Special Rapporteur on Child Protection calls for greater supports to Irish LGBT young people

BeLonG To, Ireland’s national service for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) young people has welcomed a strong statement from Dr. Geoffrey Shannon.

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Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, calling for greater supports to be made available to LGBT young people in Ireland.

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In a compelling statement to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health & Children, Dr Shannon outlines the vulnerability of LGBT young people when it comes to homelessness and bullying and calls for the Child and Family Agency to work with BeLonG To to support LGBT youth and their families.

In the statement, Dr Shannon calls for a ‘targeted response’ to address the needs of homeless LGBT young people, who he suggests are ‘highly represented among the homeless’.

Responding to Dr Shannon’s remarks, David Carroll, Executive Director with BeLonG To said,

‘By highlighting the experiences of homeless LGBT young people, Dr Shannon demonstrates his understanding of the extreme marginalisation that LGBT young people can experience. We have worked for many years with homeless LGBT young people and it is our opinion that homophobia is a contributing factor to them becoming homeless. In line with Dr Shannon’s recommendations, we call on the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to work with us to research nationally the extent of LGBT youth homelessness and to develop a strategic national response to the situation’.

Referring to the fact that LGBT young people are ‘coming out’ an ever younger age and that homophobia is learnt in childhood, Dr Shannon also called on the Child and Family Agency to work with BeLonG To for the first time to support LGBT young people and their families.

He states:

“Homophobic attitudes begin amongst children while they are at primary school going age. If we are to fundamentally change these attitudes – which in turn can lead to homophobic bullying, which is a profound child protection issue and which can have devastating effects on LGBT young people, we need to start working with primary school children. LGBT young people are realising their identities and ‘coming out’ at an ever earlier age – on average at 12 years old, but often younger. This means that supports should be put in place to support these young people and their families. There is a very important role here for the Child and Family Agency to work in partnership with BeLonG To to provide vital supports to LGBT young people and their families”.

“We agree with Dr Shannon that work to support LGBT young people, who are coming out younger and younger, needs to begin in childhood. We would greatly welcome the opportunity to work with the Child and Family Agency to develop targeted supports to LGBT young people and their families – and we look forward to doing so”, says David Carroll, who continues:

‘’When it comes to tackling homophobic bullying, we also agree with Dr Shannon that this work needs to begin where the problem starts – amongst children at primary school going age. For that reason we are delighted to be working with the Department of Education and Science to pilot or Stand Up Don’t Stand for Homophobic Bullying campaign in primary schools next March. We aim to build on this and work with our partners to ensure that homophobic bullying is challenged and ultimately eradicated from our primary and post primary school system”

With further reference to LGBT issues in schools Dr Shannon calls for the removal section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act. This section allows for certain discriminations in schools that have a religious ethos, which BeLonG To and others believe is used to discriminate against LGBT teachers.

Dr Shannon stated: “Section 37(1) contributes to the invisibility, bullying, and mental health difficulties experienced by LGBT students and as such urgently needs to be removed. The removal of Section 37 would allow LGBT teachers to be open about their identities and would make possible for them to be role models for LGBT students, in the same way other teachers can be role models”.

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