Equality is needed for everyone

I am an advocate for LGBTQ rights in Northern Ireland, writes Steven Agnew MLA.

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 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 are facing 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 is 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 wellbeing amongst 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 There are outdated and humiliating gender recognition rights for Trans* people.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 work together to make equality for all the norm.

This article was published in the Belfast Telegraph on 31 July 2015

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