Belfast Telegraph

Equality is needed for everyone

By Steven Agnew

I am an advocate for LGBTQ rights in Northern Ireland. From bringing forward the first Assembly motion on equal marriage to working with LGBTQ members to set up the Queer Greens group, I will continue to be an advocate until the rights of my friends and colleagues have been validated and recognised as equal to my own.

Marriage equality is a media-friendly LGBTQ issue that Northern Ireland still has not caught up with. I wholeheartedly welcome the results of the referendum in the Republic of Ireland and the more recent challenge to the US constitution.

However, it is not the only issue or, arguably, the most important. Our LGBTQ community in Northern Ireland still faces a multitude of discriminations, inadequate health services and societal acceptance issues.

Essential services for LGBTQ people in Northern Ireland face severe restrictions, staff cuts and closures due to funding cuts to community and voluntary organisations.

Cuts to services such as mental health counselling and sexual well-being are already having a catastrophic impact on the welfare of the LGBTQ community and it can only get worse.

To put it in perspective, LGBTQ people have higher rates of self-harm, suicide attempts and depression than the wider population. Trans men and women are the most likely to suffer depression and attempted suicide.

It is widely accepted that the disproportionate impact of poorer emotional health and well-being among LGBTQ people is largely a symptom of their stigmatisation in Northern Ireland society and the perception of inferior status.

There is LGBTQ discrimination in many other areas. For example, men who have sex with men are still not allowed to donate blood, contrary to the lack of medical evidence for the ban. Guidelines have still not been published surrounding LGBTQ adoption rights.

There are outdated and humiliating gender recognition rights for trans people. There is no sign of a sexual orientation strategy of which, to date, we have only seen published response data and no adequate recommendations of changes to legislation.

This is not good enough. Let us make equality for all the norm.

  • Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

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