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Support group for LGBT Galway teens

Denise McNamara

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‘That’s so gay’ is a phrase often uttered which may not intend to cause offence.

But for a young person who is unsure about their sexuality or if they have a sibling who has come out, it can be very damaging.

“It’s such a loose term that is really popular right now,” reflects Ann-Marie Hession, a youth worker with shOUT!, a support group for young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) or who may be questioning their sexual identity.

“Pupils in national school can use it without knowing what it means but it’s being used in a negative way. It could be about pink football boots and you’re buying into that stereotyped idea that gay boys like pink. Just don’t use those terms. It’s a form of discrimination, it’s a form of bullying.”

Language is one of the things focused on in workshops conducted by Anne-Marie at schools in the city and county, the only full-time LGBT youth worker in Galway.

After securing funding from Galway County Council before Christmas, shOUT! has completed 20 workshops aimed at raising awareness of LGBT issues in country schools already this year. In the past four months students in six city schools have undergone the programme.

“We look at what is the correct terminology, what is not appropriate. We examine what homophobia and transphobia are, what ways it comes across either directly or indirectly. We look at the process of coming out and how difficult that can be. Then we go through how to change a few things that might make it less difficult for people who identify as LGBT,” explained Anne-Marie.

Statistics show that one in ten people identify as LGBT. That means no matter which class or group you are in, the likelihood is at least one person is not straight, or at least not sure if they are.

“If that person sees their friend John or brother Paul is not laughing when somebody makes a homophobic remark, that can create a space for them to go and talk about what they’re going through, maybe even come out.”

Another exercise classes engage in is what is involved with the “coming out process”.

“It can either be positive, negative or neutral. We ask them to prepare a few lines and practise them to help make it a positive experience. Maybe inside you’re shocked but that’s for you to process later. Instead maybe say, ‘thank you, you obviously think I’m a very good friend, you trust me, I know how hard it must be to say that’.”

A Gort Community School Leaving Cert student came out to his best friend in January of last year.

“All my friends were 100% behind me. Once people see your friends are with you, they back off. I knew I was gay when I was twelve. I just wanted to be like the rest of the lads but it just got too much,” he recalled.

It was on his suggestion that the workshops were held in the school, where there are several openly gay students.

“It was one my main aims before I left here. I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I did. I had nobody to talk to. I was afraid to. At least now any new student is aware of what LGBT means and you can talk to people about it.”

The workshops have also been well received by the entire school community. The school’s social education teacher Carmel Neylon said the school is a lot more open since all students underwent the programme.

“There’s been absolutely amazing feedback from students and parents and the school management, in fact some LGBT students approached me as a result and it spearheaded another project.”

Applied Leaving Cert students have created a mosaic to signify that Gort Community College is an LGBT friendly school.

“It’s going to be hanging in our assembly. It’s a positive response to what we see as a human rights issue,” Ms Neylon remarked.

Schools who hold the workshops have reported a noticeable reduction in homophobic comments.

Last week was Stand Up Week, a national campaign launched by Belong To, a LGBT youth group in Dublin, and supported by the Department of Education to encourage young people in schools to stand against homophobia and support those who identify as gay or lesbian. A family day was held in Eyre Square to mark the occasion.

Research from 2009 found that 58% of young people experience homophobia in their schools, with 34% of that coming from teachers. In the local workshops, students talk about hearing homophobic remarks at least once a day.

Same sex relationships have never been so much to the fore with the upcoming Equality Referendum, reflects Anne-Marie. Yet they are being bombarded with negative comments about homesexuality.

“The lives of our local young people will be affected by this referendum, yet they have no say over it.”

In the three years Ann-Marie has worked with shOUT!, she has noticed the age profile of those using the services decline.

“Young people are definitely coming out younger. Research has found that twelve is the average age when they first realise their sexual orientation whereas 17 is the average age they come out. That’s dropping because it’s starting to become normalised.”

ShOUT! organises drop-in sessions for young people in the community – on Saturdays, midday-1.30pm for 14-17-year-olds; for 18 to 21 year olds on the first Friday of the month. The groups feature a host of different activities – drama, art, film, cooking.  ShOUT! also organises summer camps as well as one-to-one talks with teens not ready to come to a group.

