Rainbow Project https://www.rainbow-project.org/ LGBTQIA+ SUPPORT IN NORTHERN IRELAND Tue, 10 Jan 2023 15:41:24 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.1.1 Research Participants required for Department for Communities research on Conversion Therapy https://www.rainbow-project.org/research-participants-required-for-department-for-communities-research-on-conversion-therapy/ https://www.rainbow-project.org/research-participants-required-for-department-for-communities-research-on-conversion-therapy/#respond Tue, 10 Jan 2023 15:36:53 +0000 https://www.rainbow-project.org/?p=6456 We are recruiting LGBTQIA+ people with experiences of Conversion Practices (also known as conversion therapies, reparative therapies, and cure therapies) to take part in interviews about their experience. Call out for individuals to be interviewed about their experiences with conversion practices (also known as conversion therapies or reparative therapies). These practices encompasses all medical, psychological, …

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We are recruiting LGBTQIA+ people with experiences of Conversion Practices (also known as conversion therapies, reparative therapies, and cure therapies) to take part in interviews about their experience.

Call out for individuals to be interviewed about their experiences with conversion practices (also known as conversion therapies or reparative therapies). These practices encompasses all medical, psychological, religious, cultural or any other interventions that seek to erase, repress or change the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of a person.

This encompasses all medical, psychological, religious, cultural or any other interventions that seek to erase, repress or change the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of a person. This research will inform the Department for Communities’ work towards a ban on conversion practices.

Please contact Aisling@rainbow-project.org for more information.

 If you or someone you know has been exposed to conversion practices which aimed to change their sexual orientation or gender identity expression within 10 years, we would like to talk to them and hear about their experiences.

This research project will be managed by a Steering Group which will be made up of representatives of The Rainbow Project, Cara-Friend, HEReNI and Transgender NI and is funded by the Department of the Communities.

Why am I being contacted?

 We are sending out a call for participants to take part in this research, which is an individual interview about their experiences of conversion practices (also known as conversion therapies, reparative therapies, and cure therapies). This encompasses all medical, psychological, religious, cultural or any other interventions that seek to erase, repress or change the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of a person.

Why is this study being done?

 This research, funded by the Department for Communities, explores the dimensions and effects of these practices using qualitative interviews with people who have experienced conversion practices in Northern Ireland. The theoretical and empirical aspects of the research will be informed by the broader literature and evidence in the field of research.

Who are the Research Team?

 Professor Fidelma Ashe, Ulster University, Belfast

Fidelma Ashe is a professor of Politics at Ulster University. She is an expert in gender, sexuality and peacebuilding. She is housed in the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster (TJI). TJI is a world-class research institute that produces research and real-world impact in the area of peacebuilding. Professor Ashe’s profile can be found here: https://www.ulster.ac.uk/staff/f-ashe

Dr Danielle Mackle, Queens University, Belfast

Dr Danielle Mackle is a lecturer in Social Work in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast. Her research specialisms include exploring the human development and well-being of LGBTQ+ populations through the lens of the capability approach.  Danielle also has experience in researching and writing about sensitive issues in Northern Ireland including abortion and FGM/C practices. Dr Mackle’s profile can be found here: https://pure.qub.ac.uk/en/persons/danielle-mackle

Information on TJI can be found here: https://www.ulster.ac.uk/transitional-justice-institute/home

What will I need to do?

 Your participation is entirely voluntary. There is no obligation to participate in the study. If someone chooses to participate they are free to withdraw at any point without having to give a reason.

If a person decides to take part in this research, it will involve the participant being interviewed by one of the researchers involved in the study.

In this interview, they will be asked about their experiences of conversion therapy, decisions around engaging with conversion therapy, what the practice, therapy, treatment or intervention was like the effects on the person at the time, and how they feel about it now and any other information that the participant feel is relevant for us to know.

The interview will take place at a location and time that is convenient for participants.

Is there any payment for taking part? Will it cost me anything if I agree to take part?

 No, we are not paying participants to take part in the study. It will not cost anything to take part in this research.

Are there any risks to me or others if participate?

The questioning may be upsetting or may trigger thoughts or feelings that people haven’t felt or remembered in a long time.  If participants feel that talking about these issues or conversion therapy may be too upsetting, then we recommend that they should not take part in the interview and they will be signposted for future support.

If people choose to participate in these interviews and feel that they would like to talk to someone about any of the issues raised, participants will be given access to some free and confidential support counselling support.

Will my data be used in future studies?

We will need people’s contact details to arrange and conduct the interview. We will also ask for consent. Finally, we will audio record the interview and write a transcript based on this interview. The research team will delete contact details once the transcription of the interview is complete.

Personal data will only be used for the study set out in this form and not for any future studies.  The researchers will write academic papers and present the findings from the study at conferences. Examples from the interviews or direct quotes may be used from transcripts, but all will be anonymized and no one will be able to identify you from any of the published material.

 

How can I find out more information or participate in the research?

If you would like to take part in this study, please email Aisling Playford, Policy and Advocacy Manager email aisling@rainbow-project.org, who will contact you to discuss taking part in the research and answer any questions you may have.

