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Institutionalising Love, not Hatred

Aisling Twomey

On Monday June 17th, in conjunction with the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, BeLonGTo Youth Services hosted a Youth and Social Inclusion Conference at Croke Park.  The event came in the wake of findings published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which surveyed 93,000 LGBT people from across the European Union between April and July 2012.

The FRA report found that 47% of respondents had been discriminated against or harassed in the previous 12 months, and that 91% of respondents had heard or seen negative conduct against a schoolmate who was seen to be LGBT while they were in school.  Two thirds of respondents, more than half from in every member state, reported that they avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner in public for fear of being assaulted.

The Croke Park Conference was supported by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, with Minister Frances Fitzgerald speaking at the beginning of the day.  The Minister was “glad that social inclusion has been identified as a core part of the trio of Presidencies of the Council of the EU” and established her belief that as far as LGBT involvement goes, Ireland has “an unfinished democracy”.

Dr Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur for Child Protection, spoke during the keynote panel and pointed out the stark truth that homophobic and transphobic bullying must be considered “a profound child protection issue”.  Phil Prendergast MEP, reflecting on the historic setting for the conference, spoke about the LGBT community and sport, describing a “glass ceiling of homophobia” that exists right across Ireland, on every playing field.

The next Presidency of the Council of the European Union will be held by Lithuania, a state that came under heavy fire throughout the conference.  Lithuania has the highest level of youth suicide in the EU and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) reports that 88% of teachers in Lithuania agree that ‘family’ is based solely on marriage between a man and a woman.

The international perspective of the conference was possibly the key to its success, with panels that provided different insights from around the EU as well as the United States, Turkey and Ireland.  Each panellist brought a different perspective, whether legal, youth work, transgender, activist or human rights, which provided a dearth of understanding to those attending.

The panels were backed up by a workshop section in the early afternoon, and the Conference closed with collaboration on the forthcoming Dublin Statement on LGBT Youth and Social Inclusion.  It is hoped that this statement once released will be recognised as a sustainable but pivotal legacy of the Irish Presidency in 2013.

Want to find out more?  You can read the FRA’s report on their website.

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