AS we were all asked to stay at home to battle this virus, LGBTI+ people living in unsupportive homes, or accommodation, found themselves deeply isolated and many experienced a significant decline in their mental health.
This was particularly acute for LGBTI+ people living in the direct provision system, for LGBTI+ members of the Traveller and Roma community, for LGBTI+ older people and younger people, and for those living with a long-term illness or disability.
LGBT Ireland operates the National LGBT Helpline and, in order to respond to the unprecedented events of 2020, developed new supports including the Older and Bolder online community group which provides weekly wellbeing and social events.
Peer support group meetings moved online and became available nationwide and emergency one to one visits to those living in direct provision were provided to those who couldn’t access the support groups remotely.
During 2020 the National LGBT Helpline volunteers, all members of the LGBT+ community, responded to over 2,000 helpline calls and chats and almost 120,000 people visited the website lgbt.ie for support and information.
What was particularly notable in 2020 was the increase in younger people contacting the services, with relationship difficulties particularly with family members, one of the top reasons for younger people getting in touch with the Helpline. There was also a rise in the number of people calling to talk about their gender identity or gender expression and the Transgender Family Support Line, which is run in partnership with TENI, increased its hours of services to offer additional support.
The pandemic year also resulted in an increase in the number of people calling the Helpline for support around violence within the home and also experiences of hate speech online. The support offered, be it at the end of the phone, online or through emergency call outs was literally a lifeline for some of the people the organisation supported last year. LGBT Ireland is grateful to have been there for those experiencing the worst of times and for the opportunity to provide a listening ear and a compassionate response.
Alongside providing frontline support to LGBTI+ people and their family members, LGBT Ireland also works with many mainstream services to support them to become welcoming, inclusive and accessible, so that LGBTI+ people can access public services when they need them, without fear those services will not meet their needs or worse, discriminating against them. However, there is much work left to do before we reach a tipping point whereby mainstream services can feel confident and competent to be out and proud as LGBTI+ inclusive.
While 2020 was filled with challenges, there were also some reasons for optimism and celebration. In May 2020 a historic step forward was achieved for LGBTI+ parented families, with the full implementation of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. With the full implementation of the law it became possible to register two mothers on an Irish birth certificate, enabling hundreds of same sex female parents and their children to have their families legally recognised. However, despite this achievement many LGBTI+ parented families remain in legal limbo, this includes gay dads who have created their families through surrogacy, lesbian mums who have used a known donor, and same sex parents whose children were born abroad.
For these parents, the fight to establish a legal relationship with their children continues and therefore remains an advocacy priority for LGBT Ireland in 2021.
At an international level, LGBT Ireland are acutely aware of the deterioration of LGBTI+ rights and increased levels of state sponsored homophobia and transphobia in some EU member states. It is unacceptable that EU citizens are in danger of being humiliated, threatened, or incarcerated because they are LGBTI+ and LGBT Ireland remains engaged with the Irish Government and Irish MEP’s to ensure measures are put in place to hold these countries to account and to uphold the integrity of the EU principles of equality and non-discrimination.
These worrying developments so close to home remind us of the need to stay vigilant and to cherish the progress that Ireland has made in recognising and protecting the rights of our LGBTI+ citizens.
We have more work to do.
While 2015 was a historic year for LGBTI+ rights, 2021 could also be of enormous significance for LGBTI+ Equality with Hate Crime legislation, the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill, and the Ban on Conversion Therapy all on the political agenda.
Ireland now has the opportunity to bring forward laws that can make an enormous difference to the lived experiences of LGBTI+ people and their families across this island and to signal across the globe that LGBTI+ rights are human rights and should be prioritised, respected and protected.
If you or someone you care about is in need of support, please visit: www.lgbt.ie or call our National LGBT Helpline on 1890 929 539, available 7 days a week, from 6.30pm to 10pm Mon – Thur, from 4pm to 10pm Fridays, and from 4pm to 6pm on Sat and Sun.