peoples emotional and mental health well-being. Additionally, this provides a direct way into support services, whether these are delivered by LGB&/T organisations or partners in Together For You.
Do you think there is a neglect of the needs of LGBT here in Northern Ireland?
Even though there are laws and legislation in place to protect the LGB&/T community there still is further work to be done within society to dispel prejudice and to end discrimination, homophobic/transphobic abuse and hate crimes towards the LGB&/T community. People are still frightened to come out because of this fear of bias, prejudices, discrimination, homophobic/transphobic abuse or hate crimes or because they may be disowned by their family and friends. Consequently they may stay hidden, and become socially isolated rather than risk rejection by society.
How can people get involved in these groups?
To get involved in the established groups we are supporting in Omagh and Enniskillen and or to find out information on the groups in the process of being established in other areas contact Nuala Devenny by phone: 90 319030 or email: email@example.com.