Dublin: ‘Lesbians Organizing Together’ drop-in centre where gay people can report homophobic crimes
5 Capel St (Mon-Thurs 10am-6pm, Fri 10am-4pm; tel 872 7770)
January 10, 2003
Gays are urged to report all attacks
by Ciaran O’Neill
Members of the gay community in Northern Ireland were today urged to report all homophobic attacks to police. Gay support groups have joined forces with the PSNI in a bid to ensure that homophobic attacks are properly monitored and investigated. The appeal comes amid fears that those behind attacks on members of the gay community are not being brought to justice because of the failure of victims to report attacks. More than 100 homophobic attacks have been investigated by police throughout Northern Ireland over the last three years, including two murders in Belfast. But David McCartney, co-ordinator of the Rainbow Project, a gay and bisexual support group with centres in Belfast and Londonderry, today said that a huge number of incidents went unreported. "This lack of reporting gives the perpetrators a false sense of invulnerability," said Mr McCartney.
" However, this can be changed and homophobics can be held accountable. "By reporting incidents to gay organisations, the PSNI or indeed the local community restorative justice initiative, homophobic attacks can be reduced." Mr McCartney urged people to follow a number of safety guidelines when making their way home after a night out at gay venues. He said these should include trying to arrange transport home in advance, never walking home alone and, if threatened, shouting for help.
Derry-based PSNI officer, Sergeant Harry Faulkner, a liaison officer with the local gay community, said: "I would appeal to all victims to report any incident in which they have been involved, in order that it can be investigated in a professional, sensitive and confidential manner." Any members of the gay community who would like information or support is asked to contact the Rainbow Project at 90319030/71283030.
January 27, 2003
Ireland: New Code To Protect Gay Students
A new code is to be drawn up in Ireland to protect gay and lesbian students. The code will aim primarily to prevent students suffering harassment or discrimination at the hands of classmates or teachers because of their sexual orientation, reports the Irish Examiner. Along with the issue of sexual orientation, it will force schools to address racism, ethnicity, gender, religious diversity and accommodation for pupils with disabilities. The code will also enable students to take legal action if effective action is not taken over their complaints. "Schools are already bound by the Equal Status Act to make sure no pupil or staff member suffers harassment or discrimination on any of the nine grounds laid out in the legislation, but it is a relatively new law and we’re not convinced all schools are aware of their obligations under the Act," said Equality Authority chief executive Niall Crowley.
" There is a relatively informal approach to these issues at the moment. Many schools feel they are doing their best when their best is not good enough. The legislation wants to move towards written policy and defined procedures. It reflects where some schools are at already but also where many schools need to be." Developing the code is a priority of the Equality Authority in its latest three-year plan.
12 March 2003
Leggy Leslie plans to reign on gay parade
by Kathryn Hayes
Watch out, "the bitch" is about. That’s the message from this long-legged lassie who will be strutting her stuff at this weekend’s Alternative Miss Ireland Contest. Leslie B Ann will represent Limerick at the alternative beauty pageant, which takes place in The Olympia Theatre next Sunday night. The six-foot something stunner was crowned Alternative Miss Limerick last November and has been perfecting her pout for the national final. "All I can say is ‘watch out, the bitch is about’," said Limerick-born Lesley. "I’m not nervous. I was thrilled to be crowned Alternative Miss Limerick and even though I didn’t get a Mercedes I got a free bus pass for the year," she said.
Keeping her true identity a mystery, Lesley says she’s 38 but feels 21. Now in it’s ninth year, the Alternative Miss Ireland pageant has become one of the most popular gay events since its dramatic arrival on the alternative social scene. Regularly toasted as "the most significantly post-culturally-kinky event of the year", the alternative beauty pageant is committed to raising funds for HIV and Aids sufferers. In the past four years more than 100,000 Euros has been raised for Cairde a support group for people affected by HIV and AIDS. This year, proceeds will also be donated to Open Heart House a project that seeks to enhance the lives of those living with the illness. The contest has been judged by a number of high profile celebs including Marc Almond, Van Morrison, Louis Walsh, Brendan Courtney and Maria Doyle Kennedy. Doors open on Sunday night at 7pm and the show starts at 8pm
25 March 2003
Gays and lesbians have ‘gender-bender’ brains
Gay men and lesbians have gender-bending brains that contribute to their effeminate and "butch" stereotypes, it was claimed today. A new study has found that gay men really do think like women, while lesbians show a similar affinity with men. In tests, scientists found that gay men excelled at mental tasks women generally perform better than men, but were not so good at tasks traditionally seen as "male". Similarly, lesbians did as badly as heterosexual men in a test geared to get the best out of women. The traits seem to be "hard-wired" into the brain before birth by varying levels of exposure to the male hormone testosterone, say scientists from the Institute of Psychiatry in London.
Men are generally better than women at spatial perception – the ability to mentally reposition shapes and objects and judge the orientation of lines. It is for this reason men despair at the apparent ineptitude of women trying to read maps and park cars. Qazi Rahman and Glenn Wilson conducted a series of neurocognitive tests of spatial skill. They found that gay men performed less well than heterosexual men, but matched the ability of women. But gay men performed better than heterosexuals and as well as women at remembering the locations of objects in an array. In several language tests, traditionally a female strong point, gay men did as well as heterosexual women. Lesbians, on the other hand, performed the tests as poorly as "straight" men.
Dr Rahman said: "Because we know that performance on these cognitive tests depends on the integrity of specific brain regions, the differences implicate robust differences between the brains of homosexual and heterosexual men and women and suggest that hormonal factors early in development (probably during the 1st trimester of pregnancy) produce these differences." The findings are published in a series of articles in the journals Neuropsychology and Psychoneuroendocrinology. They may help explain why gay men and lesbians often suffer mental health problems quite different from those of heterosexuals, the authors claim. Dr Rahman said: "The fact that gay men and lesbians show cross-sex shifts in their brain functioning might also be related, partly, to the cross-sex shifts in their presentation of certain mental health problems, such as higher levels of anxiety disorders, depression and eating disorders (found more in women) in gay men.
" Unravelling variations among groups of people in brain function is becoming an important area for research in human mental health, and a thorough scientific understanding of the biological and social factors which shape human sexual orientation is necessary so we can begin to tackle the mental health problems that gay men and lesbians may suffer from."
The researchers also found that gay men and lesbians both had longer ring fingers relative to their index fingers than heterosexual men and women. Relatively long ring fingers are a sign of exposure to elevated levels of the male hormone testosterone in the womb. The findings supported the idea that high, not low, testosterone levels in men produce shifts in sexual preference. But the evidence suggested that the testosterone levels involved were not high enough to be damaging. This indicated that homosexuality was a normal biological phenomenon, and not the result of biological fault.
27 May 2003
Action call to halt the bullying of gay pupils
by Kathryn Torney, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Action needs to be taken to combat homophobic bullying in schools across Northern Ireland. That’s the message coming today from gay man’s health organisation The Rainbow Project in Belfast. The Project’s forum co-ordinator David Hiles claims that the issue of bullying of gay pupils in school is frequently brushed under the carpet. Recent research by Stonewall found that over 90% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students have experienced homophobic bullying while 64% of suicide attempters have been bullied at school.
Another shocking statistic is that if you are gay in Northern Ireland you are 30 times more likely to commit suicide than a heterosexual counterpart. David said: "We have only been invited three times in as many years by schools to come in and talk about sexuality and homophobia and the difficulties young, gay people in Northern Ireland can face. "There is a particular sort of conservative ethos in Northern Ireland’s schools – on both sides of the community. "We recently held a two hour training session for a group of 15 and 16-year-olds in one school and the results were amazing. "All of them said they had learned so much about what it meant to be gay in Northern Ireland and they also said they realised that gay people were ‘normal’. "In the sessions we discuss stereotypes and challenge these stereotypes.
We also ask students to put themselves into the position of someone who is being bullied because they are gay or perceived to be gay. "There does generally seem to be a realisation that when they are presented with the facts of what it means to be bullied in this way they would feel more confident about talking to a teacher if they noticed that someone was being bullied." The Rainbow Project has been running a campaign to try and combat the problem of homophobic bullying and is holding an ‘open forum’ on the issue next month.
