The Rainbow Project is a health organisation that works to improve the physical, mental & emotional health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender people in Northern Ireland.
The Rainbow Project was established in 1994 by a group of volunteers who were concerned about the spread of HIV within the gay male population of Northern Ireland.
These volunteers wanted to provide information and support to men who have sex with men (MSM) about HIV and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). They carried out research within the gay and bisexual communities in order to find out what type of information and support services were required.
As a result of this research, the project began to offer information on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), distributing safer sex materials and leaflets at commercial gay venues and LGBT events.
Although our initial work was focused on HIV and STI prevention, it became clear that our service-users had additional support needs related to their physical health generally as well as mental & emotional well-being. As a result of working with the community, in 1998, The Rainbow Project developed a professional counselling service for gay and bisexual men and those questioning their sexual orientation.
By 2003, The Rainbow Project had developed sufficient resources and governance to open a second centre in Northern Ireland’s second city, Derry/Londonderry and began delivering youth development services across the Foyle area.
In 2008, with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, The Rainbow Project recruited an equality officer to develop policy and engage with government on behalf of the organisation. This post led to the publication of ‘Through our Eyes’ a report on the experiences of LGB people interacting with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which in turn led to the creation of the advocacy service to support victims of hate-motivated crimes and incidents. This was also the year, when the Family Ties group was created, to provide support and advice to the parents and carers of young people who come out as LGBT.
The Rainbow Project continued to increase its understanding of the needs of the community through engagement and research. This led us to develop a rapid HIV and syphilis testing service in 2010 for those who found it challenging to access statutory sexual health services. Research also indicated that many of the difficulties facing LGBT adults were a direct consequence of their experiences in schools and so we developed an education equality project in partnership with Cara-Friend to provide training opportunities for teachers as well as developing policy and lobbying government for changes to the education system in Northern Ireland.
In 2012, The Rainbow Project was still formally constituted as a gay and bisexual men’s organisation, although a significant number of service users were LGB women and a growing number of users were trans. The Board of Trustees began a change process which was called ‘Going LGBT’ to grow The Rainbow Project from a men’s organisation to one which supports the full spectrum of LGBT people in Northern Ireland. This process involved actively recruiting trustees and staff to represent the diversity of the community, engaging staff in training on gender, power imbalances and the particular needs of community members who are not gay and bisexual men. This has influenced all aspects of our work; the language we use, the way we conduct our research, the way we promote services and the resources we create. While the organisation has changed significantly since this process began, we consider ‘Going LGBT’ to be an ongoing process and there is still much more for us to do provide the best possible services to which our community are entitled.
2012 also saw the development of important new services. In 2012, based on our research of the experiences of the community in workplaces, The Rainbow Project began working with employers to improve the experiences of LGBT workers. This was also the year when we launched our befriending service; a way for people who are new to the community, or new to Northern Ireland, to build their social connections with LGBT people.
Over the next few years, The Rainbow Project opened a new Foyle LGBT centre, began testing clinics in Ballymena, developed a sexual health education programme in partnership with Nexus and Relate NI and most recently, began providing direct support for LGBT parents through our family project in partnership with HereNI.