Pride Month is a time to honor, uplift, and celebrate the LGBTI+ community and everything it stands for. But it’s also an opportunity to educate and inform the larger society about issues that the LGBTI+ community faces, including the harm and damage that discrimination, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia have on them. One of our newest Foundation partners, BeLonG To Youth Services (BeLonG To), an Irish LGBTI+ nonprofit, conducted a survey called Life in Lockdown that showed the well-being of LGBTI+ young people has worsened under lockdown in Ireland due to isolation, prejudice, and discrimination. We sat down with BeLong To to talk about key takeaways from the report and how it’ll shape their mission moving forward.
Q: First, tell us about BeLonG To, your mission, and the work you do.
A: BeLonG To Youth Services is the national organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI+) young people in Ireland. We’re Ireland’s largest LGBTI+ organization supporting over 50 LGBTI+ youth groups as part of its network. Since 2003, we have worked with LGBTI+ young people, between 14 and 23 years, to create a world where they are equal, safe, and valued in the diversity of their identities and experiences.
Our work is focused on eliminating the social exclusion faced by LGBTI+ young people and promoting equality for LGBTI+ young people through firstly empowering and supporting those experiencing exclusion in their lives and secondly, working to remove the structural and social barriers which cause the exclusion in the first place both from a policy and societal value perspective. We proactively engage traditional and digital media to educate, raise awareness, and transform attitudes towards LGBTI+ people and promote human rights, equality, and social inclusion.
You can check out more of our work here.
Q: How is Pride Month 2021 different than past years?
A: Unfortunately, Pride 2021 is virtual again this year with many LGBTI+ young people unable to attend or experience unique spaces that Pride provides. For LGBTI+ youth, their first experience of Pride is one of immense joy, connection, wonder, possibility, and belonging. It helps them get close to understanding the meaning Pride holds for LGBTI+ young people. Now, for another year, they are missing out on that positive experience. In response, BeLonG To is trying to cultivate some of that connection through two projects.
We hosted a virtual disco for over 700 young people across Ireland with some of Ireland’s biggest and most well-known DJ’s supporting the event. We’re hoping this creates shared experiences and digital spaces for people to be unapologetically themselves.
We’re also #BringingPrideHome by shipping almost 1,000 Self-Care Pride Packs out to LGBTI+ young people across Ireland. The packs contain all the things you need to celebrate Pride at home, including a pride t-shirt, badges, pins, support pamphlets, and much more to help LGBTI+ youth celebrate together, although apart.
Q: Can you tell us more about the LGBTI+ Life in Lockdown research?
A: This is the second iteration of the BeLonG To Youth Services LGBTI+ Life in Lockdown survey. The goal was to capture changes as well as consistencies in young people’s experiences since our initial study in 2020 during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland. The survey was conducted online in April and May 2021 and reached more than 2,200 LGBTI+ young people between the ages of 14 and 24 with participants from all 26 counties in Ireland.
Q: What are the major takeaways from the report?
A: Unfortunately, our 2021 findings show that little has changed since our 2020 survey and in many cases, the experiences and wellbeing of LGBTI+ youth has deteriorated during the last year.
Our 2021 research found that the number of young people who described their mental health as “bad” or “very bad" increased from 48% in 2020 to 58% in 2021. In addition, 83% of young people described feeling acute loneliness throughout the pandemic, an increase from 60% in 2020. Of greatest concern is the number of LGBTI+ young people who are thinking about suicide which is up to 63%, compared to 55% last year. Isolation and lack of access to community and supportive/affirming spaces has had an increased effect on young people’s mental health and the coping mechanisms available to them.
The profound impact that the pandemic is having on mental health can also been seen from the increase in young people accessing our support services in 2020. Demand for our services from 2019 to 2020 increased by 113% and each person has needed more help with on average 360% more interventions per person. It’s clear that more people need more help.
Q: How will the report help further BeLonG To’s goals and mission?
A: This research will help us understand the needs and issues of LGBTI+ youth better to plan appropriate interventions and support for them. By working together, we are letting LGBTI+ young people across Ireland know that there is a space for them to come together, to be who they are, and to receive support. But we cannot do this alone. We need the support of those passionate about ensuring LGBTI+ young people have their needs met and their voices heard. So it’s also a reminder for service providers, allies, policy makers, and practitioners to include young people in their response to crises and program adaptions across Ireland so that LGBTI+ youth are protected and empowered. Lastly, it’s a resource for a wider audience to understand the unique experiences that LGBTI+ youth have had during the pandemic.
Q: How has the Dropbox Foundation partnership helped?
A: In the past year alone, demand for our support services has soared. The Dropbox Foundation has provided us with additional unrestricted multi-annual funding which has allowed us to hire additional support staff in order to respond to the surge in demand for our services. These team members are able to creatively and rapidly respond to meet the needs of LGBTI+ young people when they need us most. The partnership has also allowed us to make strategic investments in protecting the rights and equality of LGBTI+ young people in Ireland especially as anti-trans and gender critical campaigns have sought to undermine LGBTI+ rights and equality over the last year.
Q: What can people do to help?
A: Do no harm, use a positive rhetoric, and show your support for the community. Challenge discrimination and prejudice when you encounter or witness it. Reach out to your LGBTI+ friends, family, and colleagues. Tell them you’re thinking of them and that you know this could be an especially hard time. You can also donate to BeLonG To here.
Q: Tell us what’s giving you hope these days?
A: The speed of the vaccination program in Ireland continues to gather pace and we’ve just received new guidance that will allow us to scale up our face-to-face work with LGBTI+ young people starting early July. This will help create connection, lessen isolation, and give young people the positive and accepting spaces they need. We cannot wait to welcome them back.
We are certain that whatever lies ahead, the impact of COVID-19 will be with us for years to come. Our commitment is to continue to understand how this is affecting LGBTI+ young people, and to share that information to help ensure that LGBTI+ youth and their needs are not forgotten. It gives us hope to be here for every single LGBTI+ young person who needs us.