The event is due to be attended by representatives from the Department of Education and youth services division, the voluntary sector, education boards and CCMS and head teachers. "It is just a question of ignorance," David claimed. "This is why we want to consult with the Department of Education and key stakeholders in informal and formal education settings to get the issues addressed of homophobia and homophobic bullying. "The problem has been that schools are so reluctant to have those issues addressed. "There is still a very conservative ethos in schools in Northern Ireland and it is quite a taboo subject. We understand that and know that there are issues around religious and political views, family and parental views. "But I feel that in Northern Ireland – where there is equality of opportunity and all the human rights legislation – that children have a right to education. "If they are being bullied – especially through homophobic bullying – they are not receiving their education."
David said that a young gay man who cannot confide in his teachers may end up feeling alienated in school. This can lead to problems including depression, drug abuse and alcohol abuse. Others may leave school early, without doing their A-Levels, if they do not feel they can stay at school – meaning that the education system is not working for them. In the most extreme cases, the reaction is more severe with suicide contemplated or even attempted. "The young gay or lesbian is left with a lack of information and they are made to feel that their particular orientation is not as valid as that of someone who is heterosexual," David explained. "We would really like to hear from schools which would like to find out about the training we offer and how it can be tailored for individual schools. "It is in the schools’ best interest to have this problem addressed as many gay people feel invisible in school because there is no outlet for them to express themselves." Schools can contact The Rainbow Project on (028) 90319030.
David Hiles’ story: David Hiles (28) is a man confident about his sexuality. He works for a gay men’s health organisation and doesn’t hide his homosexuality from anyone – but it wasn’t always that way. This is the story of his experience at a school in Northern Ireland. A couple of guys at school were taunted constantly – they were effeminate but had not come out. As a result, there was no way I was going to come out and say I was gay. I can remember a couple of teachers saying extremely negative things about sexuality and I just knew that there was no way I could come out. I felt invisible at school and just buried myself in my work. I also felt that I could not take part in extra-curricular activities as I was afraid of being exposed. I took on four A-Levels because I did not want to sit in the sixth form centre in free periods. I just wanted to hide away and bury myself.
Maybe people I went to school with didn’t know this and would be quite shocked to hear what I am saying. I felt uneasy in the company where I could not express myself as a person. I could not talk about basic teenage things like who I fancied. It would have been taboo for me to say that. I also felt pressurised to get a girlfriend – that was something that I had to make a conscious decision to do in order to camouflage I was gay. I knew I was not straight from about the age of 13 and from I was 16 I knew I was gay, but none of my friends at school knew. I had a close group of friends but there was no way that I could come out to them in case someone else found out. I felt that if someone did find out I would have to leave school so I just kept my head down. It really did reinforce ideas of what I now term ‘heterosexism’ – that being heterosexual was superior to being homosexual.
It was presented as being ‘normal’ because homosexuality was not discussed and that caused confusion with me as well. There was no way I could find out information. I could not go to a teacher and say ‘I think I am gay’. I don’t think the school would have been equipped to tell me who to speak to. There is no way I would have known where to seek advice and some validation of being gay. I realised that I personally did not want to stay in Northern Ireland as I felt I could not come out and be the person I wanted to be. That was why I applied to go to university in England. It was a totally different environment at Cambridge – sexuality was not an issue. I have experienced some of that isolation and fear centred around being gay in Northern Ireland.
That is why I work for The Rainbow Project as I want to challenge that. I know that it is not a good way to go through your adolescence." Nathan’s story: Nathan, who is now aged 26, experienced systematic homophobic abuse for over four years during his secondary school career in Northern Ireland. I was punched on a daily basis at school. I came home black and blue and even had to be taken to casualty one day as the beating had been so severe. I dreaded going to school every day. The teachers were aware why I was being punched by other boys in the school, but nothing was done to stop it. They were certainly not ‘the best days of my life’."
First hand stories from two victims of violence at the hands of doormen at a gay nightclub in Derry, Northern Irleand.
The following two accounts of the same violent incident were written by two partners (Seamus and Paul) who were interviewed by GlobalGayz.com for our story about gay Ireland 2003. Seamus and Paul were also staff members of Derry’s LGBT organization, Foyle Friend, which closed in erarly 2004 from lack of funding.
Having worked within the gay community now for quite some time, you learn that, as with any job or volunteering post, it has it’s ups and downs, you have your disappointments and your successes. No amount of experience could have prepared me for the disappointment, hurt and shame I felt on the 1st June of this year. After a tough weeks work, my partner and I decided to treat ourselves to a night out, it’s sometimes not an easy decision to make because you’re quite aware that the people you’re going to be socialising with are the very people you tirelessly work to help during the week, which is a unique aspect of working within a small community and a marginalised one at that.
The night started off very well, we had met up with some friends in our local gay bar and it had all the makings of a great Saturday night out (a rare occurrence in Derry). As the night progressed we were shepherded upstairs to the nightclub and that’s when things started to go pearshaped. My partner had left our company for all of 5 minutes and returned to tell us that he had almost been evicted from the nightclub by one of the security personnel who was on duty, he had witnessed another customer being forcibly removed from the premises with excessive force and being assaulted by the security staff, my partner went into work mode and felt it his duty to acknowledge to the member of staff that he witnessed the assault and that he felt it was uncalled for and out of line.
The said member of staff then proceeded to forcibly remove my partner from the nightclub but the incident was intervened by the manager of the bar, who happened to also be doing DJ that night. While that particular incident was diffused and my partner was rightly allowed to remain on the premises, the management still refused to take any line of action or to exercise their authority as employees of the doorstaff, the incident was ignored!
My friends and I were in disbelief and disgusted as this story was told to us but little did we know that within our vicinity sat an off-duty security guard who on overhearing the details of the incident took extreme objection to the reputation of his occupation and the reputation of his friends being under threat and he eventually began to get aggressive and quite physical with my partner. The whole thing erupted in a barrage of tables being overturned glasses being knocked over and broken and my partner being pinned against the seating area by the off-duty doorman, while his wife and the rest of us were toppled like dominoes. A friend who was with us attempted to stand in between the doorman and my partner but all he got for his good citizenship was a few nasty knocks.
After the incident subsided and the off-duty doorman and his wife had left we all started to pick ourselves up and brush ourselves off and try to come to terms with what had just happened but before we had time to get our floor soaked backsides back onto the seats the doormen who were on-duty came charging towards our overturned table and proceeded to, pardon my language, kick the shit out of us…no questions, no conversation, no mediation! We didn’t stand a chance. I myself was brutally kicked and punched to the back and side of my head as I lay on the ground in defence, my sides and ribs also didn’t escape the blows I was getting which, as I lay there I honestly thought were never going to stop. The whole nightclub came to a standstill, everyone was in shock as to the levels of violence being used and the saddest thing about it was that these are the very people that were being employed to protect us.
On a weekly basis I get people coming through the front doors of Foyle Friend and describing similar incidents from both inside and outside these nightclub constabularies. Everything, ranging from verbal to physical assault, to threats and general homophobic banter. We live in a small community here in Derry, I do not hear about incidents like these, in Belfast, in Dublin, in Galway, in Cork. I am by no means saying that they don’t happen! it’s just that the frequency with which they’re happening here and the levels to which the violence has gone is unacceptable. THIS HAS GOT TO STOP.
Owners and managers and employees have to start taking responsibility for their downfalls and learn from other more popular nightspots who seem to be doing a good job and getting the balance right and local councils have to start taking responsibility for the safety of people both within any public building and on the street, whether it be 4 in the afternoon or 4 in the morning. If you don’t feel safe in your home town then what’s the point?
I have worked in the queer community for some time and as a youth worker I strive to promote self-esteem and personal development within a community that is oppressed, discriminated against and sometimes just ignored. I challenge inequalities within education curriculum’s and endeavour to influence equality within policy and practice everywhere thus allowing all young people to become equal citizens whose voices are heard, respected and valued.
Through my work with young people who identify as LGBT, I have observed a connection between young people going through an education system that generally ignores they exist, their conforming on the basis of peer and family approval, religious oppression, a society that, in general promotes straight superiorism and internalised homophobia to the extent of many accepting the inferior label while ‘going along to get along’ and sometimes even doubting their own morality and intelligence.
With this being the case countless people who identify as LGBT take so many beatings and put up with so much abuse that it becomes the norm, that it’s part and parcel of the orientation. When you are told something often enough, no matter how strong a person you are, there becomes a point when you start to believe it.
Sadly many of us do believe the negative messages! For some the internalised programming is so strong that the beating or the abuse, blatant, subtle or otherwise, is submissively justified by the victim for their being ‘out’ or for their being ‘perceived’. Homophobic bullying is still quite acceptable in our playgrounds and on the streets where our children play. When we go through school we aren’t given the same assertiveness tools as our straight counterparts, we are conditioned with passivity, that our lives aren’t of the ‘norm’ and that our rights or needs are of little importance and in some cases we can become apologetic for being who we are. Our submissiveness fuels the acceptability of homophobia and sends out that awful message that we don’t deserve any better.
