By Jennifer Quirke
Being LGBTQ in an Irish secondary school can be really hard. Eoin O’Liatháin, 2012 Washington-Ireland Program (WIP) alumnus and U.S. Embassy Youth Council Member, wants to change that.
When he started studying at Trinity College, Dublin, O’Liatháin realized there was a distinct disparity in the experience of being gay in secondary school, versus at university. In many schools LGBTQ-related issues are often not discussed, but in universities and colleges around the country, however, the environment is a much more open one, he says.
To bridge the gap, in 2012 O’Liatháin launched the ShoutOut project with the help of a small grant from the U.S. Embassy in Dublin. The initiative delivers anti-bullying workshops in secondary schools throughout Ireland with the aim of creating awareness of LGBTQ issues and educating young people about the negative effects of homophobia and transphobia. According to online survey data conducted by ShoutOut in 2012, nearly half (49%) of LGBTQ students experienced homophobic bullying in schools, and 92% of those surveyed believed their secondary school did not provide enough information and support on sexuality.
“I wanted to go back to schools and break the silence and talk about it, because that’s what I would have wanted,” O’Liatháin says. And from there, ShoutOut was born.
ShoutOut provides workshops delivered by volunteers who are all in third level education and who either identify as LGBTQ or are “straight allies” – a term given to straight people who support LGBTQ rights and issues. While the workshops are suitable for any second level student, they are primarily given to transition year students before they are 17 years of age. This is an age when many LGBTQ youths come out, and also the time when they are most likely to attempt suicide, explains O’Liathain.
The volunteers conduct the workshops in a relaxed, fun manner and without using jargon, and the response from teachers and students in the schools where ShoutOut has visited has been overwhelmingly positive, says ShoutOut Volunteer Coordinator Owen Murphy.
“Often after each session there is visible relief on student’s faces, at having these issues discussed in an open way and in a safe environment,” ShoutOut volunteer Bella Fitzpatrick says. And teachers appreciate the opportunity to open the topic with volunteers who are closer in age to the students and as a result, seen as more relatable.
For example, Colette McGovern, Transition Year Coordinator in Elphin Community School, Co. Roscommon said the workshop expanded students’ awareness of LGBTQ issues.
“[The workshops] really fill an existing hole in the current curriculum,” adds Derek Shaw, Transition Year Coordinator in Wesley College, Co. Dublin.
While not every school approached by the ShoutOut team has been open to the workshops, demand has increased says O’Liatháin, which is a good sign of changing mindsets on LGBTQ issues. ShoutOut recently completed a volunteer recruitment drive to increase their capacity to offer workshops across the country and they now have 120 active and engaged volunteers.
Over the past 10 years the climate of homophobia in the education system has slowly shifted, but there is still more work to be done, O’Liatháin says. In 2015, he hopes to expand the ShoutOut workshops to GAA clubs across the country.
“What I’ve learned as a WIP alum is that you don’t have to wait your turn,” O’Liatháin concludes. “If you see a problem, go and do something about it. If you want to see a change, then there’s no reason you can’t help to bring it about.”
To learn more about ShoutOut or to request a workshop, visit www.shoutout.ie.