CORK’S young people are getting an opportunity to make a small bit of history by helping us form the new LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy, and it’s a world first.
It is now two-years since the images of rainbow flags and the Irish flag flying together during the Marriage Equality result were beamed around the world as a beacon of hope.
Voters in Cork were very much part of that moment. For many of us, it was a hugely emotional moment. For my spouse, Ann Louise Gilligan, and myself it was a high point of a life spent campaigning for fairness, equality and justice.
While the referendum was a turning point, it unfortunately does not mark the end of our journey. Homophobia, discrimination and inequality are an everyday reality for many. This can add to feelings of isolation, in particular for young people who are coming to terms with their sexuality.
Recent research tells us that despite the advances of recent years culminating with the referendum that members of our community are still more likely to suffer from depression, low self-esteem and isolation.
We should all be concerned by such findings, and Government has a duty to respond. This is why as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I was proud last December to launch our new strategy — LGBTI + Youth Strategy — which is being formulated under the guidance of broadcaster, journalist and author, Una Mullally.
There has been universal support for the move, including from other high profile campaigners of the Cork Marriage Equality Campaign like Senator Jerry Buttimer.
Since the announcement a lot of work has been carried out. An online consultation in April attracted more than 3,000 responses in a week.
Now that work is being followed up with regional meetings, organised with the support of the Union of Students in Ireland, BeLonGTo and Spunout.ie.
It is right and fitting not only that we should come to Cork — but also that our meeting should coincide with the LGBT Awareness Week which got underway with a reception at City Hall this week and continues until Sunday, May 21.
During the week there are a number of events finishing with the ‘Picnic in the Park’ in Bishop Lucey Park, on Saturday May 20 at 2pm. While we have a lot of campaigning still to do it is of course also only right that we celebrate with our loved ones. The picnic is a family friendly event for citizens, communities and the city that includes food stalls, face painting and music by the Barrack Street Band & Tom Daly.
This 7th Awareness Week has the theme ‘Cork, A Republic of Equals’. I am proud to support this initiative and love the declaration that Ireland’s largest county is a place where everyone should expect equal treatment. Indeed it is a declaration every community, in every country should strive to achieve.
This Saturday May 20, the new Youth Strategy wants to hear from young people living in Cork about their lives, experiences and expectations. If you are interested in attending please visit my Department’s website on www.dcya.gov.ie for information on how to register. Their opinions and voices will help inform our strategy. We are determined that young voices will be to the fore in shaping our future path.
Later this year it is my hope that I will receive strong recommendations which will help inform my budget negotiations so that we can ensure a swift Government response. The recommendations will then be followed by our full strategy. To try and predict the outcomes would only defeat the purpose. But I fully expect that young people will have a few surprise findings for us.
Two years after the referendum it is time to build on the solid foundation delivered by voters in Cork and across Ireland. Standing in solidarity with young LGBTI+ people is to my mind the best way to do that.
There is a lot of excitement, energy and passion around our consultations and I want to be sure that young Cork voices are part of that conversation.