The night I was attacked on the Strand Road in Derry by doormen and called by them, more than once, a faggot bastard, with drunken pedestrians voluntarily contributing by warning the doormen to watch their rear end, the reality of the issues I have already discussed became all too true. During the incident the last thing I was thinking about was assertiveness or rights. The only thought I had was to get to hell away from the circle of white shirts and escape their tension that had just over-spilled into anger and rage. To be quite honest my morale had the shit kicked out of it and I was left disheartened and dismayed by the events of that night, not too speak of the hurt I had endured both physically and mentally. I was left pondering as to whether or not people being gay, feminist or otherwise different, portray such a threat to the masculinity and ‘real man’ status of a few?
The incident that happened on the Strand Road you see, was the conclusion of what I had bestowed by advocating an injustice earlier in the evening, while socialising with my partner in our local gay bar. I had witnessed earlier in the club a doorman excessively using force to remove a customer; the customer who was not fighting back or using force was met with a severe head-butt just before being exited. I was appalled and shocked that this had happened. I don’t believe the doorman would use the same force or get away with using this force in the premises of the other bar at which he works. Why then, did he feel that he could get away with it in a Gay Bar?
I advocated my concerns by letting the doorman know I had witnessed him assault the customer and that it wasn’t acceptable. Just as I was about to return to my seat the doorman approached me, pinned me to the wall and stated that I was next. He proceeded to throw me out until the manager intervened and took me aside. After explaining what had happened, no action was taken against the doorman.
Returning to my seat I told my partner what had happened. Not realising an off duty doorman was sitting at the table, I became the target for more aggression while being accused of tale -telling about his friend and fellow bouncer and that I should watch myself as all doormen stick up for each other. I ignored the persistent and playground typical threats and agro until I was once again pinned, this time to my seat. I was then violently attacked by the bully who then went in search of his friends. Up they came, spic and span, white shirts and bow ties.
No discussion, no mediation, no respect – just punches and blows. I did my best to protect myself from the violence while, at the same time, watching my partner getting kicked to the back of his head. I was thrown down a flight of stairs while my partner was escorted violently to an empty bar where he was most appropriately and coincidentally acquainted with the off duty doorman who again assaulted him before throwing him out the side doors.
I was thrown out to the Strand Road. After spending some time looking for my partner and failing to do so, I once again became the target of violence and abuse from doormen from various bars and clubs. Fuelled by their ‘friends’’ tension and proving their status as real men I was bullied, threatened and humiliated this time in a scenario much more serious than that of a school playground!
And yet in this bigger and uglier picture, nothing has changed from the playground, the still traditional images of heroism, valour, banter and bravado from the doormen were as real on the Strand Road that night as in my school memories of playground bullies. Some people still feel that’s it’s all right to attack someone if they are gay and that you have to prove your masculinity by violence and bullying. Just as our education systems generally play blind to homophobic bullying and the negative dimensions of gender and sexuality, so does society in general.
17 June 2003
Irish gays may be able to adopt
In one of the biggest shake-ups in Irish law, it looks likely that gays will be allowed to adopt for the first time in the staunchly Catholic country. The Department of Health published a document on Monday which aims to open up discussions on ‘open adoption’ in addition to allowing children to be adopted whose parents are married. Solicitor Geoffrey Shannon has drawn up the public discussion document, which contains much radical thinking on his behalf such as allowing cohabiting couples to adopt as well as gay couples.
According to the Junior Health Minister, Brian Lenihan, there should be workable proposals on the adoption laws ready to bring before the government by the autumn. There will also be an open forum on any possible changes at the same time. The document highlights that adoption with contact has become more and more popular, and that the old decision that a complete break from the birth mother was in the best interests of the child is now virtually non-existent. According to the Irish Independent the document said: "Any open adoption scheme should facilitate discussing thoroughly the appropriate boundaries for access arrangements prior to the adoption order being made." Currently an individual in a stable non-marital relationship may adopt, although a couple in the same circumstances cannot. This covers gay couples as well as people cohabiting.
July 26, 2003
City Hall start is milestone for gay festival
by Claire Regan, email@example.com
The Belfast Pride festival was due to be launched at City Hall today, marking the start of a week-long celebration of gay issues. A programme of events – set to get under way at 7.30pm – includes drama, dance and poetry provided by a range of organisations including Gay and Lesbian Youth Northern Ireland (GLYNI), the Arts and Disability Forum and Playback. Human Rights commissioner Professor Brice Dickson will join a list of distinguished speakers when he addresses the launch, along with the commission’s investigations worker, Christine Lourdes, to launch the body’s research study in relation to lesbian, gay and bisexual youth and the Health Service.
Co-chair of Belfast Pride 2003, Robert May, said: "The City Hall launch of Belfast Pride marks yet another milestone in the road towards lesbian and gay equality with more and more organisations now vocal supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people across Northern Ireland. "The evening looks certain to be a fun yet informative evening for all," he added. Following today’s launch the festival will run until Saturday, August 2, when the traditional city centre parade will take place. Full details of the week’s events can be found at www.belfastpride.com.
29 July 2003
Ulster gay community at more risk: Violent incidents recorded by police
by Jonathan McCambridge, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gay people in Northern Ireland face a higher risk of violence than homosexuals living in the rest of the UK and Ireland, a new report published today claimed. The research entitled ‘An Acceptable Prejudice?’, carried out by the Institute for Conflict Research, is the first full scale study of homophobic harassment and violence in the province. It reviews all homophobic incidents recorded by the PSNI as well as surveys with the gay and lesbian communities in Northern Ireland.
The police have recorded homophobic incidents since July 2000. Since then they have recorded 120 incidents; 90% of them reported by men, according to the new report. Almost half of the cases involved physical abuse and a third of the victims said they had been harassed before. Over half the incidents were recorded in Belfast. The survey of 186 members of the gay community found that 82% of people interviewed had experienced harassment and 52% had experienced violence.
It found that the percentage of people who had experienced violence and harassment was higher than indicated in comparable surveys in Great Britain and Ireland. The report went on to recommend there should be a campaign in Northern Ireland to raise awareness of homophobia; it also suggested harassment should be included in ‘hate crime’ legislation. It also said that homophobic bullying should be raised within the education system, including schools and colleges. Sinn Fein councillor Eoin O’Broin said political leaders needed to "wake up" to the problem. "It is not good enough to ignore homophobic hate crimes.
Homophobia is as much a blight on our society as racism and sectarianism and should be treated as such. "Some politicians need to reflect on the findings of this report and think carefully about their actions in the future." It is part of a larger project on racist, homophobic and sectarian harassment funded by the Equality Unit Research Directorate of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The report will be launched as part of the Pride Festival at Clanmill Housing Association tonight at 7.30pm.
1 August 2003
Irish gay-rights campaigner lambasts Vatican
One of Ireland’s leading campaigners on gay rights, Senator David Norris, has said the Vatican is fuelling homophobia. His comments follow the publication of a statement approved by the Pope asking politicans to oppose efforts to have gay weddings and civil partnerships legalised. The Vatican demand has caused outrage amongst the gay community worldwide. Senator Norris fears the possible effects, saying that such a "hate filled message" will lead to discrimination and violence. The outspoken campaigner has said that the Vatican ought to be ashamed.
16 August 2003
Assaults on gays ‘at level of epidemic’
by Jonathan McCambridge, email@example.com
Belfast’s gay community today warned that homophobic violence and abuse was reaching epidemic levels after a young man was brutally beaten in the south of the city. A friend of the victim has come forward to tell the Belfast Telegraph about the constant sinister harassment that homosexuals living in Belfast are forced to endure. Less than two weeks ago the Institute of Conflict Research published a report which stated that gay people in Northern Ireland faced a higher risk of violence than homosexuals in the rest of the UK. A PSNI inspector has expressed concern that not all homophobic attacks are being reported and urged the gay community to trust the police.
Mark, a gay man from south Belfast, came forward after his friend suffered head injuries when he was attacked by a gang in the university area of Belfast at the weekend. He said: "Every time I go out onto the street I get called names. I have been spat on and beaten up – it is just constant. "It can happen anytime at all – in the middle of a street in broad daylight. It is mostly verbal abuse but it can become deadly and dangerous. Gay people have been maimed and disfigured. On one occasion I was kicked up and down the Dublin Road." Mark said the police were very effective at reacting to attacks but said more needed to be done to prevent them. "Everyone knows where these attacks are taking place and the police should be patrolling these areas." Mark added: "It is worse in Belfast than any other city.