If you have found any of the information in this document upsetting and would like to talk to someone, support is available from The Rainbow Project.  Please visit The Rainbow Project website for further information or call us on 02890 319030

Thank you for taking the time to read this information

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Stigma and discrimination against people with HIV are as big an issue as ever https://www.rainbow-project.org/stigma-and-discrimination-against-people-with-hiv-are-as-big-an-issue-as-ever/ https://www.rainbow-project.org/stigma-and-discrimination-against-people-with-hiv-are-as-big-an-issue-as-ever/#respond Tue, 10 Jan 2023 15:26:08 +0000 https://www.rainbow-project.org/?p=6443 World AIDS Day, designated on 1 December every year since 1988, is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease. But unfortunately, the stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV are as big an issue …

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World AIDS Day, designated on 1 December every year since 1988, is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease. But unfortunately, the stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV are as big an issue as ever.

Speaking on the importance of World Aids Day Director of The Rainbow Project John O’Doherty said “It’s been over forty years since the emergence of HIV, and we’ve seen incredible developments in the treatment and prevention of the virus. Unfortunately, stigma remains one of the most difficult challenges for those living with HIV today. Stigma can take many forms such as hostility, aggression, and exclusion. People living with HIV can experience this in different areas of their lives, from their relationships, service providers and unfortunately still in healthcare provision.

“With substantial developments in testing and treatment people living with HIV can expect to live a full, healthy, and happy life. Today people with HIV have the same life expectancy as those who are HIV-negative. However, many people living with HIV feel isolated alongside a need to conceal their HIV status due to fear of stigma and discrimination. Many of the myths about how HIV is transmitted still exist today and we must do more to ensure all communities are educated about HIV and that we actively seek to address the stigma experienced by those living with HIV.

Sexual Health Development Officer Leo Lardie said:

“Knowing your HIV status is an important step in HIV prevention. The Rainbow Project can provide rapid HIV & syphilis testing for gay & bisexual men, men who have sex with men, transgender and non-binary people and anyone who is at risk of contracting HIV or is in high distress around their status. Free at-home sexual health testing is now available to everyone in Northern Ireland through the SH24 service. Sexual health testing has never been more accessible and this world aids day we would encourage everyone to get tested and know their status.

“Treatment of HIV has dramatically changed over the last 5 years and treatment is now available as a form of prevention. If f you’re HIV negative, you may be able to take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to reduce your risk of contracting HIV. It can be used by people who are HIV-negative but at high risk of HIV to dramatically reduce their chance of contracting HIV. PrEP is highly effective and is free of charge via the NHS.

The Rainbow Project is campaigning for a government commitment towards zero new HIV diagnoses by 2030 through its Steps to Zero campaign.

Speaking about the campaign Policy and Advocacy Manager Aisling Playford said:

Due to new approaches such as treatment as prevention, the efficacy of treatment such as anti-retroviral therapy, and our increased understanding of how and when HIV can be transmitted this target is entirely achievable, but it requires commitment and investment. We won’t just end HIV transmission by preventive treatment alone and must commit to easier access to HIV testing for all and comprehensive sex education.

“Steps to Zero also focuses on providing support to those individuals living with HIV, perhaps most importantly by helping to eradicate the stigma surrounding HIV. We all have a part to play in making HIV and HIV stigma a thing of the past. We’ve each got to educate ourselves on sexual health not just to be able to make informed choices to best protect ourselves but to stop perpetrating the same misinformation that creates fear and stigma of individuals living with HIV. ”

Notes to Editors:

“Undetectable” means that the presence of HIV in a person’s body is so low that they cannot transmit the HIV to anyone by any means. This is achieved through a person living with HIV accessing anti-retroviral treatment

PEP is medication you can take up to 72 hours after you’ve had unprotected sex to dramatically reduce your risk of contracting HIV, it’s available at any A&E in Northern Ireland for free.

PrEP is medication you can take daily or on-demand (two pills before you have sex, a pill every day for 2 days after you’ve had sex) to eliminate your risk of contracting HIV altogether. You can get PrEP at any GUM clinic for those most at risk of HIV.

 

 

 

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LGBTQIA+ Awareness Week – 16th to 22 May 2022 CHECK OUT THE PROGRAMME OF EVENTS! https://www.rainbow-project.org/lgbtqia-awareness-week-16th-to-22-may-2022-check-out-the-programme-of-events/ https://www.rainbow-project.org/lgbtqia-awareness-week-16th-to-22-may-2022-check-out-the-programme-of-events/#respond Thu, 12 May 2022 11:23:42 +0000 https://www.rainbow-project.org/?p=5620 LGBTQI+ Awareness Week will take place this year from 16th – 22nd of May. With a whole range of events to choose from please check out, like, and share the programme with friends and family. The programme can be found here: www.yumpu.com/s/4zbXkQ17n2eM9iqa

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LGBTQI+ Awareness Week will take place this year from 16th – 22nd of May. With a whole range of events to choose from please check out, like, and share the programme with friends and family.

