A new group for lesbian, gay and bisexual people has been launched in Bangor, Co Down.

Gay and Lesbian across Down (GLAD) aims to provide a range of events for gay people living in or visiting the county, which is south of Belfast.

District Commander Chief Superintendent Graham Shields of the Northern Ireland Police Service used the launch event to present a new initiative designed to increase the reporting of homophobic hate crime.

20,000 leaflets printed and distributed by GLAD and funded by the police will inform people of future events and detail how to report hate crimes.

An Ulster Unionist Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Alan McFarland, and UUP councillor James McKerrow also attended the launch event.

Andrew Muir, Chairperson of GLAD, said:

“Back in 1996 when I came out as a gay man I was living in Bangor.

“It was a completely different place than today. I felt excluded, isolated and alone.

“Today in 2008 I am now again living in Bangor. I feel valued in a part of Northern Ireland which embraces diversity and provides hope of the future.”

GLAD grew out of the North Down and Ards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans group, which was officially formed on March 2007.

“With growing interest in the group we felt it necessary to hold a Development Weekend in October last year,” said Mr Muir.

“At this weekend we discussed how the group should grow over the next number of years.

“We agreed to adopt a new and much more snappy name. To make the group more accessible we also agreed to launch an Induction Service.”

The Induction Service was formally launched at the event and allows people to find out more about the group by ringing GLAD’s dedicated phone line (07791 398 438).

It also offers the opportunity for people to ‘break the ice’ and meet up with induction service volunteers in advance of events. Meetings can be arranged by ringing the phone line.

A full programme of events was announced at the launch, with something occurring every month, ranging from a Community Safety event in May to Camping and Caravanning Weekend with Barbeque in June and an Interior Design talk in September.

GLAD also used the event as an opportunity to make an award to North Down Borough Council in recognition of the support provided by the Council since the group’s inception.

Further details on the group are available from www.gladni.org by emailing info@gladni.org or telephone 07791 398 438.