There are hoods, thugs, who cannot riot anymore because of the peace so they take it out on us. "Paramilitary activity goes down and crime goes up. It has got to the point now that any gay person who goes out at night alone is vulnerable. "It is not improving in Northern Ireland at all, there is more violence now than ever before – the attitudes of the public have not changed." Inspector Robin Dempsey from the PSNI Community Involvement Branch said the police had collated figures for homophobic crime since 2000. In 2000 there were 57 reported incidents, which had dropped to 40 in 2001 and 35 last year. Inspector Dempsey said:
" There has been a drop in reporting these crimes but we have no reason to believe that there are less attacks; we have to make sure the gay community feel comfortable in coming forward. "There is clearly more violence than is being reported but we cannot take action if we do not know about it. It can also take the form of verbal abuse and attacks on property. "There is a perception among some in the gay community that the police are not interested and we have to look at that. We have regular meetings with gay and lesbian groups and we are happy to continue with that." He also said police had minority liaison officers in every area who had received training on sexuality awareness. Within the last year two men have been murdered in Belfast in gay cruising areas – districts where men meet up for sexual encounters.
18 August 2003
Gay life in Ulster
by Gail Walker, firstname.lastname@example.org
Clubbing together André Graham is the epitome of professional success and respectability. Well-spoken, handsome and charming, he drives a Porsche, sports an expensive Tag Heuer watch on his wrist and lives in a luxury home in Holywood. An occasional church-goer, he describes himself as a man with strong Christian values. But the 43-year-old makes his money from businesses that might well prompt a round of curtain-twitching and gossip-mongering among his more conservatively-minded neighbours in leafy north Down. For André, along with his romantic and business partner, Seamus, 32, owns Belfast’s only gay bar, The Kremlin.
Based in Donegall Street, it packs in 800 revellers every Saturday night. And recently the pair invested hundreds of thousands of pounds buying up adjacent prime real estate as the site for their new venture, The Garage, billed as a male-only health and leisure private club. It includes a bar, cafe, Jacuzzi, gym, video lounge and sauna, and already it’s proved a very popular haunt, with around 400 men making use of the plush facilities every week. Over a cup of tea in a nearby cafe, André is frank about the fact gay men are likely to have sex on the premises. "Certainly I have not personally seen any men having liaisons in The Garage, though I have no doubt that they do," he says. But he also insists the club has the tacit approval of the PSNI.
" The number of gays cruising for sex in parks and toilets has always been much higher in Northern Ireland than in other places, largely because gay men had nowhere else to go to meet other men," he explains. "But since we’ve opened police have told us they’ve noticed a substantial decrease in the amount of cruising going on, and they’re very happy about that." As regards the legal implications of such activity, André argues that it’s a grey area. "I’ve done extensive research by talking to owners of the many similar clubs elsewhere in the UK and the legal position seems to be that if two consenting adults go into a cubicle in the toilets and do something behind a locked door in what is, after all, a private club, then that’s considered a private act between them," he explains.
" And, as far as we are concerned, we can’t see what they are doing, so we don’t know. "Obviously if two men began to engage in sexual activity in a communal area we would tell them to desist at once. "And we’re very, very careful that no-one could ever accuse us of having sex for sale on the premises. "Some of our clientele said that when they come in here after work they’d like to have a massage, but we were unhappy about the connotations of that. So, instead, we’ve bought an aqua-massager machine to provide that service rather than have any hands-on contact." But just why has the club proved so successful since it opened, without much fanfare, three months ago? Tucked away in Union Street, just off Donegall Street, André believes its discreet location is an important factor. There are also highly-sophisticated security measures in place, including cameras and a panic button linked to a police station.
"Many gays in Belfast, as in so many other places, have always been afraid of ‘coming out.’ There is so much homophobia and a lot of assaults. But The Garage is somewhere they can come into, relax, and be themselves behind closed doors," he says. "We get quite a lot of married men coming to it as well. Evidently they are not ‘out’ and they wouldn’t go to somewhere like The Kremlin, which is quite public, because of the fear of being recognised, but they do feel able to use The Garage, happy their anonymity will be protected." André, himself, is wary of being fully identified.
Though happy for his name to be used in this article, he shies away from having his face photographed. Born in New Zealand, he has enjoyed a brilliant career. A top executive with Columbia Tristar Entertainment, he came to Dublin eleven years ago to spearhead an Irish branch of the company. Shortly afterwards he was appointed MD of Playstation in Ireland. Then, in 1995, he was transferred to London and put in charge of their licensing operation in 36 countries.
But he’d also just met Seamus, from Letterkenny, who also worked in the entertainment industry. Their careers brought rich rewards yet the pace was gruelling, and both men felt it was time for a lifestyle change. They decided to hand in their notices, return to Ireland and open a gay nightspot. "Originally we planned to look for somewhere in Dublin but then we went out for the night in Belfast and thought there wasn’t really any great gay venue here, so we decided to look for somewhere in this city instead," explains André.
The Kremlin opened in March 1999 and today is the largest gay bar in any UK city outside of London and Birmingham. Perhaps surprisingly, it has never been targeted by anti-gay protesters. Previously the Penny Farthing and, before that, the famous Press bar, McGlades, inside the walls are lined with posters from Soviet Russia. It also operates a policy of positive discrimination against heterosexuals, says André only half-jokingly. "A lot of straight women like to come to The Kremlin because they know it’s the sort of bar they won’t get hassled in.
But if they bring their boyfriends, then those guys don’t seem to be as relaxed. Often they’ll make a point of kissing their girlfriends to prove their heterosexuality. We’d interpret that as a homophobic gesture and we ask them to stop. If they don’t, we ask them to leave," he says, grinning. Though André and Seamus enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle, the couple insist they are not making as much money as people presume from their current ventures. "My Porsche?" grins André. "The bank owns that. You have to remember I enjoyed a lucrative career before all this and have a good pension plan. Most of the money we make at the moment is ploughed straight back into the business."
André, second eldest in a family of four boys, knew he was gay from the age of eleven and says his bank manager father and mother, a housewife, had no problems coming to terms with his homosexuality. But, angered and saddened by the recent furore among Anglicans over the appointment of gay bishops, he wishes the established churches were more gay-friendly.
" I feel the way the Scriptures are used to get at gays is unfair. For example, there are many more references to slavery than to sodomy in the Old Testament. ‘Slaves should honour their masters’ it says, so is the Bible advocating a return to slavery?" he asks. "People say that if you are pro-gay, you are anti-family, but I just don’t get that. I just happen to be gay and won’t have a family but that doesn’t make me anti-family. Are heterosexual couples who cannot have children also anti-family? "The overall meaning behind the Bible is one of love and understanding, and I wish more people would apply those teachings to gay people." André disputes the oft-quoted statistic from the famous Kinsey report on sexual behaviour that 10% of the male population are gay –
" I think it’s more likely 3 to 4%" – and is angered by those who say homosexuality is a choice that a person makes. "The vast majority of psychologists, sociologists and scientists have concluded homosexuality is a natural phenomenon. It’s not a perversion, just something different," he says. And to illustrate his point he tells a favourite anecdote: "A friend of mine told his parents, both of whom were doctors, that he was gay. Their immediate response was to book an appointment with a psychologist. "The psychologist saw him and his parents together, then sent him out of the room. "He then told the parents they would have to come back to see him over the course of the next month. The son was perfectly adjusted, but the parents would need some help. I think that’s a wonderful story."
September 4, 2003
Gay priest to lobby the government for equal rights legislation
by Sinead McGovern
The gay priest who ripped up a Vatican document at the launch of the Bród Pride festival in The Hairdressers on Dominick Street last Thursday night, is starting a petition among the gay community nationwide to lobby for equal rights for gay people, who he says have until now been treated as second class citizens. "The long term aim is to get legislation enacted in the Dáil that would render gay couples with the same rights as straight couples. I’m going to travel around the country to the different gay communities in cities and universities and get as much support for it as possible. If some kind of leadership is given, if the whole community joins together, then I believe that a real momentum could begin and it could be the start of great things," said Fr Seosamh O Riain.
