Report highlights problems of coming out in rural Ireland

YOUNG rural lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered people are seven times more likely to commit suicide and 14 times more likely to inflict self harm than their straight counterparts.

YOUNG rural lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered people are seven times more likely to commit suicide and 14 times more likely to inflict self harm than their straight counterparts.

This is according to a new study titled “Coming Out - LGBT Young People: Challenges and support needs in rural Ireland”, which was launched in the Derby House Hotel, Kildare town last Wednesday April 20. The study had a strong local influence as it was commissioned by Kildare Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Group (LBGT).

Author of the report, Bernadette Smyth pointed out the issues faced in rural areas, like Kildare, were different to those faced in urban areas.

She said young LGBT people can experience mental health issues, depression, victimisation, discrimination, alcohol abuse, self harm and suicide. She noted the fear of coming out was a huge issue with many young people who were forced to move from their rural homes to larger towns and cities in order to be able to express themselves fully. The report found that the most common age that people discovered their sexual orientation was 12 but some children realised it at as young an age as eight. However, the most common age for coming out was 17 for males, and 18 for females with many young people keeping their sexual identity hidden for up to six years.

“It’s especially hard in rural areas where everyone knows everyone,” she explained.

“In the country or outside of the cities and towns, one person comes out to another person and then everyone knows. You are coming out to the entire community. For young people who are very vunerable at that age, they may feel they have to give up everything.”

One respondent told of how his sister was beaten up on her way home from school because he came out and told people about his sexuality.

The study noted that young LBGT people were two to five times more likely to use drugs while 65% had some experience of drugs, compared to just 25% in the general youth population. She said the transgender group of people were often more vulnerable.

Ms Smyth pointed out that being gay does not cause problems for young people, but its society’s response and attitude to it that is the issue. The report acknowledges the need for LGBT drop in centres particularly in rural areas, youth groups working in conjunction with schools, workshops and supports for parents of LGTB young people, community forums and the provision of transport to drop in centres.

Ms Smyth said there was an incredible resilience and ability to thrive among young LGBT people in the face of adversity. She praised Belong To - an LGBT group based in Dublin which gives support to other LGBT groups across the country as well as running its own facilities.

Chris Pender, Kildare LGBT chairperson said the local group was set up in 2005 but it disbanded due to people going off to college and other events. It was revamped in early 2009. He thanked the agencies who facilitated the report which included Kildare VEC, Kildare Youth Services, County Kildare Leadership Partnership and the HSE.

“We are hoping to get a group set up here at the end of June for 12 to 18 year olds. As well as being chairman of Kildare LGBT, I am also chairperson of Sunrise LGBT, which is for adults and that meets regularly in Newbridge for now. People come from right across Kildare. Kildare LGBT also run awareness training, which we will be doing again,” he said.

A LGBT Diversity seminar on culture and community will take place on May 28 for the South West region including Kildare and West Wicklow at the Derby House Hotel. Anyone interested in learning more about Kildare LGBT can call 085 7548257.