The programme can be found here: www.yumpu.com/s/4zbXkQ17n2eM9iqa

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LGBTQIA Holocaust Memorial Event – Belfast 2022 https://www.rainbow-project.org/4978-2/ https://www.rainbow-project.org/4978-2/#respond Thu, 27 Jan 2022 13:15:06 +0000 https://www.rainbow-project.org/?p=4978 This week  LGBTQIA sectoral groups came together week to mark Holocaust memorial week and lay wreaths at The Belfast Cenotaph. The group were welcomed to Belfast City Hall by Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl and speakers included Adam Murray, Community Development Manager of CaraFriend, Professor William Spurlin from Brunel University, Aisling Twomey, Policy and Advocacy Manager …

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This week  LGBTQIA sectoral groups came together week to mark Holocaust memorial week and lay wreaths at The Belfast Cenotaph. The group were welcomed to Belfast City Hall by Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl and speakers included Adam Murray, Community Development Manager of CaraFriend, Professor William Spurlin from Brunel University, Aisling Twomey, Policy and Advocacy Manager of The Rainbow Project and Martine Hanna, Chair of Here NI.

Lesbian and gay life in Germany began to thrive at the beginning of the 20th century with Berlin in particular seen as one of the most liberal cities in Europe.  There was a number of lesbian and gay organisations, cafés, bars, publications and cultural events taking place.

Nazi conceptions of race, gender and eugenics dictated the Nazi regime’s hostile policy on homosexuality.  The repression and discrimination targeted towards the LGBTQIA community started within days of Hitler and the Nazis coming to power.

On 6 May 1933, the Nazis violently looted and closed Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science. This centre acted as an important public venue for Berlin lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life. They closed the centre, looted the collection and burnt it out on the streets.

Unknown numbers of German Gay men and Lesbians fled abroad, and others entered into marriages in order to appear to conform to Nazi ideological norms, experiencing severe psychological trauma.

The discrimination was put into legislation by the Nazi’s with the revision of Paragraphs 175 and 175a of the German criminal code with the intent of expanding the range of criminal offences to encompass any contact between men, either physical or in form of word or gesture, that could be construed as sexual; and strengthening penalties for all violations of the revised law. Lesbianism was not included in this legislation, they were subsequently not targeted in the same way as gay men. However, Lesbians suffered the same destruction of community networks as gay men and often were not able to play roles in public life or work.

An estimated 10,000 -15,000 men who were accused of homosexuality were deported to concentration camps.

Just as Jews were forced to identify themselves with yellow stars, gay men in concentration camps had to wear a large pink triangle. There was also Brown triangles were used for Romani people, Red for political prisoners, green for criminals, blue for immigrants, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses and black for “asocial” people, including prostitutes and lesbians.). This year for the first time we have included a black triangle in our flower wreath at the Belfast LGBTQIA Holocaust memorial event.

Pictured Left to Right – Professor William Spurlin from Brunel University and Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl, Belfast City Council

Many men in the camps died from exhaustion, others were castrated and some were subjected to gruesome medical experiments. Collective murder actions were undertaken against gay detainees, exterminating hundreds at a time. But after the war the suffering continued, the Allies chose not to remove the Nazi-amended Paragraph 175. Neither they, the new German states nor Austria would recognise homosexual prisoners as victims of the Nazis – a status essential to qualify for financial reparations. Indeed, many gay men were taken from camps and sent to prison to continue to serve their prison sentences.

We take the opportunity each year to mark the passing of those who were lost and those who survived this horrific time in our history.

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The Rainbow Project response to EHRC statements on upcoming LGBTQ+ legislation in the United Kingdom https://www.rainbow-project.org/the-rainbow-project-response-to-ehrc-statements-on-upcoming-lgbtq-legislation-in-the-united-kingdom/ https://www.rainbow-project.org/the-rainbow-project-response-to-ehrc-statements-on-upcoming-lgbtq-legislation-in-the-united-kingdom/#respond Thu, 27 Jan 2022 10:25:54 +0000 https://www.rainbow-project.org/?p=4974 Yesterday’s statements from the EHRC are an unwelcome and unwarranted attack on Trans equality. We believe that these two statements (one in response to the call for a ban on conversion therapy and the Gender Recognition act in Scotland) are actively seeking to exclude Trans people from improved rights and important legal protections. Trans Rights …

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Yesterday’s statements from the EHRC are an unwelcome and unwarranted attack on Trans equality. We believe that these two statements (one in response to the call for a ban on conversion therapy and the Gender Recognition act in Scotland) are actively seeking to exclude Trans people from improved rights and important legal protections. Trans Rights are Human rights. The Comments from EHRC undermine their core purpose of promoting and upholding equality and human rights. Do the rights of LGBTQIA and specifically Trans people not warrant support from EHRC?

The EHRC have not reflected the UK Government’s own research or the expert opinion of the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity on conversion therapy and gender recognition. They have not listened to the lived experiences of Trans people, who have suffered under the failing system of Trans health care and increasing transphobia and misogyny throughout the UK.

We must have no further delays, loopholes or excuses to implementing gender recognition reform in Scotland and beyond or in banning the inhumane practice of conversion therapy. Our communities need and deserve strong human rights institutions to hold people to account and ensure that human rights for all are embedded in legislation.

We will continue to call on the Prime Minister of Great Britain, First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and First Minister of Scotland and their ministers to ensure legal recognition and protection.

We stand with the Trans Community, with our colleagues across the UK and Scotland that are rightly unsettled by these statements and reassure the LGBTQIA+ community that we will continue to fight for equality and justice for all.

 

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Transgender Day of Remembrance 2020 https://www.rainbow-project.org/transgender-day-of-remembrance-2020/ https://www.rainbow-project.org/transgender-day-of-remembrance-2020/#respond Fri, 20 Nov 2020 10:00:29 +0000 https://www.rainbow-project.org/?p=4090 transgender, tdor, trans, transgender day of remembrance, gender

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“Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people — sometimes in the most brutal ways possible — it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.”

