YMIP Report Launch and Graduation

Yesterday, November 20th, participants from Youth Media and the Irish Presidency got together to finish out the project and see the report launched. Three YMIP-ers spoke at the event. Below is the speech I gave regarding young people and the need to invest more in them when they clearly have so much to give.

The full report will doubtless be available from European Movement Ireland. Major thanks also go to John Buckley at SpunOut.ie.

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“Near the end of the street where I grew up in Cork, there is a pedestrian footbridge. The footbridge and the street it leads onto are poorly lit and poorly maintained. It features too much graffiti and illegal waste- and it plays host to gangs of teenagers and gangs of adults drinking. My mother has always favoured avoiding the bridge. It’s the sort of place that lends itself easily to accidents and easier still to menace. I have always known that.

A few weeks ago, I went back to Cork for a weekend to vote and to visit. I had an argument with myself over whether to take the short trip across the bridge to go home, or to take the long way around. It was past 10pm, I was carrying two bags, my phone was dead and I was tired. The shortcut won, and I walked onto the bridge.

What happened next will stay with me for the rest of my life; I will never, ever forget it.

It was pitch dark and he didn’t see me, but I saw him. He walked toward me, stopped and turned. I saw him pull himself up onto the railings of the bridge and I think my heart stopped. Realisation dawned pretty fast. He took a big breath and leaned forward.

I have no idea what I roared at him, but he wasn’t expecting me and I interrupted him. He reached out and grabbed the suspension wire, which was the only thing that stopped his fall onto a busy, national primary road, fifty feet below.

He was sixteen, drunk and miles from home, attempting to take his own life not two minutes from the house where I grew up.

After I got him down, once he finished crying and stopped shaking, when we were finished talking and when I knew he was going right to the front door of his mother’s house with a friend, I went home and found a charger and rang the local Garda station, which is a two minute walk, at most, from that bridge.

The Garda in the public office told me that it was really ‘a Monday morning type of issue’ because the pubs and clubs were about to start major business hours. He said I had already dealt with it, so there was no point in him taking it further. He told me to write a letter about it on Monday.

Suicide just isn’t a Monday morning issue. I wrote the letter on Monday morning- but I also wrote a piece for TheJournal and for the Evening Echo in Cork. Days later, I got a call from the Superintendent who wanted me to come in and talk to him.

When I went in, he said he felt I was unfair in my article. Last year, I might have apologised and agreed with him- but the six months of YMIP taught me to ask questions and I learned not to stop just because someone disagreed with me. Having someone disagree with you doesn’t make you wrong.

Almost 500 people died by suicide in 2010, most were young males and Cork is a county with a high rate. We have too many stories about young men taking their own lives without adding another to it. It is so easy to presume that this boy would have stopped at the last second, that he wouldn’t have jumped- but it is that exact presumption that costs us more lives each year.

Suicide doesn’t wait for convenient times or convenient people. It is not a Monday morning issue; it’s a now issue.

The Superintendent and I agreed to disagree, but he must have heard me because last week, I got a call from another Garda station in Cork. They talked to the boy I met on the bridge. He’s gay, bullied, depressed and an alcoholic. His father died last year and he just can’t cope. I want him to see the good parts of life. I want him to know that there’ll always be someone fighting in his corner. Young people shouldn’t be dealt hands like that, but they are.

YMIP gave 25 young people a chance to grab the bull by the horns and be in charge.  Members of this group still use the Facebook group we set up as a support back at the start of this project. It’s a small thing, but it counts. That boy didn’t have anything to reach out for; he didn’t have this chance.

YMIP was a fantastic exception to an otherwise seemingly unbreakable rule. It was created by an organisation that elected to invest in young people when so few others do.

I think we owe that boy a minute of thought. Nobody was fighting in his corner when I met him but without YMIP, I don’t think I’d have written what I did or stuck to my guns on it afterwards.

I wanted to say this because I realise that YMIP was fighting in our corner and we were lucky. I wanted to acknowledge that, and to say thanks.”

Child Protection (The Irish Times, November 2013)

Sir, – Jacky Jones (Second Opinion, Health + Family, November 5th) asserts that the Roma families, so heavily featured in the news recently, received better care than their Irish counterparts and that the possible racism involved in these cases in fact served the Roma families well.

Ms Jones uses infamous past Irish cases of child abuse, child neglect and severe physical traumas to demonstrate her point.