O Riain ripped up the papal document at the launch because, he said, it is a direct contravention to the Prohibition of Incitement of Hatred Act 1989. The document, which was recently released from the Vatican’s orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, describes gay marriages as intrinsically and morally evil, and gay couples adopting children as "doing violence." "In producing a document like this, the Catholic Church is showing how wrong it has its priorities. They just recently paid out a settlement of ?325,000 to a child who was abused while in their care, that is what they should be focusing on. This document is racist and homophobic, and I am glad that I’m not still part of the machinery that produced it," he said before he ripped up the document in front of the large gathering at the launch.
Twenty seven-year-old O Riain, originally from Tipperary, was suspended from the church three years ago because of conflicting opinions on a number of issues including his sexuality, divorce, and abortion. He has not has his faculties withdrawn so is able to provide blessings for couples who would otherwise be shunned by the Catholic Church, earning him a reputation as a southern version of Fr Pat Buckley. He described himself as a Christian priest, and said that the Roman Catholic Church has been "literally killing itself off" with its illiberal teachings. O Riain, who now works as a supermarket manager in Ennis said, " It’s taken me a few years to be proud of who I am. I’ve stayed quiet about this for far too long, the Church has persecuted me and I’ve stayed quiet. The life of a priest can be very lonely as it is, but the life of a gay priest is hell. It’s time to stand up and be counted," he concluded.
The Bród Festival in Galway celebrated its 14th year this year, making it the longest running Pride festival in Ireland. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, which was introduced by the then Minister for Justice, Maire Geoghegan Quinn, making it legal for the first time for gay, lesbian, bisexuals, and transsexuals to express their sexuality openly. Also speaking at the Launch was Nuala Ward, one of the organiser of Ireland’s first Pride parade in 1989. She commented on how far the struggle for lesbian and gay civil rights had come in those years but said that the Vatican’s document proved that there was a lot left to achieve. The gay Connemara based author Micheál O’Conghaile also attended and read from one of his novels.
24 September 2003
Ireland’s gay refugee assaulted
One of the first men to be granted Irish asylum for persecution over his sexuality has been assaulted in Dublin, it has emerged. Twenty three year old Nabil Salim, who fled Pakistan because of the harsh Islamic laws regarding homosexuality, was attacked by Muslim women because of his sexuality, he claims. A Muslim himself, Salim told The Times that he confronted the women after he heard them discussing his sexuality. They then set upon him, allegedly attacking him and chanting that they would be rewarded in their home country for harming a gay man. "It was the first time that anyone has attacked me in Ireland because I am gay," he told the paper. "I would expect this level of abuse in my own country, but not by Muslim people living in Ireland, where they are obliged to respect Irish laws."
The attack has been condemned by the city’s Muslim community, with the Islamic Cultural Centre being fiercest in its response. "The Koran forbids homosexuality in all its forms, it is not acceptable," said the centre’s director Dr Nooh al-Kaddo. "But no one has the right to take the law into their own hands." Despite reporting the crime, the women are yet to be found by detectives.
October 13, 2003
Britain Eyes Ulster For First Gay Hate Crime Law
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff Belfast, Northern Ireland
Gays and lesbians in Northern Ireland are now included in hate crime legislation and the government in London says the protections will be extended to the rest of the United Kingdom. England, Wales and Scotland already have laws allowing the courts to impose tougher penalties on offenders if racial or religious prejudice is deemed to be a contributory factor. Originally Northern Ireland was not included, because it was thought it would be difficult to enforce the law in a place where sectarianism was so common.
But Paul Murphy, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has decided that he will effectively leapfrog other parts of the UK by introducing hate crime legislation covering racial and religious (or sectarian) prejudice, and for the first time include prejudice relating to sexual orientation. Judges in Northern Ireland will hand out significantly higher sentences if one of these factors is shown to have motivated an offender. Gay rights groups in Ulster welcomed the news. Violent attacks on gays has become a particularly serious problem in Northern Ireland. Murphy said it is his intention to amend the existing laws in England and Wales to add protections for gays.
The Scottish Executive is looking at tightening its laws as well. The Northern Ireland law, to be introduced by ministerial order rather than by an Act of Parliament, will not create new offences. Instead it will allow judges to take prejudice into account, and it will increase the penalties where a "hate crime" is proved.
18 November 2003
Storm brews over potential NI gay police group
Controversy is growing over initial attempts to support gay police officers in Northern Ireland, despite such a network or organisation yet to be established. The Gay Police Association (GPA) is currently assessing the need for an organisation to help homosexual police officers in the province, after the success of similar regional groups in the rest of the UK. But although in its initial stages, the process has been slammed by members of Northern Ireland’s Policing Board, who argue such an assessment is a waste of time and money.
They think that the province has other thing to be concentrating on, rather than trying to coax gay officers and staff to approach them. However, the (GPA) has defended the assessment and said it has already set about appointing a member of staff in Belfast to help encourage staff to come forward. Spokespeople said that if a branch was formed it would operate in the same way other sporting or social groups in the Police Service of Northern Ireland do. "This is an exercise assessing the level of interest in a branch of the Gay Police Association," they added. Northern Ireland has faced controversy over gay rights in the past, but was the first area of the UK to incorporate sexuality into its hate crime legislation earlier this year. Westminster soon followed suit, announcing it would include attacks based on homophobic attitudes in the legislation affecting England and Wales in the new year.
1 November 2003
Row flares at gay wreath plans
by Jonathan McCambridge, email@example.com
A major row erupted today over plans by the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association (NIGRA) to place a pink wreath at the Cenotaph in Belfast City Hall tomorrow to commemorate homosexuals who died in the two world wars.
The DUP has said the event is an "insult" to soldiers killed in conflicts while NIGRA has stressed that the event remembers all victims and is a step towards equality. The wreath, in the shape of a pink triangle, represents the badge homosexuals were forced to wear while imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps. Ceremonies to lay the pink wreath have been taking place in the rest of the UK for a number of years. It is understood NIGRA is holding the event at 11am tomorrow rather than on Remembrance Sunday to avoid any potential clash with the official wreath laying ceremony. DUP councillor Robin Newton said tomorrow’s service made a mockery out of Remembrance Sunday.
"There is an official ceremony on an official date and the official way of marking this is with a red poppy wreath. To colour the poppy a different way is an insult to the soldiers who gave their lives. "The council should not be allowing this to go ahead. I think it will offend many people in Northern Ireland, especially the relatives of victims. This is an example of political correctness gone mad and it sends out totally the wrong statement. "It seems there are elements within the council who are determined to facilitate this group." But PA MagLochlainn, president of NIGRA, said he did not understand how the ceremony could offend anyone.
He also said they had sought permission to lay the wreath at the City Hall. "I have always been inspired in my fight for equal rights by the stories of what people suffered in the Nazi concentration camps because of their sexual orientation."
"We will be deliberately keeping it a low-key affair because we are remembering people who died and we want to do it with dignity. "If anyone has a problem with what we are doing then I am more than happy to talk to them about it. The pink triangle was a symbol designed by Himmler but we will be remembering victims of all minority groups who lost their lives." Mr MagLochlainn paid tribute to Lord Mayor Martin Morgan who this week became the first nationalist mayor to launch the Poppy Appeal. "Mr Morgan is a brave and forward-looking young man who is trying to break down barriers and that is exactly what we are trying to do."
7 December 2003
Gay Wreath Row
Plans to place a pink wreath at the Cenotaph in Belfast City Hall have been described as an "insult" to soldiers killed in conflict. The organisers of the remembrance wreath, the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association (NIGRA), say that they want to remember the gay people who died and that the event honours all victims and is a step towards equality. NIGRA officials are keen to avoid a row and have arranged for the wreath to laid before the Remembrance Sunday next week.
"We will be deliberately keeping it a low-key affair because we are remembering people who died and we want to do it with dignity," president PA MagLochlainn said. "I have always been inspired in my fight for equal rights by the stories of what people suffered in the Nazi concentration camps because of their sexual orientation. "If anyone has a problem with what we are doing then I am more than happy to talk to them about it.
The pink triangle was a symbol designed by Himmler but we will be remembering victims of all minority groups who lost their lives." DUP councillor Robin Newton said the service would make a mockery out of Remembrance Sunday. "There is an official ceremony on an official date and the official way of marking this is with a red poppy wreath. To colour the poppy a different way is an insult to the soldiers who gave their lives", he told the Belfast Telegraph. "The council should not be allowing this to go ahead. I think it will offend many people in Northern Ireland, especially the relatives of victims. This is an example of political correctness gone mad and it sends out totally the wrong statement.
