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LGBT community hoping new Stormont brings gay marriage breakthrough

Thursday, 9 February 2017

LGBT community hoping new Stormont brings gay marriage breakthrough thumbnailJo McParland

Armagh woman Jo McParland is a Regional Development Youth Officer for Cara-Friend, a youth service for LGBT people aged between 12 and 25.

Jo attended Keady High School and Armagh Tech before studying Psychology at Queen's University. Cara-Friend has been providing services in the Armagh area since last autumn, and provides a youth group that meets in the city as well as awareness training in local schools, and holding anti-bullying workshops.

Here Jo outlines the how the Stormont crisis is affecting the organisation, and what hopes a new Stormont could bring to fruition for the LGBT community:

"Under a new administration, provided they can work together, I'm sure that the majority of the LGBT community would hope that there is a way forward for marriage equality. As it stands at the minute, without anything changing, it will continued to be blocked through the use of the petition of concern.

Even if the parties do come back, after the election, if they can't work together we'll probably end up being governed by the UK Parliament again. If that was to happen who knows... Wales, Scotland and England all have marriage equality through Direct Rule and their own respective devolved governments, so if we can't get it through Stormont, it might be better in terms of the marriage equality issue.

If they ask for a referendum, I think there would be a majority in favour of marriage equality.

What I do wish for, however, is that it would be voted in by the majority of MLAs in Stormont, and that the DUP wouldn't use the petition of concern, and it would just be passed. That would be ideal but if the political status quo remains, then that is a big concern for the LGBT community, I guess it is for everybody.

Cara-Friend is a youth organisation and my job is regional development officer and I set up regional groups outside of Belfast to try to give young people a safe place where they can learn, develop and grow as LGBT people themselves with 'allies', which are young people who aren't LGBT themselves but maybe have someone in their family or have a friend who goes to the group, to try and bridge that gap between LGBT kids and those who aren't, to bring people together, so we're inclusive. That's part of what I do.

Then we go into schools to teach staff about LGBT awareness in the hope that it gives them more information to deal with issues when they come up. We also run a 'Shout Out' programme for young people for Year 8s and right up, to teach young people about stamping out homophobic and transphobic bullying, and try to give them more awareness about what it's like to be a LGBT young people too; how it feels to come out in a school environment or being fearful of coming out and that impact on a young person.

We're not pushing an agenda, we're just giving all young people some idea about what someone in the LGBT community is going through, and how as allies they can help.

'In Armagh Cara-Friend has been operating for around six months. Some live in Armagh and the wider area, some come from wider afield, from Dungannon, Lurgan. I think for them it's great to have a group that caters for their needs, it gives them somewhere safe to be themselves.

Just think about how people are being treated in America at the minute, so for government here to move forward, to say to young people, to the LGBT community that you are accepted, you are valued, that you are accepted for who you are... I think that it would show young people that Northern Ireland is moving on, was being inclusive and becoming a society that they want to be involved in.

A lot of people historically have left Northern Ireland, I did myself, I returned but I would be in the minority.

A lot of young people leave and don't come back because simply they feel that they aren't accepted here because of who they are. If they had that confirmation from Stormont then it would be a really good boost.

Marriage equality is a basic human right, you should be able to marry who you love and I think the message something like that would send to a young person would be a great step forward.

Part of our funding is through The Executive Office (formerly OFMDFM), and because its not running, that part of our funding is now hanging in the balance.  Additionally the bulk of our funding for our youth service comes through the Education Authority, and due to the fact that the Executive doesn't currently exist that is also in doubt for the new financial year. The situation we're in now is are we going to get it, or not going to get it. 

The people that work for Cara-Friend go into schools and youth clubs all across Northern Ireland. They have a direct impact on young people's lives and because Stormont is now in the balance, the ability for them to go out and do their work is reduced and may not be there in the future. 

It's important that Stormont gets back to functioning, that every time it goes on one of its  little 'siestas' that there are real people's lives that are affected by the politicians having a 'lovers' tiff'. 

There are young people who depend on my group, if funding is cancelled and Cara-Friend can't afford it, then that's 15 young people who will not have their needs met, will not have their own space to talk about issues they are going through, that will directly affect their mental health.  The politicians just need to get back to work.' 

Cara-Friend is holding a free 'Educating the Educators' training event for professionals and volunteers working with young people in the City of Armagh Hotel on March 2, between 5pm and 8pm. 

The event is open to all teachers, youth workers, health professionals and social workers and anyone else who works with young people.  For more information please send an email to:  declan.meehan@cara-friend.org.uk or visit:  www.cara-friend.org.uk"

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