Siobhan O’Dowd, Chairperson LGBTI+ InterAgency Group, at the launch of the 2023 LGBTI+ Awareness Week. Photo: Jim Coughlan

Awareness week marred by abuse

By Marguerite Kiely

LGBTI+ Awareness Week faced significant disruption last week when a group deliberately targeted an event held at the City Library, subjecting attendees and organisers to intimidation and verbal abuse.

The individuals, who recorded the events while in the library and posted them to social media platforms, could be heard describing attendees as “filthy people”.

Siobhan O'Dowd, Chair of Cork City LGBTI+ Inter-Agency Group, which organises Awareness Week, spoke to the Cork Independent about the incident.

She said: “During a session at Cork City Library to provide an update on the Hate Crime legislation currently going through the Dáil, a group that has consistently targeted the library since January made an appearance. Initially, this wouldn't have been an issue, as it was a public seminar meant for all.

“However, the problem arose when this group refused to engage with the seminar's content and deliberately disrupted the speakers by loudly and repeatedly demanding a debate on the LGBTI+ content that the library offers.”

O'Dowd further criticised the tactics used by the group.

She said: “These tactics are also highly offensive. Shouting slurs, engaging in offensive name-calling, attributing criminal and reprehensible activities to individuals solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, filming people without their consent, editing and circulating these videos, as well as following and harassing people.”

With International Lesbian and Gay Association’s (ILGA) most recent study recording that 2022 was the most violent year for LGBTI+ people, Siobhan expressed concerns about the safety of the LGBTI+ community in Cork.“Cork is not immune to the recent rise in anti-LGBTI+ rhetoric and violence, and there have been reports of severe assaults being investigated as hate crimes.”

Ailsa Splindler from the Gay Project echoed her sentiments: “Is Cork a safe place? Generally, yes. But do people feel safe? Much less so than they used to. We’ve seen more and more violent incidents, some of which are reported in the press, many of which don’t get reported to the guards because people feel nothing will happen.”

Reflecting on the progress made since the celebration of Ireland's Marriage Equality 8 years ago, Siobhan said: “It seemed like a significant milestone at the time, but unfortunately, we are regressing to what Panti Bliss aptly described during that campaign as 'having to check myself'. This includes monitoring behaviours like holding hands and engaging in public displays of affection, fearing that they might provoke an attack.”

While instances of hate crimes and speech have increased, Ailsa said it is mostly a small yet vocal minority: “It’s this minority that whip up a lot of hate and manufactured outrage. And none of it is grounded in fact.”

With the Belong To School Climate Survey 2022 identifying that 76% of LGBTIQ students feel unsafe, Siobhan encourages young LGBTIQ people to seek support from family, friends or a trusted adult. “If the young person feels there is no-one they can trust to ask for support within their immediate circle. LINC and the Gay Project can also support and signpost you to relevant organisations including UpCork, an LGBTI+ Youth Group, Belong To or other support services.”