6 February 2004
Ulster set for gay fostering scheme
by Brendan McDaid, firstname.lastname@example.org
A controversial gay fostering scheme is to start recruiting in Northern Ireland within days, it emerged today. UK-based charity the Albert Kennedy Trust today revealed to the Telegraph that it is poised to introduce workers on the ground to enlist gay adults as foster parents. It has also emerged that two gay people, one from Strabane and another from Belfast, have already undergone guardian training for the scheme. The fostering programme will see homeless and abused gay youths aged 16 and over placed with gay and lesbian mentors across the province.
The scheme was shelved last year after a freeze on cash from the Princess Diana Memorial Fund. The trust’s director Richard Brooklyn, however, said new sources of funding are now being sourced. The trust caused outrage among church figures and the DUP in Northern Ireland when it first announced its plans to bring its services here. The trust responded that it was determined to press ahead with the scheme despite accusations of exposing vulnerable young people to abuse.
Speaking from London today, Mr Brooklyn said there was an urgent need for the service to be introduced to Ulster. "Because of other issues in Northern Ireland this is an area that has never really been dealt with or acknowledged. "If you are young and gay in Northern Ireland you can’t really win. "There are issues from both sides of the community. Homophobic bullying seems to be on the increase and people are very quick to abuse others for their sexuality." Mr Brooklyn said he now hopes to have the fostering scheme set up by April. "One of the problems has been that there is not a dedicated staff at the moment in Northern Ireland. "We will be advertising for people now who will work on this on the ground and recruit foster carers who will the undergo six months training." Consultation with representatives from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the health boards and social services across Northern Ireland are also currently taking place.
23 February 2004
Ireland launches "ok to be gay" school campaign
by Ben Townley, Gay.com UK
A gay rights group in Ireland is to visit the country’s secondary schools giving talks on lesbians and gays in a state funded bid to encourage peer acceptance. The BelongTo group will distribute leaflets in schools after receiving funding from the youth affairs division of the Department of Education and Science. It hopes that by talking directly to teenagers across the country, they will be able to cut down on homophobic bullying and attacks against young lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
They also hope that heterosexual teenagers will learn how to offer support to friends that may come out at school. But the scheme has come under fire from religious leaders in the mostly Catholic country, with some attacking the initiative as targeting "impressionable" youths. “I’m not too sure that there are many teenagers who are gays,” Bishop Thomas Flynn told the Times over the weekend. “I would be afraid that young people who feel different from their peers, for whatever reason, would identify with this campaign even if they are not that way inclined.”
The argument that presenting information in schools could influence children, which was commonly used during the Section 28 debate in the UK, was immediately refuted by student bodies and gay rights groups. “It is outrageous to suggest that this informative campaign will turn young people gay,” the president of the Union of Students in Ireland Emer ni Chuagain told the newspaper, while a leading parent’s group also backed the initiative.
“I’m sure some Catholic schools will have some difficulty,” said Eleanor Petrie, the president of the National Parents’ Council Post Primary (NPCPP), referring to the fact that more than 90% of Irish state schools are Catholic. “But, even if it does offend the ethos of a school, being gay is a fact of life for young people and we can’t ignore it.” Additionally, the BelongTo group believes its work could help with how young people deal with their sexuality, as well as aid their self-esteem.
“We have come across students who have been harassed by teachers as well as students because they are gay or perceived to be gay,” the group’s resource director Michael Barron said. “There are a lot of mental health issues, including depression, surrounding young gay people and we want to reach out to help.” The scheme will be officially launched next month.
19 April 2004
Derry to stage first gay wedding–Couple to exchange vows next year
By Brendan McDaid, email@example.com
Northern Ireland’s first ever official gay "wedding" is due to be staged in Londonderry within a year, the Telegraph can today reveal. Two women from the city have already signed up for the first such union, it has emerged. The lesbian couple, who have not been identified, have now registered with Derry City Council and are expected to exchange vows in a civil ceremony in 2005.
The couple recently registered for the alternative wedding following the introduction of the Government’s new Bill, offering gay couples many of the rights enjoyed by heterosexual spouses. The Bill is currently before Parliament in London and is expected to be passed on in the next few months.
Once adopted, the change to the law will also affect Northern Ireland. Derry City Council registrar, Brian Barr, said he would have no problem officiating at the first gay service in the district. "These couples are as entitled to join together in a civil ceremony as anybody else. "It is an issue of equal rights. The churches are determined to keep away from same sex civil ceremonies and the use of the word marriage.
"This is not a marriage as such, but will be a new kind of service which means they will have stronger ties. "But this should come in by next year and it will be 2005 before we will see any ceremonies taking place." Sean Morrin, director of the Derry-based gay group the Rainbow Project, today welcomed the step taken by the local lesbian couple.
Mr Morrin said they had had numerous inquiries from gay and lesbian couples seeking advice on how they could tie the knot.
He said: "It is absolutely brilliant to see people are taking the opportunity to recognise their relationship formally. This is fantastic.
"We have had people who have been together for 40 years looking for information on this. "Currently the partner wouldn’t have any rights if one of them should die.
"The family of that person could just come in and take everything, which has happened, leaving the life partner with nothing." Mr Morrin said that the couple were now setting a precedent which he believed many others would follow. "Once people see this first ceremony happening more and more gay and lesbian couples will come forward. "It will also help the gay and lesbian community to have their relationships formally endorsed and recognised as a proper relationship like never before."
The new Bill, announced in the summer of 2003, will afford gay and lesbian couples with property and pension entitlements in line with several other EU countries. Couples will not receive a formal marriage blessing, but will be able to sign an official document at a register office in front of the registrar and two witnesses.
April 23, 2004
SF chief attacked on gay marriage support
by David Quinn, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, a practising Catholic, has been attacked by a leading churchman after openly expressing his support for gay marriage and adoption, as well as abortion under certain circumstances. Mr McGuinness, who is interviewed in this week’s Irish Catholic, also denies there is any antagonism in Sinn Fein towards the Catholic Church.
He dismisses Catholic Church opposition to gay marriage, reiterated in a Vatican document issued last year and says he backs his party’s support for gay marriage and adoption on the grounds that we "live in a new age of equality". Mr McGuinness also says he personally supports abortion in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is at risk. Mr McGuinness has been attacked over his remarks by one of the Church’s leading academics. Fr Brendan Purcell, a lecturer in philosophy at UCD, rounded on Mr McGuinness saying it is "unacceptable and inconsistent for a Catholic politician to so drastically detach his politics from the teachings of his Church in this way".
Father Purcell said: "A person’s religious beliefs shouldn’t be all but irrelevant to his politics. A Catholic politician is not bound to legislate Church teaching, but where your Church teaches that something is a basic human right, for example the right to life, or the right of a child to have a mother and father, you can’t simply jettison these teachings from your political life." In the interview, Mr McGuinness says that both he and Gerry Adams gain "solace" from attending Mass and that this is respected by other members of the party. "I go to Mass every Sunday and I haven’t found antagonism in Sinn Fein to the Church," he said.
19 May 2004
Gay men targeted in attacks
Two gay men have been targeted in separate attacks in Londonderry. A man was attacked in the Strand Road area of the city in the early hours of Sunday morning and another man was assaulted in the city centre on Monday evening. The latest crime figures for the Derry area reveal that there have been eight homophobic attacks in the area in the last seven weeks and 17 in the last year.David McCartney from the Rainbow Project said although the situation was worrying for the gay community, they have received a lot of support – including the offer of self defence classes. "The victims are fairly shaken up and are quite shocked it has happened to them," he said.
"It speaks for itself – we are six to seven weeks into the new financial year and we already halfway through last year’s target. "The police figures give 17 attacks last year in total in the Foyle area and you are looking at eight attacks in seven weeks." Last week, the latest police figures showed homophobic incidents had doubled from 35 to 71 in 2002-2003. In March, Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde was told the PSNI had to crack down on rising levels of racial and homophobic attacks. It was announced by the Policing Board that such incidents were to be tackled as part of a £774m strategy for running the PSNI over 12 months. Mr Orde was also told to monitor the number of racist and homophobic incidents. The Rainbow Project organisation addresses the physical, mental and emotional health of gay and bisexual men in Northern Ireland.
26 May 2004
Group preaches homophobia in schools, gay rights groups claim
by Ben Townley, Gay.com UK
A group claiming to teach sex education in Northern Ireland’s schools is being accused of using its position to preach homophobia to children. The Love for Life group, which has so far worked with more than 100 schools in the region and is based on Christian teachings, advocates abstinence programmes to young people in a bid to reduce the risks of sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies. However, on its website, it also claims that changing one’s sexuality is possible. In a question and answer section, it says that although "psychologists and psychiatrists are often banned by their professional associations from helping those who want to try and change their sexual orientation" such changes "are possible".