Ms Jones should never have attempted to justify her point by using these cases; it could suggest that these Roma children were in some way neglected, abused or manipulated when no such evidence exists. The comparison serves only to denigrate these Roma families and their community.

Ms Jones states that in the cases of the past, Irish parents constantly lied to the gardaí. These Roma families did not. They said, truthfully, that these children were their own. They gave narrative and paper evidence and were disbelieved. They submitted to DNA testing and were proved truthful. There is simply no comparison.

If Irish parents are less suspicious than Roma families and gardaí neglect to interfere on that basis, this is a failing of the State to both.

Racism serves nobody well and Ms Jones in her article alarmingly expressed trust and faith in a system of institutional racism that serves only to damage and degrade. – Yours, etc,

AISLING TWOMEY,
Information Co-ordinator,
Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre,
North Great Charles Street,
Dublin 1

How far can racism go?

This article originally appeared at OneEurope.

Has anyone ever told you that you look like your Mom; that you look like your Dad? At some point in life, doubtlessly someone has mentioned your grandmother’s chin or your uncle’s eyes- and how you resemble them. Maybe you’re one of the people who look nothing like their parents. Maybe you have children who look nothing like you.

Maybe you should avoid Ireland

This week, my country hit the international headlines for all the wrong reasons. Members of the Irish police force, An Garda Síochána, arrived at the door of a house in Tallaght in the South of Dublin, where they took a seven year old girl from her Roma family. She has blonde hair and blue eyes. They did not.

The reports coming from Greece of Maria a young child living in a Roma camp with people discovered not to be her parents and termed the “Blonde Angel” in the media perhaps fuelled the frenzy that followed in Ireland and across the world. Taken away for DNA testing, the girl from Tallaght was placed in the care of the Health Service Executive (HSE) for two nights.

There was national outcry – for more than one reason. A child was taken from her family just because she looked different? Racist! On the other side, commentators questioned the criminal connections in the Roma community. Kidnappers!

Click here to read more.

‘I saw him pull himself up onto the railing of the footbridge’

Note: This article originally appeared on TheJournal.ie. It later appeared in an edited format in the Evening Echo.

Mental health issues still carry stigma and shame in our society – why? The real shame belongs to those who pretend these problems don’t exist, writes Aisling Twomey.

NEAR THE END of the street where I grew up, there is a pedestrian footbridge. The footbridge and the street it leads on to are poorly lit and poorly maintained with small amounts of local traffic but little else. It plays host to gangs of teenagers drinking, gangs of adults drinking and features violent graffiti and illegally dumped waste. For as long as I can remember, my mother has favoured avoiding this bridge but it’s a shortcut to the city centre so the entire family uses it.

My mother has always told me to avoid the bridge at night time. That’s her limit – don’t cross the bridge at night. It’s the sort of place that lends itself easily to accidents and easier still to menace. I have always been aware of its troubling potential.

On Friday night, I returned from work in Dublin for the weekend. I got off the bus and stopped off to vote in City Hall. I was laden down with bags and I was exhausted. I had an internal argument with myself over whether to take the gloriously short trip over the footbridge, or whether to take the long walk around. My phone battery was dead and I just wanted to be at home. I took the shortcut and walked up onto the bridge.

I saw him pull himself up onto the railing

The initial part must have taken only seconds but I remember the details so clearly. I remember the orange glow of the single streetlamp reflected softly by the wet ground. I remember the swoosh of the cars driving underneath me. I came from the darkness and he didn’t see me – but I did see him. I remember taking in his white shirt and his tattered Converse.

I saw him pull himself up onto the railing of the footbridge. Realisation dawned suddenly and I felt my heart try to leave my body. I watched him take a big breath and lean forward over the road below. I shouted. I’m not sure what I said but he wasn’t expecting me and I interrupted him. He reached out and grabbed the suspension wire – the only thing that stopped his fall to a terrible end.

He was a teenager, drunk and miles from his home, attempting to take his own life not two minutes from the house I grew up in.

After I got him down, when he was finished crying, when he stopped shaking, when we were finished talking and when I knew he was going right to the front door of his mother’s house accompanied by a friend, I got home and found a phone charger and rang the local Garda station, which is a two minute walk, at most, from that footbridge.

