Michael O’Donnell, Community Development Worker with Gay Project.

Let’s talk about language

By Michael O'Donnell, Community Development Worker with Gay Project

Gay Project is running an education campaign over a number of weeks with the Cork Independent. This campaign will cover a wide range of terminologies and language in the area of LGBT+ identities. To find out more, visit gayproject.ie.

“I’m afraid that I might say the wrong thing and hurt someone's feelings.” This is what a teacher recently said to me when they called to get information to support their LGBTI+ student (and with one in ten students estimated to be LGBT+, there’s likely two-three in most classes).

This sentiment echoes what I’ve heard time and time again from parents/guardians, therapists, lecturers, social workers, youth and community workers, and countless others who interact with LGBTI+ people daily.

And it goes without saying that the vast majority of people are entirely well meaning and simply need a hand wrapping their heads around something which seems new to them.

Other questions are things like: ‘what does LGBTI+ mean?’, ‘what if I can’t remember all of the letters or I get them mixed up?’

Well, there’s merit in having basic literacy in a subject for anyone who works with people and there’s plenty of training available from agencies like the Gay Project to help - more about that later. However, it’s important not to get too bogged down on language and terminologies. The key is to remember that someone’s lived experience is a lot more important.

The real task of being inclusive, respectful and caring of all people with various identities is to make a deliberate effort to challenge our own prejudices and acknowledge that we can always do better. So what does that look like when it’s at home? Well, there are some simple steps we can all take everyday.

The first is to understand that identities and orientations have been evolving and changing for as long as people have been around.

So, it’s easier to understand when you see people’s identity as being on a spectrum, rather than either being one fixed thing or another fixed thing. People are far more complex than that and diversity is something we can all celebrate.

When I deliver training on the ABC’s of LGBT and more substantial personal and professional development trainings, I explain that there isn’t just straight people and gay people, there’s countless sexual orientations such as bisexual (being attracted to two genders) and asexual (not experiencing sexual attraction at all) to name just a few.

And the same can be said for gender identities. Thus, when we understand that identity is more than just two polarised positions, it gets easier to understand how the LGBTI+ acronym is changing and evolving over time.

There’s plenty of ways you can show your support in your agency, workplace, school etc.

Those include displaying a rainbow flag in a prominent location in your classroom, office, hallway, include LGBTI+ themes in your classes or workshops and celebrate your local Cork Pride week when it comes around.

If a client or student comes out to you, it’s okay to ask them about their lived experience to help you support them but asking them to educate you on the subject should be avoided as that would only cause distress.

Finally one of the best things you can do is get your staff trained professionally; for more information you can reach out to the Gay Project for training gayproject.ie or email community@gayproject.ie.