"Exclusively homosexual sexual activity however, is extremely uncommon," it also claims. "Only around 0.4% of men and far fewer women reported this way of life in the most recent large-scale UK survey. In the vast majority of cases therefore, homosexual feelings and sexual activity form part of a spectrum of sexual desire rather than a fixed and exclusive orientation." Gay rights groups have already hit out against the organisation, claiming it shouldn’t be allowed into schools. They also claim that it has received support from some political parties in the province.
"We are deeply concerned that political parties in Northern Ireland are calling for support of this organisation when they are misrepresenting the issues around sexual orientation including portraying homosexuality as a disease," the Rainbow Project’s Sean Morrin told Gay.com UK. "Their misrepresentation and homophobic language will only add to issues already affecting many young vulnerable people in this country," he added.
7 June 2004
Row over anti-gay sex education group deepens
by Ben Townley, Gay.com UK
The row over a Christian group that visits schools in Northern Ireland to teach sex education is deepening this week, after it was criticised by a candidate for the European Parliament for its homophobia. The Love for Life project has been visiting children throughout the Ulster region, but was criticised last month for statements on its website that suggest sexuality can be changed. Now Eamon McCann, a Environmental Alliance party candidate in this week’s European elections, has called for the region’s educational authorities to strip the group of its funding until it removes the online references.
"[Love for Life] presents homosexuality as a phase or aberration, or a condition brought about by trauma," McCann told the Belfast Telegraph. "It is a religious, not an educational organisation. It would be entirely inappropriate to fund them to preach their message in schools." The Love for Life group, which has so far worked with more than 100 schools in the region and is based on Christian teachings, advocates abstinence programmes to young people in a bid to reduce the risks of sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies.
However, on its website, it also claims that changing ones sexuality is possible. In a question and answer section, it says that although "psychologists and psychiatrists are often banned by their professional associations from helping those who want to try and change their sexual orientation" such changes "are possible". "Exclusively homosexual sexual activity however, is extremely uncommon," it also claims.
Additionally, it has released a statement from a child psychologist, which it claims backs the theories. "An approach such as that of Love for Life, which views sexual identity as unfolding and encourages teenagers to delay experimentation with sexual intimacy in human relationships, is consistent with current professional opinion on factors affecting the development of homosexual orientation," Portadown consultant child psychiatrist, Dr Noel McCune told the newspaper through the group.
Its stance has been criticised by local gay groups. "The misrepresentation and homophobic language will only add to issues already affecting many young vulnerable people in this country," Rainbow Project’s Sean Morrin told Gay.com UK last week. The Project will be meeting with Love for Life representatives in the coming weeks.
25 June 2004
Fine Gael (political party) proposes same-sex couples to register
by Alison O’Connor, email@example.com
Fine Gael has published proposals which would allow same-sex cohabiting couples in the Republic to formally register their relationship, but the party has stopped short of calling for gay marriages. The party’s Civil Partnership policy would also extend the same rights to heterosexual couples who have decided to remain unmarried. The proposals would allow these couples to avail of a number of rights, including succession, social welfare, pensions, tax and property.Senator Sheila Terry, the party’s equality spokeswoman, said the policy was not gay marriage and did not represent an attack on the traditional family model.
"Our policy document clearly states marriage will remain the choice of the majority and we have no wish to alter that." Ms Terry said that having seen the inequality that exists Fine Gael was convinced of the need to introduce changes for these unmarried couples. She said they had stopped short of calling for gay marriage because marriage "confers rights on couples to rear children". Fine Gael had looked at arrangements in place in other European Union countries and opted for this particular arrangement.
2 July 2004
Gay rights worker praises trial judge–Prison term for killers is welcomed
An Ulster judge was praised today for his handling of a brutal "gay bashing" murder case. The comments came from the head of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association after two teenagers were jailed yesterday for the savage killing of Co Armagh man Ian Flanagan.
Mr Flanagan, originally from Keady in Armagh, was beaten with a wheel brace and stabbed with a knife by two thugs who set out to attack and rob a gay man because they calculated the crime would not be reported to police. After the killing in south Belfast, the pair were seen covered in blood and laughing. Belfast Crown Court judge Mr Justice Coghlin told 19-year-old Raymond Taylor and 16-year-old Trevor Peel, also known as Newton, that as they were both so young he considered himself "bound to adopt 12 years as the starting point" for the tariff for the murder of 30-year-old Mr Flanagan two years ago.
He warned the pair that had they been adults "these minimum terms would have been significantly higher". Taylor, of no fixed abode, was told he will have to serve a minimum of 13 years of a life sentence in jail, Peel was ordered to serve a minimum of 14.
The judge also lifted restrictions banning the media from naming Peel, from Best’s Hill Court in Belfast, telling the court there was a "strong public interest in open justice" and a "potential deterrent effect" for others in doing so. He told them that their murder of Mr Flanagan in Barnett’s Demesne in south Belfast "degenerated from despicable in its inception into becoming atrocious in its consumation".
Speaking after sentencing the president of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association said he was "impressed" by the judge’s handling of the case. P A MagLochlain said: "Had our legislators hurried up and passed the hate crime bill, sentencing would have been longer, for if ever there was a case of hate crime, then this was it." "I am glad the judge took into account the circumstances of this case and I am pleased these two were given good long sentences. "Unfortunately, I do no think prison will rehabilitate them but I hope the sentencing will deter other people from acting in this way towards an innocent man.
"I think the judge handled this case in an admirable way, even being courteous to these two as they stood on the stand and told barefaced lie after lie." Mr MagLochlain said Mr Justice Coghlin was "right and proper" to lift the restrictions on naming Peel.
"The law can affect peoples’ attitudes," he said. "We have noticed in the past that when there is a change in the law in our favour, there is also a sea change in people’s attitudes."
3 July 2004
‘The Closet’–Gay film gets Dublin date
by Brendan McDaid
A film charting the experience of young gay Ulster men ‘outing’ themselves is to be premiered at a festival in Dublin, it emerged today. The Closet relates the experiences of four young men from across Northern Ireland as they prepare to come out to family, friends and society in general.
The film, which lasts just four minutes, has been produced by Wheelworks in association with Derry-based Rainbow Project’s LADZ Group, set up to provide support for gay and bisexual men aged 25 and under. The film is now to premiere at the Dublin Lesbian And Gay Film Festival on July 31.
Speaking ahead of its release, Sean Morrin, director of the Rainbow Project, said there were now plans to screen the film across Ulster and the UK following its debut. He said: "We are delighted the film is finished and will have its premiere at the 2004 Dublin Lesbian and Gay Film Festival at the end of July. "Working in partnership with Wheelworks has given these young people the opportunity to increase their confidence and self esteem." Mr Morrin said: "The film will also be shown at other events in Northern Ireland and England".
28 July 2004
Two to flee home after gay death threats
by Brian Hutton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Two young men are today preparing to flee their Londonderry home following a homophobic death threat purported to come from loyalist paramilitaries. In a sinister development in an ongoing campaign of attacks against the city’s gay community, a letter, purporting to be from the UDA, demanded the men leave their Waterside home within two weeks or be killed. Both men, a Catholic and Protestant in their early twenties, were at their shared flat early on Monday morning when they heard a disturbance at a communal entrance to the building.
Too afraid to leave their home the men waited until later to investigate the disturbance, whereupon they discovered abusive homophobic graffiti on the inside walls of the hallway. A letter was also left, signed UDA, which read: "All gays will be put out in 2/4 weeks," adding: "You’ve been warned". The graffiti left no doubt as to the threatened method of eviction: "Two weeks to get out or ‘bang, bang’." A PSNI spokesperson today confirmed they are investigating the incident and that one of the victims was recently the subject of an assault.
The young men, one of whom has lived in the area all his life, are "petrified" and now have no option but to leave their home, said Sean Morrin of the Rainbow Project. "This is an extremely worrying development leaving two young men living in fear for their lives," he said. "Both these men have suffered continuous homophobia and hate when all they wish for is to live in peace." The men are meeting with the Housing Executive today in the hope of getting emergency accommodation on the city’s west bank.
30 July 2004
UDA ‘Not Involved’ In Homophobic Attack
Loyalist paramilitaries in the city have distanced themselves from a homophobic death threat issued to a gay couple living in Derry’s Waterside. Earlier this week, the men – aged 21 and 28 – received a death threat at their home purporting to come from the UDA.