‘A Monday morning type of issue’

The sergeant in the public office told me that really, this was “a Monday morning type of issue,” because the pubs and clubs were just about to start major business hours. He explained that I had “already dealt with it,” so there was no point in him taking it further; he wouldn’t send anyone in that direction. He told me that, really, the best thing I could do would be to write a letter on Monday, when officers weren’t busy.

I don’t understand how a member of the Gardaí neglected to give 100 per cent priority to a child who felt, even for a moment, that he didn’t want to live. How foolish of me, to call in a suicide attempt on a Friday night just as the clubs were opening.

495 people took their own lives in Ireland in 2010; 82 per cent of these were male and the highest rate was among males aged 20-24. Further, Cork is a county that sees a higher rate of suicide. Ireland is a small country. Everyone is affected by the sheer tragedy of suicide and we have too many stories about young men taking their own lives without adding another one to it.

It is so easy to presume that this boy would have stopped at the last minute, that he wouldn’t have jumped – but it is that exact presumption that costs us more lives each year.

Overwhelming stigma

The stigma of mental health problems and suicide is overwhelming. Too often, we make reference to the “lunatics” and “crazies”, without realising that significant mental health struggles by those who live with us and love us and never say a word about it, because it defies expectation of normality, because it seems wrong, because it’s not physical so it’s hard to see and understand. Those assumptions are wrong and struggling with mental health shouldn’t be about shame and hiding – but it is.

Whether that child – because he was a child – would have jumped off that bridge or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that life for him is a struggle, and whether he’s a Saudi prince or a scared kid from Cork, it doesn’t matter. Depression, isolation and suicidal feelings don’t wait for convenient times or convenient people.
Are we really willing to bet on the life of a human being?

Presuming that someone “won’t do it” isn’t the right answer and it carries with it a huge and potentially fatal risk. In fact, it answers entirely the wrong question. Instead of asking if he’ll really kill himself, we should be asking how he arrived at this point. I wondered afterwards what brought him to this moment and how he felt his options had become so limited. I wonder now whether he knows that I’ll think of him always and I’ll hope that he makes it to see the good parts of life.

Unfortunately, we remain willing to bargain the life of a human being on a presumption that they can’t possibly feel bad enough to end it all – even when the hundreds of funerals each year should tell us otherwise. When a child feels that he can’t cope in this world anymore, even for a moment, there are hefty, uncomfortable questions to be answered.

The real shame and blame is ours, because we pretend that these questions don’t exist at all.

Thursday 10 October marks World Mental Health Day.
Helplines:
Samaritans 1850 60 90 900 or email jo@samaritans.org
Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634
Console 1800 201 890
Aware 1890 303 302
Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie

Read the entire article here.

Europe and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

This article originally appeared at OneEurope

Civilians are leaving Syria in thousands every day, leaving everything behind except what they can carry in those frantic moments of flight.

There is no guidebook on how to be a refugee. ‘Asylum Seeking for Dummies’ has not been written and there is no user-friendly, multi-lingual book of rights provided to you when you flee your country to save your life.

For those in Syria, as the stories of chemical warfare emerge for international consideration, the truth is that millions of people are under severe threat every single day. Unwilling to risk their lives for a war they did not make, civilians are leaving Syria in thousands every day, leaving everything behind except what they can carry in those frantic moments of flight.

There are now almost 2 million Syrian refugees who have poured out of the state to neighbouring lands with no certain timetable for return. Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq are sharing the heavy burden of sheltering them. Given the difficult situation in Egypt and the present lack of stability of its political power, is it wise that over 100,000 Syrians temporarily call it home? Similarly, Iraq remains a country notable for its own civilian asylum seekers gone abroad to find peace and new hope. From one war torn country to another, Syrians are facing destitution, isolation, malnutrition, violence and death in refugee camps built with the best of intentions to provide sanctuary, but sorely lacking in security, support and provisions. Money and time are precious commodities, and right now, the international humanitarian system simply does not have enough of either.

The UNHCR currently operates the largest appeal in history for the Syrian Protection effort. With over $5 billion needed to bolster the support structure, and new details of atrocities in Syria emerging every day, there are questions to be asked as to European responsibility. The United States has pledged over $800 million in aid to Syria, and will permanently resettle 2 000 refugees in America. In Germany, asylum has been granted to 8 000 refugees since 2012 and Sweden has accepted a further 8 000. But when 3 000 asylum seekers, mostly women and children, flood into Kurdistan every day across a long dirt road in the baking heat, why is Europe not doing more?

Click here to read more.