  • Gwendolyn Ann Smith – Founder of Transgender Day of Visibility

On Friday 20th of November it is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). On this day we take time to remember the Trans people around the world who have lost their lives to transphobia. We take time to show solidarity to all our trans siblings around the world and remind each other that while we may be far apart we are in the struggle for our freedom and rights together. We remember all the trans people who have worked tirelessly in the past to fight for our rights. We extend our deepest condolences to the friends and families of all the Trans and Non-Binary people who we have lost this year.

During this time of remembrance, it is very important that we take stock of who are the most marginalised and targeted members of our community. Consistently we see that Trans Women of Colour and Trans Sex Workers are the most likely to fall victim to transphobic hate crime and violence. We can not ignore intersectional identities and the compounded violence which they face so please pay extra care to any Trans Women of Colour or Trans Sex Workers in your life, now and generally.

This is not just a fight that happens far away, the current rise of anti-trans rhetoric is affecting trans people across Ireland, the UK, Europe, and the world. We have to come together against this rise in transphobic hate speech and show solidarity with one another across the entire LGBTQIA+ community. We are stronger together.

It is very important that we be aware of how difficult a week this could be for our trans and Non-binary friends. Please take some time to check up on your Trans and Non-Binary friends. Ask them how they are feeling, ask them if they need to talk, or just let them know you are available if they should need your support. Educate yourself around some of the barriers and injustices Trans and Non-binary people face in their daily lives. Call out transphobia wherever you see it, don’t leave the fight to trans people alone. Correct pronouns, defend your trans friends, demand that they be seen as equals in society, celebrate them.

Trans Rights are Human Rights.

Written by Sky Byrne

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Mental Health Week: Coming Out is Good for Your Health https://www.rainbow-project.org/mental-health-week-coming-out-is-good-for-your-health/ https://www.rainbow-project.org/mental-health-week-coming-out-is-good-for-your-health/#respond Tue, 19 May 2020 00:00:00 +0000 https://www.rainbow-project.org/mental-health-week-coming-out-is-good-for-your-health/ Mental health week, coming out, LGBT, LGBTQ+, Northern Ireland

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Stephen Donnan is an activist, writer and community worker in Belfast. You can follow them on twitter @Donnan_S

Coming out is never easy, even when it seems like it is. Today marks twelve years since I came out as gay to my family – it feels like a hundred years ago and just yesterday at the same time. The apprehension, the dread, the dramatic realisation that the wee thing you were always ashamed of and scared to talk to anyone about made sense when you finally kissed another guy. It’s both a recipe for success and has all the ingredients of a disaster waiting to happen.

I grew up in a predominantly religious household, with parents that went to church, adhered to the Bible as much as they could and put their faith in the knowledge that their sons would grow up to be men, act like men, marry women and have children of their own. I wasn’t one to follow the crowd, and I don’t know why my mum expected any different. Did she honestly think that the combination of me doing an Art GCSE, listening to Backstreet Boys, disliking football and never having a girlfriend all added up to straight? I kid, none of those things make you gay but those are the stereotypes we have to put with, aren’t they? Ponce, fruit, gayboy, faggot, queer, bender etc. The things that are shouted at you in the playground and you wonder why they cut so deep. You begin to wonder if they all know something about you that you wish you didn’t.

I remember that first kiss with another boy, the damning realisation that it wasn’t gross and it wasn’t disgusting and that it made sense. It was like watching a huge puzzle piece falling into place to complete the picture. Lying awake in bed and staring at the ceiling, hoping that if you pray hard enough maybe that feeling will go away. The insatiable desire to just be normal like everyone else. You can’t tell your mother or father because, of course, they won’t love you anymore and you’ll have no home to go back to. The lies about where I’m going, who I’m with and what I’m doing begin to pile up like bags of garbage – rotting in the corner and getting harder to ignore and avoid. Nights in Union Street, stolen moments with my first boyfriend in the cinema or the Pipeworks sauna become little tiny pinholes of light in an otherwise dark space inside my own head.

Eventually I summoned the courage to come out – in the most dramatic and on brand way possible – by writing a letter, leaving it on my parents’ bed, packing a bag and getting on a bus into the city centre with no idea of what would happen next. It didn’t take long for them to find the letter and then the phone call asking me to come home right away. That was possibly the longest bus ride I’ve ever been on, not knowing what was waiting for me. Without going too much into the pain of it all over again, I can only tell you that it wasn’t good. Tears, screaming, pointed fingers, awkward questions, judgement, rejection and condemnation from the people I loved more than anything in the world. Suggestions that I go to the doctor and get fixed, that it’s just a phase, that I’ve been hanging around with the wrong people and that I should speak to a psychiatrist etc.

I was in a very dark place for a long time. My own home became a battleground with my family, unable to talk to them about what I was going through because this was something I had ‘chosen’ and I had brought it on myself. The accusations and assumptions of why I had decided to become gay, why I had decided to go against God etc. Those words and actions hurt, and still hurt me. I have long since forgiven and reconciled with my parents about who I am and those days but for a while I was in a hole and couldn’t get out. I felt utterly alone and trapped in a place that didn’t love me or accept me for who I was and I decided, rather stupidly, to try and get out the only way I knew how. In November of 2008 I attempted to take my own life, and obviously failed, but it was clear to my family and I that whilst they couldn’t offer me the validation and support that I needed, maybe someone out there could.