One of the men said he was awakened in the early hours when a fire alarm in their flats complex triggered. While investigating the cause of the alarm, the men discovered anti-gay graffiti painted on a wall outside their flat.
In addition, a letter, signed UDA, was pushed under their front door. In it, the couple was ordered to leave the area or be "shot".
The 21-year-old man –who was also the victim of a vicious homophobic attack just a fortnight ago – later revealed that the couple had been reassured that the UDA had no involvement in the incident. He also pledged not to give into anti-gay elements. " I am not afraid of them," he said. "If they’re trying to get to me or the gay community, I can assure them that there are a lot more like me out there," he said.
David McCartney, of the Derry-based Rainbow Project – the support and advice group for gay men and lesbians – said he was relieved to receive assurances that paramilitaries were not involved in the latest incident. " In saying that, however, it does not take away from the fact that these men were terrified," he told the ‘Journal’. " It is, I believe, symptomatic of ongoing homophobic attacks in the Derry area."
However, Mr. McCartney insisted homophobia wasn’t just a problem in Derry. " It’s happening right across the North," he said. "Derry and Belfast are always in the headlines because in both cities there are mechanisms in place whereby attacks are reported and highlighted. "However, homophobia is as much a problem in Ballymena and Newry as it is in Derry and Belfast." Mr. McCartney also took the opportunity to praise the media’s role in reporting spiralling incidents of anti-gay attacks. " The sensitivity with which local journalists have dealt with the issue of and victims of homophobia is to be commended. Journalists and the media in general have a major role to play in supporting social change."
29 July 2004
Politicians ‘are failing Protestant gays’
by Brian Hutton, email@example.com
Protestant homosexuals in Londonderry are less inclined to ‘come out’ than their Catholic counterparts, according to the city’s leading gay rights group. Sean Morrin, director of the Rainbow Project, said that a failure of some public unionist figures to fully represent Protestants in Derry was making the lives of many unbearable. Indeed, some representatives were "promoting and applauding" homophobia in the city to suit their own "personal agenda and morals", said Mr Morrin.
"It is the case that many more gay people within the Protestant community in Derry want to stay ‘in the closet’ than is the case in the Catholic community. "The main reason for it is that people who are claiming to represent them are not. "Condemning attacks on the gay community is easy. What we need is action. People in the Protestant community, which has homosexuals in it, need to be fully and proactively represented."
A widening campaign of intimidation against Derry’s gay community most recently resulted in two young men, a Catholic and Protestant, being forced to flee their Waterside home after receiving death threats. DUP MLA Willie Hay said he "totally and absolutely" condemned the attack. "There are no excuses for it. There is no place in any society for people to act as judge, jury and executioner," said Mr Hay. Asked about claims that there were more problems for gay people within the Protestant community, Mr Hay added: "There would be a stronger feeling of dislike (for homosexuality) within the Protestant community . "That’s the Protestant ethos and way of life, but the vast majority of Protestants would condemn these attacks."
8 August, 2004
Belfast gay parade gets triple the support after protest threat
by Ben Townley
More than 3000 people are thought to have taken part in Belfast Pride’s parade through the city centre on Saturday, despite the threat of disruption from a coalition of anti-gay people. Organisers say the level of support makes the parade the biggest and best the city has seen, tripling the numbers of attendees from the previous year. They say this could well be down to the publicity received via the anti-gay protestors, called Stop The Parade (STP), who launched a campaign outlining their intentions to block the parade last week. As well as pledging to show "sodomites they have had their day", the group created a bogus website that offered a "cure" for young LGBT people, and accused the parade of being a recruitment experience.
The reaction to this threat was seen on the streets of the city, with members of the public applauding the marchers and apparently drowning out the protest of the STP. Additionally, the organisers of the parade are thought to have received 100 emails of support from across the UK, with people angry at the STP’s attempts to thwart the celebrations. As well as the parade, Pride in Belfast focused on community gatherings and developing new ways for local LGBT people to link up with mainstream groups such as the police. Entertainment included film screenings and parties across the city’s gay scene.
August 17, 2004
Gay man viciously beaten by skinhead
by Brendan McDaid (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Self-defence classes for gay people are to be introduced in Londonderry, as the latest victim of a homophobic attack in the city was today recovering from his injuries. Police were hunting the skinhead perpetrator of the latest assault, in which a 29-year-old man needed stitching after being struck on the face.
The attack took place around 2.30am on Glendermott Road in the Waterside. Details were revealed today as gay activists in the city unveiled a range of new measures to help local gay people defend themselves from attack. The man had to be taken to Altnagelvin Hospital where he received five stitches to an eye wound. The attack is the latest in a catalogue of vicious assaults on gay men in the city in recent months. Within the past year, levels of attacks on the gay community have jumped a staggering 60%.
The latest beating comes just weeks after another gay man was kicked and savagely bitten in the face in nearby Melrose Terrace. In other recent attacks a gay man’s front door and windows were smeared with excrement and another man was hospitalised after being battered by a gang. Other gay men reported receiving threats to vacate their homes and were attacked after being followed home from local bars and clubs. In light of the worrying trend, activists in Derry said a range of new measures will be introduced to help prevent further attacks.
Self-defence classes are set to begin within weeks with advice being drawn up on personal security. A home safety campaign for gay people will also be launched giving information and advice. Sean Morrin, director of the Rainbow Project in Derry, said today: "There is a feeling out there now that people are worried and this latest attack will only serve to heighten those fears. "These attacks are becoming much more vicious in nature and we will continue to try and do something about that."
August 23, 2004
Easier to be gay than Protestant–Comic tells of agony growing up in Ireland
by Claire Regan (email@example.com)
Popular comedian Graham Norton has said that growing up gay in Ireland was easier than being Protestant because he was constantly made to feel different because of his religion. The 41-year-old presenter has lifted the lid on his private life for the first time in an autobiography to be published later this month. In the life story, So Me, Norton said he was aware of his sexuality early on and didn’t fit in with other boys at Bandon Grammar School in Cork because of it. "I donned rugby costumes and clattered down the pitch with the rest of them," he wrote.
"But I was fooling no-one. They were like a pack of animals who smelled blood. It made me feel very excluded and lonely – it’s very hard to understand how alienating it is for a boy who can’t do what boys are meant to do." But it appears his religion was more of a stigma. "I was sent to Protestant schools, so I never knew the neighbourhood kids, who were Catholic. But before I started school the other kids didn’t know I was a freak Protestant boy and happily played with me." Norton went on to University College Cork where he earned an arts degree. Shortly afterwards, he left Ireland and headed for drama school in London.
"My overall impression of my time in Ireland is just waiting to leave. The life I was living – this life of marriages, funerals and the price of land – was not my beautiful life," he states. Norton is now regarded as one of the most popular entertainment presenters on British television and has his own waxwork image in Madame Tussauds. His weekly show, So Graham Norton, went nightly last year, becoming V Graham Norton, and pulled in an audience of three million viewers a night. He is currently planning a new show to air on BBC and is working on a project for the US channel, Comedy Central. He ends his book in philosophical mode. "There is not a single certainty in my future, yet I feel very calm," he said.
October 13, 2004
Unionist MPs against gay marriage bill
by Jonathan McCambridge, firstname.lastname@example.org
Unionist politicians have told the House of Commons that Northern Ireland must be excluded from a new bill which will legalise gay marriage. Last night the House debated the Government’s Civil Partnership Bill which will effectively lead to legal recognition for same sex couples.
However, DUP leader Ian Paisley told the House that Government consultation showed that 86% of people in Northern Ireland opposed the bill and all the political parties in the province are opposed to it. He said: "Why is the Bill not going to be left until the Assembly is up and running again so that the people of Northern Ireland can make the decision themselves? "The census of 2001 found only 288 same-sex couple households in the whole of Northern Ireland. The Government say that only 5% of same-sex couples will commit to civil partnerships. "Well, 5% of 288 is 14, so 14 couples in Northern Ireland will have the opportunity provided by the Bill, even though a majority of people who have a view on the matter oppose it."
During the debate South Belfast MP, Martin Smyth, also said he would not support the bill. He said: "I have absolutely no time for the homophobia which is prevalent in all societies but I am not convinced that this legislation will actually advance us much along the way to deal with these attitudes. "There are those of us who believe that marriage is not a sacrament but an ordinance of God, and we wonder whether the state can continue to try to replicate the pattern that God has ordained."
The Bill passed through the house with a majority of 377, and now goes into committee for detailed consideration.