The language of the abortion debate has been cruel and unfair – on both sides

Note: This article was originally published at TheJournal.ie

Tonight’s vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill probably won’t end the public debate about abortion – and the women we all claim to care about deserve better than the unfair language that has been used recently, writes Aisling Twomey.

TODAY, OR RATHER early tomorrow morning, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 will go to a vote in Dáil Éireann following some debate on the 165 proposed amendments to the Bill. This Bill allows for the lawful termination of a pregnancy if there is a risk to the life of the mother. This risk must be real and substantial. A medical practitioner is to carry out the procedure, with the support of two other doctors unless there is an emergency and immediacy is required.

The suicide clause allows for a termination where life is risked by suicidal intent. Three doctors must sign off on such a termination, with an appeal for the pregnant woman to a further three doctors, should she feel the need to appeal the original assessment.

This Bill is as restrictive as possible

At its heart, this Bill is restrictive. It doesn’t afford a woman a choice as to her medical care in the event of her not wanting to carry a child to term. It doesn’t afford a woman any right to choose; to say otherwise is to be misinformed. The facts are before us and Enda Kenny has said it himself: this Bill is as restrictive as it can be.

Abortion has, for the entirety of its existence, been a contentious issue. This is the case all over the world and not just in Ireland. When Savita Halappanavar died in Galway Regional Hospital last year, the entire country rose to discuss the issue once more. For the first time since the now infamous case of Attorney General v X in 1992, as a nation we debated abortion for Ireland.

I am pro-choice

I always called myself pro choice. It is my absolute belief that a woman should be able to make a choice as to her own medical care. It is her body, her life: her decision. Throughout history, we have lambasted regimes that take ownership of autonomy; we have undercut and undermined efforts to liquefy personal rights.

Not only have I considered myself pro choice, I am in the extreme of that bracket. I believe that a termination is a medical procedure and that a person should be able to seek one out should she wish to, regardless of circumstance. I believe that that is absolutely none of my business what another person elects to do with their body.

I am pro-life

I have also always identified as pro life. I firmly believe that life is an absolute miracle. I think that we have fought to protect it, to save it and to celebrate it for thousands of years. I admit openly that were I to become pregnant at this point, it would be an unwelcome development – but I also admit that I would be reluctant to seek a termination. I don’t believe that I am the only person who feels this way.

The fact is that the language we use in discussions about abortion is a crude bastardisation of realities. The reality is that everyone is pro life, because nobody is pro death. Nobody in this debate preaches or celebrates death.

In the same vein, nobody is pro abortion. Abortion is an actual tragedy. Nobody grows up wanting to have an abortion and nobody grows up wanting to give one. I can’t think of a medical professional whom might express delight at such human tragedy. I cannot name a person who has ever claimed to like the notion. If abortion is to exist, it should be safe and legal and very rare.

The language used has been crude, cruel and unfair

The language used by both sides of this debate is crude, cruel and unfair. These brash words are used to define what can’t be defined, to separate people and to put them into camps. The reality is that you can believe and invest in both sides of the argument according to your own belief.

To support abortion laws for Ireland does not make you an ‘abortionist’. It does not make you pro abortion or anti life. It does not make you a murderer.

To reject abortion in all its forms for all reasons does not make you a religious zealot. It does not make you a fascist.

The words we use to define sides of this debate are appalling. Savita Halappanavar and her husband were not abortionists or murderers. They sought to protect what life could be saved, and doubtless would have mourned the loss of their unborn child. Instead, Praveen Halappanavar must mourn both.

Every now and then, I think of the girl involved in the X case. No more than a child when she was brought before the court, defined solely as a suicidal mother to be. We neglect constantly to remember that she was a child, a crime victim and a rape survivor; we talk of her only in terms of her suicidal intention, her court case and her unborn child. She wasn’t a murderer and she wasn’t an abortionist. She was a child.

We owe more to the women we all claim to care for

As activists, our horrible definitions are backed up only by our deviant tactics. Posters with pictures of foetuses on them are incendiary. Defacing a building with excrement is literally filthy and demonstrates a severe lack of respect. Calling regular people on the street murderers is callous and untrue. Showing people photographs of allegedly aborted foetuses is a sick scare tactic and it’s upsetting. Hacking a website is a crime; publishing a full newsletter list is an invasion of privacy. Taking down posters and replacing them with others is laughable. The inflammatory mailouts to constitutents and the attacks on politicians’ homes are all intolerable. Bloody letters sent to the Prime Minister of the State? Absolutely disgraceful.