It wasn’t long after that I was given a leaflet from my GP about The Rainbow Project and their counselling services. LGB&T people counselling LGB&T people in a space that was welcoming, validating and free of judgement. My counsellor was called Terry and that man helped me turn my life around and start to love myself. A huge part of the stigma about coming out is the internalised homophobia we have as queer people – we are raised to view queer people as other, as something to be gawked at and rejected, and that sits inside of us as a universally held truth so when you realise that you might belong to that part of society a little part of you turns that shame and rejection in against yourself. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to shake but that’s where it starts – with learning to love yourself and accepting who you are. 

If it hadn’t been for the support and advice and mentorship I received from the wonderful staff and volunteers at The Rainbow Project I don’t even know if I would be here today. They absolutely saved my life, so it was a prophetic closing of a circle when I began working for them in 2016 and being able to give something back to the community that accepted me and saved me. I was incredibly fortunate to live so close to Belfast city centre, where help was only a short bus journey away. But there are hundreds, maybe thousands of kids who are in the same situation I was, unable to get support from their parents, their schools, their friends or their churches or GAA clubs. We have a responsibility now as queer people who have come out the other side of the tunnel to ensure that we advocate for greater services in rural areas, anti-bullying policies in every single school, making communities aware of their LGB&T neighbours and families so that one day we don’t have to come out at all.

I got to marry the love of my life last year, with my mum and family in attendance. William is welcomed as part of the family and he is a massive source of strength and support for me. My family have since apologised to me for what happened, and I have come to terms with the fact that they were simply coming to terms with the revelation that I was gay. I wasn’t loved any less, and things are exactly how they should be. I was lucky, and we need to be there for those that aren’t.

                  

   

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Lesbian Visibility Week: I need a Shero!! https://www.rainbow-project.org/ineedashero/ https://www.rainbow-project.org/ineedashero/#respond Fri, 24 Apr 2020 11:00:00 +0000 https://www.rainbow-project.org/ineedashero/ Eimear Willis is The Rainbow Project’s Health and Wellbeing Officer in the Western Area. Heya, it’s Eimear here. I work with the adult groups in the Derry office. It’s Lesbian Visibility Week, and I wanted to take some time out to talk a bit about being a gay woman living in the North West as …

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Eimear Willis is The Rainbow Project’s Health and Wellbeing Officer in the Western Area.

Heya, it’s Eimear here. I work with the adult groups in the Derry office. It’s Lesbian Visibility Week, and I wanted to take some time out to talk a bit about being a gay woman living in the North West as well as shout out some of my lesbian sheroes.

My earliest memory of being gay was on a football trip when I was around 6/7 years old. I told one of the older girls on the team that I thought another girl was pretty, which resulted in me being picked on by the older girls throughout the whole day. It meant nothing to me then, as I thought they were being a friend and joking with me but now looking back I can see that they were mocking me. In a funny turn of events, the girl I found attractive is now out and engaged to her partner – so my gaydar was pretty on point even if I was a wain.

I was never a feminine girl, always running with the boys and playing sports. I love the word tomboy. I had parents who were happy to let me wear what I wanted, and supported me in my sporting endeavours. I feel like I was giving them clues that I was gay back then, especially when I walked around in nothing but tracksuit bottoms and a white vest rapping 50 Cent songs.

I went to an all-girl Catholic secondary school, where a skirt was compulsory. Apart from the discomfort of having to wear this myself, my concern shifted to whether or not the other girls in my classes would be comfortable around me. While I wasn’t ‘out’, I didn’t hide my sexual orientation and I think everyone had a fair idea that I was gay. I spent most of my time at school risk assessing every situation to try and prevent anybody picking on me or making anybody dislike me. The ironic thing is that while I wasn’t bullied at school by other people, I sort of bullied myself in a way I would have expected from others. I put myself under pressure, took myself out of situations and even got changed in the toilets so people didn’t think I was looking at them in the changing rooms. Where did I learn that that was okay? I always felt like a bit of a weirdo.

When I was a teenager Tegan and Sara were my everything. I idolised them and their music, and had a mullet haircut like them for too many years. I also binge watched The L Word, frantically trying to learn the ways of Lesbian life and be prepared for the ‘real world’ when I left school. I pictured myself as some weird hybrid of Shane McCutcheon and Sara Quin – please tell me I’m not alone in this? As funny as that is, I didn’t realise how important it is to have positive role models. Aged 15 and with nobody local to look up to or turn to, I did what all queer teens did. I went to the local gay club – which was not the smartest idea ever, but I did meet some of my closest friends there. Shout out to Aine and Kerry.

I left school in 2012 and studied Music Production at college, working as a Theatre technician in The Playhouse. Through this, I got involved in Foyle Pride Festival in 2014. The organising committee reached out to me and asked for some advice regarding music for the festival, and after some back and forward I was putting together the music for the main stage. I was pretty chuffed with myself, having really looked up to this festival and the people who organised it for years. I was 18 and now considered these people friends.