For further details email shout@youthworkgalway.ie or call 087 773 8529

CITY TRIBUNE

Designated drinking zones in city centre are ‘only solution’

Stephen Corrigan

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Properly staffed designated areas are the only solution to out-of-control outdoor boozing, according to the city councillor who drafted the city’s drinking bylaws.

Cllr Peter Keane told the Galway City Tribune it was likely that councillors would seek to ‘tweak’ the existing bylaws in the near future to find a long-term solution that would enable young people to ‘enjoy a drink outdoors in a safe and controlled environment’, not just now, but in the future too.

To avoid a repeat of scenes around Spanish Arch over recent weekends, the Fianna Fáil councillor said providing areas where the consumption of alcohol was allowed would enable Gardaí to properly enforce the drinking bylaws throughout the rest of the city.

He said he could ‘absolutely appreciate the concerns of residents’ in the Claddagh and elsewhere where anti-social behaviour including urinating in gardens ‘and worse’ had been a blight in recent weeks, but said with proper control, those worst excesses could be avoided.

In the first ten days of June, 83 on-the-spot fines were issued in the city for drinking in a public place.

And last Saturday night, Gardaí closed off the Quincentenary Bridge after hundreds of young people gathered on the carriageway and turned it into a “highly-dangerous road traffic risk situation”.

“Control is the key word for me. Gardaí don’t have the resources, nor do they have the appetite as far as I can see, to deal with the lack of control there has been during the recent good weather.
“If you were to designate, say for example the Spanish Arch or a green area in Salthill, where the bylaws didn’t apply, you could put a number of wardens in place there to control the situation. You could provide adequate bins and toilets, and enough bodies to staff it, and that would allow gardaí to police the bylaws elsewhere,” said Cllr Keane.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story and coverage of the re-opening of the hospitality sector and outdoor dining, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Dispute simmers between businesses and Council over outdoor spaces

Dara Bradley

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Friction between businesses and local government over the reclaiming of public space to facilitate outside hospitality marred the beginning of the city’s ‘outdoor summer’.

Galway City Council has come under fire over its handling of plans by bars and restaurants to use street furniture to facilitate outdoor dining and drinking.

Most city watering holes and eateries resumed trading on Bank Holiday Monday – serving outdoors only – for the first time since Christmas, and the authorities reported that it was successful for the most part, although it needed time to ‘bed in’.

The city vintners’ group said its members with adequate outdoor space were happy to be back and described the mood as ‘euphoric’ in places.

But several outlets expressed disappointment with the Council.

In Eyre Square, the Skeff Late Bar and Kitchen claimed it had to cancel 200 advance bookings – up to 800 people – for this week, after the Council refused permission for “extended outdoor seating”.

On Middle Street, Sangria Tapas Restaurant lashed the Council for refusing it permission to use certain types of awning and windbreakers to facilitate outdoor dining. “Surely the powers that be can take time to support the industry that supports the city?” its proprietor said in a complaint to City Hall.

‘Back the West’, businesses criticised the Council for rowing back on promises to provide additional outdoor space on Dominick Street Lower and Dominick Street Upper, in time for outdoor hospitality’s reopening on June 7.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council chief: ‘landlords see 4% rent increase cap as a target’

Enda Cunningham

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said that the 4% annual cap on residential rent increases is now seen as a target by many landlords.

Brendan McGrath said that affordability continues to be a major problem for renters in the city and that an increasing number of people availing of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme have to pay ‘top ups’ to their landlords.

The HAP scheme replaces rent supplement for those with a long-term housing need – the individual finds a private rented accommodation within specific rent caps and the Council pays the landlord directly. The tenant then pays a rent to the Council based on their weekly household income.

The maximum monthly rents under the scheme range from €330 for an adult in shared accommodation to €900 for a single parent or couple with three kids.

Based on their household size, tenants can also apply for a 20% extra ‘discretionary’ payment on top of their HAP payment.

However, Mr McGrath said many on the HAP scheme in Galway have to pay top ups to their landlords.

“Rents as a percentage of income is increasing and affordability remains a major problem for the city’s renters. The majority of HAP tenants require additional discretionary payments to assist them in maintaining their tenancies, particularly single person households.

“An increasing number of HAP tenants now have to pay top ups to their landlords even with the 20% extra HAP discretionary payment applied for their particular household size,” Mr McGrath said in a report to councillors.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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