"You Can Get Married, But You Still Risk Getting Punched in the Face" - Being LGBTI in Ireland
Last May, Ireland became the first country ever to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. It was a historic and jubilant day following what had been an emotional and often mentally taxing campaign for those who identify as LGBTI.
There were great scenes of celebration and for many, a sense of change and freedom that can only come with a social turning of the tide as powerful as this was.
However, all is not well among the LGBTI community, in particular among our young people and sadly this does not come as a surprise. If this shocks you, you only need to speak to any young person who is not straight to discover the extent of the damage to many people’s mental health within the community.
In the findings of the LGBTIreland report commissioned by the great people at GLEN and BeLongTo, a saddening picture of LGBTI mental health emerges. According to the report; “The exciting progress achieved for Irish LGBTI people in 2015 gives us solid ground from which we can work to achieve the recommendations in this report."
"Marriage equality and gender recognition were momentous milestones, but much work still needs to be done to ensure that all LGBTI people are equal, safe, included and valued across Irish society. The past continues to exert its negative legacy on many LGBTI lives.”
The findings are definitive. LGBTI young people are twice as likely to self-harm and three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, and their levels of severe stress, anxiety and depression are a massive 4 times higher than the average.
People particularly feared rejection by family and friends especially when they were aware of existing negative attitudes within their family or among friends. The assumption of heterosexuality by family, friends and society also acted as a barrier to coming out.
Compared to a similar age group of mixed sexual identities in the MyWorld1 national youth mental health study who were asked about their levels of anxiety, LGBTI young people were twice as likely to overdose, cut themselves or commit other forms of self-harm.
"I was having nervous thoughts about whether I was going to come out to my parents or not. And the thought of it got too much and I decided to cut myself to get some sort of release from those thoughts. I still haven’t come out to them." (Gay male, 20)
21% of the LGBTI people surveyed had attempted suicide, with a quarter of these having tried to end their own lives in the last year.
There is still a huge problem in terms of LGBTI acceptance in schools, with people rating their schools mostly as a 5 out of 10 in terms of LGBTI-friendliness, while most college or workplace ratings were at 10 out of 10. This discrepancy is alarming, but not surprising considering many people I know, including myself did not receive any positive affirmation or acknowledgment of LGBTI identities in school at all.
The culture of silence and stifling of anything different from the norm is sadly all too common in many schools, and personally it took going to third level and being in a more open environment for me to even begin to accept who I really was.
There has not been a significant reduction in victimisation of LGBTI people since the Supporting of LGBT Lives study six years ago, with gay men transgender and intersex people being on the receiving end of the most physical and verbal abuse.
You can get married, but you still risk getting punched in the face on a night out.
Only 1 in 3 LGBTI people surveyed felt safe holding their significant other’s hand in public, while 40% of the general public felt uncomfortable seeing an LGBTI couple kissing in public, compared to just 17% for heterosexual couples.
This statistic is just heartbreaking to me, and shows how uncomfortable many people still are around same-sex couples. "That's grand, I just don't want to have it shoved in my face."
A significant number of LGBTI people surveyed that suffer from mental health issues have not sought any help, due to barriers like cost, fear of misunderstanding by mental health professionals, and a lack of awareness about LGBTI specific mental health issues.
This study shows in black and white how much further we as a society need to go to truly protect the wellbeing of our (now legally equal) LGBTI citizens. Equality is not just about voting yes once and thinking you have done your part to help LGBTI people in Ireland.
Many people are also suffering greatly from the repercussions of having their identities questioned, invalidated and torn apart on national media platforms during the referendum. I am 24 years old and I found it to be one of the hardest times in my life, so it makes me really feel for those younger than me that were struggling with their sexual identities during the campaign.
The study has highlighted the debilitating mental health issues that many young LGBTI people are currently facing, and what needs to be done now is the creation of a strategy to help them on an on-going basis.
We as a society need to challenge negative attitudes every single day. We need to call people out when they are using slurs, or being ignorant. The study puts it best by saying that the onus is on all of us: “All sections of Irish society have a role to play including Government, State agencies, health and social services, schools, LGBTI organisations, local communities, families, individual citizens and LGBTI people themselves.”
Those who voted yes still need to embody this by supporting LGBTI people and causes, to help create a truly inclusive Ireland.
Genuine equality is still a long way off, but hopefully the statistics in this report, and the momentum from the referendum can help to create an Ireland where that is achievable.
On May 21st we will celebrate the first anniversary of Marriage Equality with a special screening of our new documentary short; A Year in Colour. To join us at this free event, email Cassie.Delaney@Her.ie. Details to be announced soon.