The following year I joined the organising committee as co-chair and got to work alongside iconic women such as Sha Gillespie and Hillary McCollum. These are powerhouse women, who were so formative in me becoming comfortable in my lesbian identity. I struggled for a long time to identify as Lesbian or Gay, they never felt like they fit. But having strong role models, who are unapologetically queer, changed that for me. Hilary does some amazing historical work looking at Gay Women’s role in the Women’s Rights movement, which we highlighted during the huge centenary march ‘Processions’ in 2018. Sha is a lifelong activist and campaigner who basically taught me everything I know about activism and the Queer movement in Ireland. She’s also a dear friend, who I’d be lost without.

In 2016 we hosted JD Samson as our guest for the festival, and she played a blinding DJ set in The Glassworks. The teenager inside me nearly died when she played Deceptacon (Le Tigre) and joined us on the dance floor. We ate a Chinese together in the basement and had an amazing chat about what it means to be a ‘dyke’ in USA and Ireland. It’s one of the highlights of my life. It’s probably one of the low points of hers.

I still get so excited at seeing queer women on TV, in music, in the town. I love sharing the mutual ‘look’ or ‘nod of approval’ we give to each other out in the wild, showing each other solidarity. While it may not seem it, the dyke community in Derry is massive. The queer community in Derry is fragmented and a bit scattered, but it’s always the queer women who bring us all together.

Queer women are super heroes. We can bend gender roles and stereotypes, smash barriers and support each other. We’re the cool aunties and the loving mothers. We’re the brides in suits, and daddies in dresses.

Watching the queer women who I love, campaign tirelessly during the recent Marriage Equality and Abortion rights campaigns over the last few years has showed to me that queer women really do have it all within them. They highlighted that both of these issues are intersectional feminist and must be tackled by a united approach. 2 women in white dresses with their fists in the air – you can’t tell me that’s not a powerful image.

All these years later, I’m able to reflect and I’ve realised that I’m not a weirdo because I’m gay. I feel like a weirdo because I’m a weirdo. My friends are weirdo’s and we listen to weird music. We wear weird clothes and do weird things. I have a loving partner who’s a big weirdo, and we live in a weird wonky house. We’re all a bit unconventional but it’s not because we’re lesbians. If I could pass on any advice to younger people, it’s that. And that your weird bits are your best bits. Living outside the heteronormative structure allows us to embrace that.

We love labels in these parts. So, whether you’re a femme, butch, lipstick; or maybe you just like the word gay. Love your lesbian self this week. Love your lesbian friends, family members and sisters across the world. And if you haven’t told anyone yet, we’re here for you when you do. And a word of advice – skip season 6 of The L Word. It won’t do you any good.

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Lesbian Visibility Week: Three women, three stories of coming out https://www.rainbow-project.org/lesbian-visibility-week-three-women-three-stories-of-coming-out/ https://www.rainbow-project.org/lesbian-visibility-week-three-women-three-stories-of-coming-out/#respond Fri, 24 Apr 2020 09:59:37 +0000 https://www.rainbow-project.org/?p=4087 Three women from across Northern Ireland share their stories of coming to terms with their sexual orientation and coming out. Annie Hi my name is Annie, I’m a 32 year old, finally out and proud lesbian, in the Causeway Coast and Glens area. It’s Lesbian Visibility Week and I would like to share a bit …

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Three women from across Northern Ireland share their stories of coming to terms with their sexual orientation and coming out.

Annie

Hi my name is Annie, I’m a 32 year old, finally out and proud lesbian, in the Causeway Coast and Glens area. It’s Lesbian Visibility Week and I would like to share a bit about me and my experience finding my way in the world. I hope that by being vulnerable and sharing my story it might encourage others to open up, seek support, seek a community, become aware of yourself and your needs and just be you!

So…I didn’t come out until I was the ripe age of 30! Unusually, not because I was hiding it, but because I wasn’t aware. It was just so ingrained in me through society, family and peers that as a woman I was destined to get married to a man and have children. People around me assumed I was hetero asking questions like ‘do you have a boyfriend’ or statements like ‘he’s fit isn’t he’ and because I didn’t have any strong lesbian role models in my life providing an alternative narrative, so did I. Upon reflection though, I remember around puberty age I wasn’t as interested in ‘boys’ as my peers but I went along with it and tried my best to fit in but inwardly found it rather awkward. Woman have always caught my eye more than men as I walked down the street but before I came out I didn’t associate this with a romantic connection as I was always taught that sex was between a man and a woman. I went to an all girls school and when I attended there was no LGBT society, or openly lesbian teacher, we never celebrated pride and certainly never got taught about it in sex ed! Anyway, it wasn’t until a friend suggested I watch Sense 8 on Netflix, written by The Wachowskis (which if you haven’t watched it is very LGBT inclusive) that it clicked – ‘You don’t have to be with a man’! So I started exploring my thoughts and feelings, reflecting on my past and throwing myself out of my comfort zone in dating and I’ve found I am so much happier and authentic in myself as a lesbian.

So the moral of my story is that lesbian visibility matters and we need to get out there and spread the word! Thankfully LGBT visibility in films and series is growing these days but only someone interested in the genre will watch. I believe change starts with us and we need be comfortable enough to push out of our comfort zones, be our authentic selves in the community, be that role model, speak up and take our space in society and be counted as a strong lesbian woman!

