On 18 May 2023 North-South Youth Work Sector Practice Development Hub hosted a one-day conference to demonstrate and increase understanding of the value and contribution of a youth work methodology to meeting the developmental and well-being needs of LGBTQI+ young people across the island of Ireland.
The conference was attended by a total of 74 youth workers, managers and stakeholders, from across the island, either currently working with LGBTQI+ young people, or those wishing to broaden/enhance their practice to engage and include LGBTQI+ young people.
The central themes and issues that emerged from the conference inputs, workshops and discussions were:
Coming out remains the primary issue for LGBTQI+ young people, and the conference heard a first-hand account of the stress placed on one young person when deciding to come out, and the profoundly positive impact of youth services in supporting him during this time and his journey to self-acceptance.
Another pressing issue for LGBTQI+ young people is personal safety whether in schools, online, in public or at home. Poignantly, the conference took place the day after a vicious homophobic attack on a teenager in Navan, county Meath. Conference-goers were also reminded that 2022 was the most violent year for LGBTI people across Europe in the past decade.
Youth Work Fundamentals
Several of the workshops explored how the fundamental principles and values of youth work, coupled with the inherent skills and qualities of youth workers, are wholly conducive to meeting the developmental needs of LGBTQI+ young people. Whilst dedicated specialist provision remains very important, these workshops demonstrated how mainstream youth work can provide safe, welcoming and inclusive spaces for LGBTQI+ young people.
The challenges faced by transgender young people are acute and conference was informed of a recent study showing that Ireland ranks lowest among EU countries on trans specific healthcare provision. This is at the same time as trans healthcare for young people in the UK is in a state of flux.
Some of the practical challenges raised by conference participants included resistance from some faith-based organisations, confusion about LGBTQI+ terminology, logistical issues around residentials, the complexity in understanding the co-occurrence of Autism and Gender Dysphoria and queries about whether LGBTQI+ youth workers should disclose their sexual orientation/gender identity. The workshops provided the space to raise these, and many other queries and challenges, and to begin to explore solutions.
Evaluation & Feedback
Evaluation of the conference showed an overwhelming appreciation of having the space to share practice, to hear directly from a young person, to learn about theory, and to network on a North-South basis. Going forward, there was a clear appetite for further opportunities, which would build on collaboration and provide a blend of practical and theoretical learning alongside hearing the voices of young people and working towards solutions.
This was a collaborative event, delivered by representatives of NYCI, Education Authority Youth Service, Belong To, Cara-Friend, Youth Work Ireland, YouthAction NI, Donegal Youth Service, Ulster University Community Youth Work Team, SWAN YS, Waterford & South Tipperary Community Youth Service and Youth Work Ireland Galway.