We have used this debate to incite, to revile, to hate. We have used it to undermine women, to undercut activists and to abuse politicians. In yet another example of language gone awry, the word ‘conscience’ is tossed around a lot on both sides of the debate, but many of the actions of campaigners- on both sides- have been far from conscionable.

Ireland has been a significantly single issue country for the past few months. Not a day goes by without abortion commentary coming from here or there, experts talking in the Dáil, hundreds of articles published, countless letters to the editor overtaking national newspapers. That rush may now be coming to an end but you can be sure that it will crop up again in the future. If it does, our method of campaigning has to change. We surely owe that to ourselves, to each other and to the women we all claim to care for.

Blowing the Whistle on the Darkness of Government

Note: This article originally appeared at OneEurope.

Felt, Ellsberg, Assange, Manning and now Snowden, are just names. What they have done for society is provide us with honesty.

When Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were assigned to report on the burglary of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate building in Washington DC, they had no way to know what they would uncover and show the world. By the time they were finished, the President of the United States had resigned and Woodward and Bernstein were household names. As was their informant, a man who was known for over thirty years by the name Deep Throat.

Mark Felt was an Associate Director at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He had given Woodward stories at the Washington Post before. When Woodward called him after the Watergate break in, Mark Felt gave him the information he needed. He became the most notorious whistleblower in history.

He was both revered and derided in the national media when he was finally confirmed as Deep Throat in 2005. Some called him a hero, and some said he did the wrong thing. Why didn’t he go to a grand jury? It was suggested that he did it out of spite, that he wanted the Directorship of the FBI, and that he didn’t care about the morals. Ostensibly, this version of the story is the correct one.

Charles Colson, President Nixon’s chief counsel, said that Felt had violated his oath to keep the nation’s secrets. Colson was wrong. There is a huge difference between minding launch codes and telling a country that leaders have them in the first place.

Times haven’t changed too much. Felt isn’t widely known today, but his nickname is. He has been replaced by other notorious and divisive characters. Julian Assange, wanted for sexual assault or rape (depending on what government you ask), but more widely spoken of as the founder of Wikileaks. Bradley Manning, Private in the United States Army, five time medal winner, more widely spoken of as the man who leaked documents to Wikileaks from a tent in the desert. And finally, Edward Snowden, a systems administrator with Booz Allen Hamilton, now widely known for instigating the largest leak in NSA history. He is currently at large and seeking political asylum, fully aware that he has probably left the United States for the last time.

Media attention on Snowden has been, at the very least, interesting. The Guardian, where Glenn Greenwald published the details of Snowden’s leaks, is supportive of Snowden and his actions. In the United Kingdom, details are emerging of even worse infractions by the UK government. The details of the US PRISM program are still coming to light, but the point is clear; the United States, in gathering data from countless countries as well as its own citizens, broke no laws.

That is the most phenomenal part. No laws had to be broken to allow the United States to do this. Each day, we get closer and closer to 1984-like conditions, and still, the media are writing about the stickers on Snowden’s laptop and how he didn’t get his high school diploma first time around.

In Europe, there is rage. The European Union has started acting quickly, perhaps because they know the sins of the past too well. In 2011, the European Commission intended to push for the protection of EU citizens’ data by way of authorized transfer requests and adjudications. The Commission backed down after fierce lobbying by the United States.

The European Parliament is now pushing that same agenda. The Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) would require a judge or an equivalent authority to approve any transfer of data outside the EU. All non-EU countries would have to go through that adjudication.

The fact remains though, that this may not be enough. Felt, Ellsberg, Assange, Manning and now Snowden, are just names. What they have done for society is providing us with honesty. They have elected to give us truths we would otherwise not know. They have shown us, over and over again, the capacity of our governments to overreact, to go beyond the limits of the power we want them to have.

The main goal of terrorism has always been to inspire real fear. Terrorism, in the case of the United States, has been entirely successful. A country built on personal freedom, which has guaranteed personal rights and liberties, is tearing itself to pieces, corrupting its own basis as a state and alienating some of its largest allies, including those in Europe.

The United States government broke no laws- and that is possibly the most terrifying truth of all. Europe needs to be cautious and aware of the dangers. We do not want these outcomes for our states or for our international alliance in the European Union.