If your not there yet, I get it. Unfortunately, we all know there is still too much stigma and ignorance in society. I’ve learnt though you can’t change others, but that doesn’t stop you changing your own self and environment. A great way of building your confidence is finding a like-minded support network where you know you will be accepted. I recently joined a fantastic social group ‘Queers outside the City’ organised by The  Rainbow Project and ran by Mardi which meet up once a month for games, pot lucks, quizzes, pool and general giggles. We also meet up on a Saturday once a month for informal coffee and chat. If you’re looking to meet some genuine, like-minded, friendly, supportive people who hold space for you to express yourself as you are, it’s the place to be!

I appreciate you reading to the end, take care and know you are not alone! ????

 

Shannon 

Hi my name is Shannon, I’m 20 years old and a lesbian! As it was ‘Lesbian Visibility Week’ I got a chance to write about my experience as coming out as lesbian to my family and friends. To me it was extremely scary with me living in a small town that aren’t to open about the LGBTQ+ community but it’s getting there. The very first person I told was my childhood best friend Amy who is also a lesbian, so I knew 100% that she’d still love me as a sister. I do believe it brought our friendship closer, which I didn’t think was possible due how close we already were, in fact her first words to me after was “Told you so”. Thanks… After that the rest of my friends wasn’t as scary as I already knew they accepted Amy. It was more my family I was scared of. Ever since I had come out to my friends, I became distant with my family out of fear that they would stop loving me. I told my sister first. I think it took her a long time to come around to it. Not that she wasn’t okay with it. I believe it’s easier to accept someone who isn’t blood related than it is for someone who is, but I knew she loved me. I told my uncle Gerard and his partner Graeme, who `offered me to stay at their place if everything went wrong. Thankfully that offer didn’t have to be taken.

I was once called a fake lesbian due to the fact that I have never had a girlfriend. Yes, never. We were at a party and there was some argument about lesbians that I don’t remember the details fully. That one line just stung… still does today, I guess. The very next day with my fabulous hangover I decided to get one. This is a lot harder than it sounds for me being it the town I’m in. Let’s just say nothing worked and now I’m the only single person in the friendship group. I do meet girls but like any normal person you get scared and distance yourself from them. But I’m glad to say I’m friends with most of them… which I am now realising is extremely wired. Good one Shannon…

I soon joined an LGBTQ+ Group and have made great friends in. I love each of them dearly. My sister has gone to a few as an Ally and was super open minded and joined in all the jokes. I have met so many Allies and LGBTQ+ people who have taught me a lot. All my friends are teaching me how to not be an idiot around girls. Even with my lack of experience I have also in a way got a lot of it and have had fun doing so.

But that’s my overly told story. The lesson I learned through all this is ‘It isn’t always black and white, there is a community filled with rainbows.’ I hope you enjoyed this roller-coaster of a story and I thank you for reading it.

 

Rose

Coming out in your late 20s is weird

I was really pissed off last week. I nominated my girlfriend for something on twitter and when they mentioned her they failed to mention that she was nominated by her girlfriend and we sadly realised that they did it on purpose. I was also sad last week when I realised that having kids will be confusing and hard and I was fed up last week when I watched a film that had a random lesbian sex scene for no other reason than to exploit women and attract men. I was then confused when I thought ‘do I have the right to feel this way’ and it made me think about my place within the gay community. Let me try and explain:

There’s something about coming out as gay in your mid 20s that makes you feel unable to relate to the wider community. You begin to feel like and imposter when your comrades tell heart warming coming of age anecdotes where they announced their sexuality at 15 having realised they weren’t watching ‘river-dale’ for the gripping story line. The truth is I was gay at 15 I just wasn’t sexually mature enough to know it and that is a-okay.

The thing is no one would find it odd if I hadn’t had a relationship with a man at aged 15 but when you tell people you are gay I find myself reluctant to tell them I came out at aged 23 through fear that this will be followed by ‘how did you not know?’ Or worse, ‘But you’ve been with men, so you must be bi?’ If i’m honest i’ve asked myself the exact same questions so I am probably more shocked when people say ‘I always thought you were gay’, I find myself internally screaming ‘WELL WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME!’

My coming out journey wasn’t easy but it wasn’t teen soap difficult; I would lamely describe it as a whirlwind. I should explain that I first admitted my sexuality when I was 23 and started to think about a girl in my university class more than was usual. But before her I had kissed a few friends, kissed a girl in a club and found myself really curious about confident lesbian women. For a while I thought I only liked androgynous or masculine lesbians but this was during the time I was trying to convince myself that I was bisexual and that sex with men was good. As soon as I slept with a girl for the first time I didn’t go back to men again. I did however convince myself that I was supposed to be in a relationship with this girl and between getting far too drunk and throwing myself at her I realised that the one thing they don’t tell you about coming out at 23 is that you have to go through puberty again.

To cut a long story short after I embarrassed myself on several nights out I then tried my hand at dating women. I started off as needy and keen and then became suave and uninterested. I remember using the phrase ‘if it sounds like a date I don’t want to do it.’ After a while and after one too many long conversations with my best friend I was happy and in true fairy tale style I met the love of my life when I was least expecting it. We’ve been together almost two years and I feel so lucky to be with someone as amazing as her and have the most phenomenal memories in such a short space of time.
However, I still find myself not wanting to admit that I pretty much came out, got a girlfriend and have been happy ever since. It doesn’t seem fair that i’ve had it so ‘easy’ considering everything what people in this community has been through. I also find myself wanting to distance more and more from my past with men as if by doing so it will make me more of a lesbian. To tell you the truth my past with men was pretty messy and it took me a long time to realise I was looking for something in them that they just couldn’t give me; obviously.

