Politicians claim they back LGBTQ+ rights. But has any real progress been made? Derry LGBTQ+ activists Xavier Beardwood and Li Janiris—speaking at the PinkNews Parliamentary event—held no punches in this fantastic speech given at Stormont, transcribed for Rebel.
Their message to the politicians? We want liberation, and we won’t wait any longer.
Good evening everyone,
We’re here as representatives of OUT North West—a project created in partnership with The Rainbow Project and Cara-Friend and funded by The National Lottery Community Fund.
We are a fairly new project led by LGBTQ+ youth for LGBTQ+ youth. Throughout our first year we and other young people have advocated for ourselves by leading campaigns, giving talks, building links with other communities and individuals across Northern Ireland and the world. We have provided a drop in space and other events for LGBTQ+ youth to feel safe and have fun, promoting health and well-being specific to us, and offering new learning opportunities. We reach out to isolated young people in rural areas of the North West who can’t easily access the services those of us in cities are fortunate to have.
We’re proud of what we have achieved and the beautiful, strong and loving community that has grown from it. The LGBTQ+ young people in Northern Ireland are radical, passionate and are filled with an incredible amount of determination. We are not just optimistic that change will happen, but insistent.
However, we can only do so much. No matter how tirelessly we work, how many of us there are, or the community we cultivate we have been failed by those who hold the power to improve our lives and tackle oppression. One of the biggest, most well-known concerns that may be generously covered tonight is marriage equality.
We’re glad that there is such wide support from both the general public and significant political will behind equal marriage, but we must acknowledge that groups within the LGBTQ+ community are being left out of the conversation. The ban on same-sex marriage ensures that any married trans person who attempts to legally change their gender is forced to divorce their partner before doing so. This is a flagrant violation of trans people’s right to private and family life, and we all must ensure that trans folks are given a platform to raise attention to and awareness of these issues in the marriage equality debate. All in all, it’s a disgrace that both Stormont and Westminster have consistently refused to act; it’s about time to put promises into practice and legislate.
Over the past 13 years Stormont has sat on a sexual orientation strategy—despite committing to its publication. We are being consistently ignored. Given rising hate crime incidents, poor healthcare and education experiences, and consistent discrimination and prejudice perpetrated against the LGBTQ+ community, it’s a travesty that Stormont has spent 13 years refusing to act on publishing this strategy for improving the lives of LGBTQ+ people here. Despite what you might think, it’s not just marriage equality and a sexual orientation strategy we’re demanding. Indeed, as young people, LGBTQ+ experiences in education is one of our highest priorities. Despite having education ministers from parties who have proclaimed themselves to be outspoken allies to the LGBTQ+ community, there has been little to no meaningful action on promoting LGBTQ+ equality within the education system.
Despite clear evidence that change is necessary, there are still a mountain of unresolved issues affecting queer folks within schools and colleges; homophobic & transphobic bullying is rife; there is a clear lack of legislation or policies that ensure the protection of LGBTQ+ people within school, as well as the promotion of relationships and sex education that does nothing but harm to LGBTQ+ young people. This is another area where Northern Ireland is trailing behind the rest of the UK—Scottish schools are required to teach pupils about the history of LGBTQ+ movements and the fight for equality, as well as tackling homophobia, transphobia and biphobia and exploring LGBTQ+ identity openly and affirmingly within the educational environment.
Policies like these save and enrich LGBTQ+ lives—inaction does the opposite. It’s clear that there is a pattern of inaction within the political class in Northern Ireland and in Westminster, specifically when it comes to supporting LGBTQ+ people in Northern Ireland. Nowhere is this clearer than in the lack of action in dealing with the crisis in trans healthcare. No new patients have been taken into the over 18s Gender Identity Service in almost a year and a half, and human rights violations are freely perpetrated against those who do find themselves able to access the service. Both the over and under 18s services have consistently failed to follow global best practice on this issue, or update their service models in any way to reflect developments in the provision of trans healthcare. Trans people’s lives are being put on hold for 5, 10 years, often longer, due to excessive gatekeeping and difficulty accessing basic transitional healthcare through these services, with little to nothing being done to address this. We want all of you to leave Stormont tonight knowing that you absolutely can do more to fix this issue— support the trans community, listen to us, platform our voices and follow our lead. Engage with groups like TransgenderNI and the Belfast Trans Resource Centre.
Trans people know what’s best for our own community, so work with us to fight for that and ensure that the human rights of trans people are respected in Northern Ireland. Given all these issues, it’s very clear that the oppression of LGBT people and communities comes from the top and works all the way down to permeate through our society. Legislative measures—such as the implementation of the Nordic Model of sex work, voted in by many political parties speaking tonight—have made LGBTQ+ lives much worse, and there has been a consistent failure to update and change legislation and policies to make them more supportive of LGBTQ+ communities.
This failure to make any progress results in our community being more vulnerable. LGBTQ+ people experience higher rates of homelessness, mental illness, suicide, and addiction. And organisations like The Rainbow Project and Cara-Friend are left to deal with it on our own, with little to no government funding. With this in mind, our communities and our struggles should not be viewed as your tools; we aren’t a political football or brief campaigning strategy, we aren’t your summertime marketing ploy. These inequalities exist as a result of systematic shortcomings and institutional violence that can’t be covered up with rainbow branding. We need direct, political, action, and we need it now.
The UK government is required to uphold human rights not just in England, Scotland and Wales, but in Northern Ireland too. Throwing our rights on the backburner is no better to us than being denied them indefinitely. We need action, not meaningless platitudes and not an “unwavering commitment to devolution” being used as an excuse to deny our rights.
Given the huge range of issues affecting LGBTQ+ people in Northern Ireland—we didn’t have time to touch on many of them tonight. Unfortunately, unlike other devolved governments we don’t feel like we have much to celebrate in terms of legislative successes. Our positive victories lie within our own community; in our art, our activism, our passions and our ambitions.
We are not here to politely ask for the rights that we are entitled to. Rights are just that, and are not something that should be held from us. We demand that we have the platform we need and deserve to fight for equality—we must be leading these discussions.
We want liberation, not assimilation. Work with us to achieve that.