My generation is proving its independence and courage

Note: This article originally appeared on The Irish Times Generation Emigration Blog.

At home and abroad, young people are building their own futures, writes Aisling Twomey.

Three years ago, I wrote a piece for The Irish Times, outlining what I recognised as a huge problem for my future: jobs were disappearing like gold after the rush, opportunities seemed slimmer with each passing day, and as a student preparing to graduate, I was worried for what came next.

I was lambasted for that article. An entire thread popped up about me on politics.ie, where I was called, among other things, “a vacuous bimbo with a demand for her rights but no idea of her responsibilities”. I was called self-indulgent, smug, self-serving and entitled.

The comments were presumptive and in some places downright insulting and crude. I was accused of all sorts of political persuasions and notions. People said I wanted to provide nothing and pay zero back for the investment the state made in my education. This was, and remains, a lie.

I wasn’t without my defenders – people who said I should up and leave, that I owed Ireland nothing; that I could succeed elsewhere. Some people wished me the best of luck. Three years have passed. I committed myself to learning as much as I could, and I took on board every challenge I could have. I was frankly desperate for opportunity, for a chance to work full-time and contribute what I had learned.

The past three years have been far from simple. Despite my own ego and a determination to make it on my own, I am intensely grateful to my parents for their endless support. It would have been too hard without them. I completed my degree, and then completed a Masters. I worked part time for three years and did a legal internship, where I learned more than I ever thought I would or could; it was a golden opportunity that changed my entire outlook on life.

For seven months, I worked seven days a week. I’m not moaning about it – I literally took as many chances as I could find. There were times when it was really hard. I have no savings, I did a lot of free work, I have not earned anything as such, and there were days and weeks where it seemed nothing was coming down the line. Emigration was a serious option – I was accepted to two PhD programs in some of the best universities in the United Kingdom, but funding didn’t come through to make them manageable. That was a hard blow.

I still live in Ireland. For the most part, my friends are gone or planning to. Brussels, London, Glasgow, New Zealand and Toronto have called. They have answered in their droves.

One commenter following my original article posited that he had often worried for the Tiger generation – what levels, the user asked, of inner strength had we developed to weather the bad times?

Every begrudging comment that day made me think about myself. While I know most of them were derogatory, born of ill will and downright ignorance, they made me learn a lesson. My generation, here and abroad, have proved our own abilities – our independence and our courage. We have taken up every chance that exists, running into the water headfirst to surf a tide that is uncertain, unbalanced and risky.

My generation has learned about risk. They have left families and loved ones and they have thrived. I know of people in their early twenties who have started their own companies, sought out funding for further education, become part of the social media revolution and developed careers that didn’t exist twenty years ago- or even ten years ago. They are entrepreneurs, building their own futures from scratch with old fashioned hard graft.

My friends have demonstrated a lack of fear in the face of great uncertainty. They are innovative, capable and determined – no, stubborn – about what they want. People three years ago called it entitlement. I call it self-determination.

My generation will honour the lessons that the biting Tiger never taught us. In the bad times, we learned about our own strengths, and we shared those lessons with each other. We have emerged to take on the world in our own unique way. What we learn through adversity are the best lessons – and in the future we will bring those lessons home.

The online forum users can call me anything they want – but this “vacuous bimbo” is very aware of both her rights and her responsibilities. I have to do the best I can with what I have – but I want it to be useful, worthwhile and contributory. What sin is there in that?

Those commenters were very aware of my responsibilities – but they undermined my rights and sought to destroy my determination to succeed, instead of applauding someone who wanted to try for the best chances they could get. I learned a great lesson when the Celtic Tiger died – the question is, did they?

Encouraging Hate in Russia

Note: This article originally appeared on the Left Tribune.

Russia has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past weeks. Accused of further marginalising the LGBT community, the country is facing increasing international outrage.

Homosexual activity was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, at around the same time as Ireland made the same policy change. In 1999, homosexuality was finally removed from the national list of mental illnesses. Yet, in 2013, almost three quarters of Russians feel that homosexuality should not be accepted by society.

The Russian constitution clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman. There is no debate on the topic because the constitution won’t be changed. There is no right to adoption for same sex couples. There is no civil partnership.

Russia operates an unofficial ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in its one million strong military. Officially, gay people are allowed to serve on a par with heterosexuals, but the practical reality is entirely adverse to that policy.

