We’re coming up to Pride 2018 but those unaware could easily mistake it for Jim Wells-mania going by the media coverage. The inspiring Alternative Queer Ulster event which platformed a diverse range of voices from across the community went next to ignored in mainstream coverage as Nolan, the Belfast Telegraph and the rest instead sought to platform the most outraged condemnations they could find. As usual, no LGBT voice can be heard in Northern Ireland without it swiftly being followed by Wells, Allister or some other such reactionary spitting poison. This week, we’ve had fringe Christian cranks calling for a boycott of Primark for their support of Pride, Arlene Foster (remember her? wasn’t she supposed to be nice now?) claiming that flying Pride flags on local council buildings was a ploy to remove the Union flag, Jim Allister whinging about Translink and wall-to-wall Wells. The coverage of Pride has been devoted entirely to homophobes with LGBT voices and issues completely written out of the narrative. Even progressive allies have generally just offered the usual pablum about marriage while using Pride events as a launchpad for boring Twitter point-scoring against each other. As an antidote to this, we are platforming actual community voices. Chris Geddis, a speaker at Alternative Queer Ulster, has kindly allowed us to share the transcript of his speech at Stormont about the issues faced by LGBT people in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland. 2018. Queer people are protected under the auspices of the Section 75 legislation, we are a protected class from discrimination, we have equal rights to goods and services (Despite Paul Givan’s best efforts), We must be treated fairly by employers and when you go to college or university there are protections in place and societies for us to join if we so choose. We can have civil partnerships and it’s generally agreed it’s a matter of WHEN, not if for Equal Marriage.
And when it’s the lead up to pride we see rainbow flags everywhere, businesses support us generally, unless we want a cake of course. The retailers stock up on lovely rainbow apparel for us to wear and purchase, some bars and restaurants even selling special cocktails with a rainbow theme. And the larger corporations even march with us in the parade in a lovely display of acceptance. (Just don’t ask them do they donate to pride or does any of the money they make with the rainbow gear go towards our community)
There have been plenty of dramatic coming out stories on TV, We are told queer characters and trans characters are appearing in many more movies and shows than they ever did. Just that you know, we don’t get a say in the storylines and we’re snubbed for the roles. Utopia right?
All those lovely protections and rights I rhymed off? They’re for adults, or those who leave school at 16. Section 75 doesn’t apply to schools regarding students, Queer kids are still not supported, politically or within the education sector. Sexual education is not inclusive, kids still don’t feel supported at school and many continue to wait until they’ve left to come out, as it’s safer when you’re older.
In 2003 the Shout report was released by YouthNet, looking at the views and experiences of queer youth in Northern Ireland. While most knew of their sexuality at the age of 12 or 13, male defining respondents waited until 17, and female defining respondents to 18 before coming out. 44% experienced active bullying in school environments and 63% had generally negative memories and experiences of their school days.
But sure! That was what? 15 years ago? We’re in the utopia in which we’ve got a city centre drowning in rainbow flags, it must have gotten so much better in the past 15 years due to all this business support, TV Soap storylines and those lovely protections right?
Let’s just see…In 2017 the follow up report was released entitled “Still Shouting”. I recommend everyone takes a read at this. 68% of respondents reported that they were bullied. This may be because kids feel more comfortable coming forward about this kind of bullying but that figure is still stark. It went up. 72% of respondents also reported a negative reaction on coming out within school life. It is a testament to the political failure of our honourable politicians to provide help and support to one of the most vulnerable age groupings of our queer community. They’re still shouting. Why aren’t we listening?
In this so called “golden age” of Queer rights, in which more political parties than not have specific queer or LGBT groupings, why then do our queer children still cry out in pain? It’s time. To those parties who call themselves progressive or Queer inclusive I tell you now. We will hold you to the mark. No more wasting your time on assembling the party vote machine into scooping up pride awards, no more snide social media wars on how much more queer friendly you are than another party, No more smiling photo ops talking about how good you are to us, no more focusing on filling a room with your supporters at queer event so you get the loudest clap. You’ve real work to be getting on with. Not one transfer or preference for any of you, until you pledge to fix and address this vile wrong against our community’s most vulnerable. I urge everyone here to do the same. Thank you.
For more LGBT voices, including #AltQueerUlster organiser Mal O’Hara, discussing the issues faced by the community, listen to our Speakeasy Pride Podcast here.