The point to this is to address the stigma that surrounds coming out later in life. People say things like ‘but I thought you wanted kids?’ and it can be scary when you realise that life won’t be as straight forward as you once thought. I still feel like I have less of a right to stand alongside the amazing women in the gay community but i’m beginning to realise that gay comes in all shapes and sizes and it doesn’t matter if you were 23, 13 or 32 when you realise you are one of them. I hope by sharing my story that people in my situation can feel more connected and remember that our coming out journey is valid and important to share.

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With visibility comes community, empowerment and self-confidence for young lesbians https://www.rainbow-project.org/with-visibility-comes-community-empowerment-and-self-confidence-for-young-lesbians/ https://www.rainbow-project.org/with-visibility-comes-community-empowerment-and-self-confidence-for-young-lesbians/#respond Wed, 22 Apr 2020 09:58:08 +0000 https://www.rainbow-project.org/?p=4084 Rebecca Toolan is a lesbian from Belfast who currently works in marketing and occasionally writes about pop culture, politics, and LGBT issues. You can follow her on Twitter at @rebtool     “Lesbians really do exist!” exclaimed Derry Girls’ Orla McCool against the backdrop of the North of Ireland in the mid-1990s, around the same time …

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Rebecca Toolan is a lesbian from Belfast who currently works in marketing and occasionally writes about pop culture, politics, and LGBT issues. You can follow her on Twitter at @rebtool

 

 

“Lesbians really do exist!” exclaimed Derry Girls’ Orla McCool against the backdrop of the North of Ireland in the mid-1990s, around the same time I was born. 

 

 

Fast forward 20 something years to 2020, which sees the inaugural Lesbian Visibility Week taking place spearheaded by Diva Magazine. The landmark event celebrates the strides that lesbians have made in our own movements and in supporting others in our community, as well as bringing attention to issues that face lesbians and other women who date women in our community today. 2020 also sees Northern Ireland at long last legalising same sex marriage, with a lesbian couple becoming the first to wed in our wee corner of the world. 

Visibility is an important word. It’s not that lesbians have been totally invisible up until now. We exist in every corner of society and come in many different forms; Diva have published an incredible list of 100 Visible Lesbians who have shaped lesbian culture and made an impact on wider society, but there are surely 1,000s more who could be celebrated in their own right. 

I’m 24 years old, and my journey with my identity was markedly of its time. I cut my teeth on Tumblr, coming out to my friends with an episode of Pretty Little Liars muted in the background. While I diligently researched my community from websites like AfterEllen and Autostraddle, I dared not call myself a lesbian because of the heavy baggage attached to the word. For years I was gay, a gay woman even, but never a lesbian. Terminology aside, it still felt isolating to believe I was the only person like me I knew at school, in my GAA team, and in my wider group of friends. I found my people online, and made friends for life through sharing stories of first crushes, Glee characters, and hopes for the future.

Now, a proud lesbian woman firmly stuck between the Millennial and Gen-Z camps, I can speak with some great amount of certainty on just how much differs for young women who are coming to terms with their sexuality today in 2020, but also that in spite of all the change in the world, some things have stayed the same. 

For many young lesbians, it’s not Ellen or K.d Lang who are their cultural points of reference, but women like musician King Princess, YouTubers Rose and Rosie Dix-Spaughton, and actress Kate McKinnon. There’s a lot to be said on the power of positive representation afforded by these entertainers, as well as the continued activism and change brought about by some much less visible figures in our history and in our local communities, but also room to talk about the new communities built around shared interest and experience that safely house so many young lesbian and bisexual women and girls. Mediums like TikTok and Twitter can become makeshift support groups for young people coming to terms with their sexuality and learning about the community they’ll soon be navigating as a young, newly out person. 

Alongside their list of 100 Visible Lesbians, Diva Magazine also published the results of a survey they carried out amongst LGBTQ+ women on topics like being out at work, hate crime, and of course visibility. 

The results showed that so many of us still feel like we have to hide our identity, with only half of respondents saying they’re out to colleagues, and over half of respondents saying they sometimes feel fear using public transport. 44% of people who took the survey also said they wished there were more events and spaces specifically for LGBTQ+ women, and 79% said they felt there was much more visibility for male members of our community in public life.

As young lesbians today, we clearly still face a lot of obstacles in society, but we’re in a better position than the women who paved the way for us throughout the decades leading up to now. We have a responsibility to the next generation to keep pushing for more positive representation, more participation, more inclusivity, and more freedom to be ourselves. I’m acutely aware of how me and my partner being visible can contribute to a society where our relationships are normalised, and how seeing people like them being happy and proud can make a world of difference in someone’s life, just as it did for me when I was a scared, closeted teen. 

In her letter to her 14 Year Old Self, Lyra McKee wrote- “It won’t always be like this, it’s going to get better”. 

Those words have become synonymous with the movement here in Northern Ireland, an encapsulation of the hope of many young gay people that the difficulties and hardships they face are only temporary. There is a big bright world out there, and we all have a place in it.

 

 

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