Hostility against the LGBT community in Russia is hitting a peak. The deep conservatism of the government is spreading through Russian society, previously seen in the censorship of Pussy Riot and the chargeslaid against members of the band for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”

On June 11th, the Russian Duma unanimously passed a law banning gay “propaganda”, further enshrining those same deeply conservative values. 436 members of the Parliament, with one abstaining member, voted to ban the distribution of material on gay rights.

They voted to make it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships. They voted on the same day to approve jail sentences of up to three years for offending religious feelings. If these laws pass through the second parliamentary house, they will become an active and awful reality of Russian life.

Smaller, local legislatures already carry these laws. It has been a spreading trend throughout the federal Russian system. In 2012, Moscow’s top court upheld a ban on gay pride marches within Moscow for 100 years. The issue is due to come before the European Court of Human Rights, but the reality for now is that pride marches, widely accepted on the streets of Ireland, are a deviant, dissident operation in Russia. Almost 12 million people live in Moscow; over twice the population of Ireland is being censored in the name of furthering hatred.

Being gay, bisexual or transgender in Russia was already a reason to be targeted for hatred. Now, mere mention of gay rights or participation with a gay rights organisation can result in hefty fines.

The Russian Orthadox Church has been vocal in its criticsm of gay marriage in other states, going so far as to state that gay marriage would lead to “the collapse of the West within 50 years.”

Since gay marriage and gay rights appear to be so offensive to the Church, it is easy to see how an LGBT activist could face three years in jail for offending religious feelings. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s reality and it’s a perversion of human rights and freedom of speech.

The Russian Duma did not forget about the power of the internet and the cultivated spread of social media. Any person using the media or internet to promote “non traditional relations” can be fined. Organisations can be closed down for months at a time. Foreigners who make efforts to further the LGBT movement can be detained, finedand then deported.

 

Originally appeared on Reddit

 

With a government that repudiates the gay rights movement and a Church swollen with power, the fact is that being gay, bisexual or transgender in Russia is now to be in a dangerous position. The LGBT movement in Russia, though targeted so completely by their own government, is unafraid. Their activists will continue to fight; they will continue their struggle for equality.

But on Wednesday, photographs hit the internet from Russia of a group of children, faces hidden, beating an LGBT protester lying on the ground, covering her head with her arms, defenceless. Her government is, phenomenally, more likely to prosecute her than to punish her attackers.

Institutionalising Love, Not Hatred

On Monday June 17th, in conjunction with the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, BeLonGTo Youth Services hosted a Youth and Social Inclusion Conference at Croke Park.  The event came in the wake of findings published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which surveyed 93,000 LGBT people from across the European Union between April and July 2012.

The FRA report found that 47% of respondents had been discriminated against or harassed in the previous 12 months, and that 91% of respondents had heard or seen negative conduct against a schoolmate who was seen to be LGBT while they were in school.  Two thirds of respondents, more than half from in every member state, reported that they avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner in public for fear of being assaulted.

The Croke Park Conference was supported by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, with Minister Frances Fitzgerald speaking at the beginning of the day.  The Minister was “glad that social inclusion has been identified as a core part of the trio of Presidencies of the Council of the EU” and established her belief that as far as LGBT involvement goes, Ireland has “an unfinished democracy”.

Dr Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur for Child Protection, spoke during the keynote panel and pointed out the stark truth that homophobic and transphobic bullying must be considered “a profound child protection issue”.  Phil Prendergast MEP, reflecting on the historic setting for the conference, spoke about the LGBT community and sport, describing a “glass ceiling of homophobia” that exists right across Ireland, on every playing field.

The next Presidency of the Council of the European Union will be held by Lithuania, a state that came under heavy fire throughout the conference.  Lithuania has the highest level of youth suicide in the EU and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) reports that 88% of teachers in Lithuania agree that ‘family’ is based solely on marriage between a man and a woman.

The international perspective of the conference was possibly the key to its success, with panels that provided different insights from around the EU as well as the United States, Turkey and Ireland.  Each panellist brought a different perspective, whether legal, youth work, transgender, activist or human rights, which provided a dearth of understanding to those attending.

The panels were backed up by a workshop section in the early afternoon, and the Conference closed with collaboration on the forthcoming Dublin Statement on LGBT Youth and Social Inclusion.  It is hoped that this statement once released will be recognised as a sustainable but pivotal legacy of the Irish Presidency in 2013.