Community groups come together to discuss making life better for LGBTQ+ people in Northern Ireland
Community groups have come together to discuss the future of LGBTQ+ rights in Northern Ireland at a community lunch hosted by Citi in partnership with PinkNews.
Representatives from Citi, PinkNews, The Rainbow Project, Cara-Friend, HERe NI, Belfast City Council and Lagan College came together to discuss ways to improve life for the community at an event in Citi’s Belfast offices on Wednesday (6 July).
Odhrán Devlin, staffing office business manager at Citi, opened the event with a moment of silence to remember Paul Brennan, an activist who worked with The Rainbow Project before his passing.
“Paul was an inspiring champion of LGBTQ+ rights and liberation here in Northern Ireland. Our thoughts continue to be with all Paul’s family, friends and colleagues at this time,” Devlin said.
Devlin called on companies to continue to support LGBTQ+ people beyond Pride Month and urged governments to do more to advance LGBTQ+ rights.
“We know that current action from government at every level is not enough. So listen up and start thinking about what you can and should be doing to support the organisations here today,” Devlin said.
Inclusive approach has led to ‘growth and progress’ at Citi
Leigh Meyer, Belfast site head and global head of FXLM at Citi, spoke about the importance of diversity in the workplace, saying the investment bank’s inclusive approach has driven “growth and progress” in Belfast and beyond.
Citi was recently named one of the top 100 inclusive employers by LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall. Meyer said that achievement came about as a result of “many years of determination and focus” from people working across the organisation.
“This work has ensured that our policies are aligned with best practice, our workplaces are welcoming, and that we create a culture that enables people to come to work as their authentic self,” Meyer said.
He continued: “At Citi everyone is encouraged to take ownership to implement our diversity, equity and inclusion policies to enable an inclusive culture where everyone can reach their fullest potential.
“Our goal for inclusion extends to the broader communities where we operate, this is key to staff feeling comfortable coming to work as their true self.
“As our presence in Northern Ireland continues to grow, we are proud to say that we have consistently stood at the forefront of campaigns which seek to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Northern Ireland.”
Closing out his speech, Meyer said there is “no place” for discriminatory attitudes at Citi.
“We have a responsibility to our colleagues and community to promote tolerance, fairness, and equality and anything less must be called out and action taken,” he said.
Community groups spoke about making life better for LGBTQ+ people
Anthony James, chief operating officer (COO) at PinkNews, paid tribute to Citi for listening to Northern Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community and spoke about the importance of its summer reception in Stormont. The event, which is run in partnership with Citi, brings together leaders from across Northern Ireland’s political spectrum to discuss the future of LGBTQ+ rights.
Fern Fitzpatrick, trans and non-binary welfare officer with The Rainbow Project, spoke of the lengthy waiting times trans and non-binary people face for gender affirming care in Northern Ireland, saying such delays are impacting on the community’s mental health.
“Trans and non-binary people don’t just need emotional support, they need fun as well,” Fitzpatrick said. They thanked Citi for supporting their swimming programme which has empowered trans and non-binary people to go swimming without fear of discrimination.
Jo McParland, education and training manager at Cara-Friend, spoke about the importance of making sure schools in Northern Ireland are safe and welcoming environments for LGBTQ+ students.
She spoke about the charity’s LGBTQ+ inclusive charters for schools and businesses, explaining that the only way to create safe schools is to go in and educate teachers and students about LGBTQ+ identities.
Cara McCann, director of HERe NI and co-chair of Belfast Pride, spoke about their range of funded and unfunded projects. She also spoke of the work she has done with John O’Doherty of The Rainbow Project in revitalising Belfast Pride.
Speaking about the future for LGBTQ+ people in Northern Ireland and about Belfast Pride, McCann said: “We can’t do this on our own. We need to do this together and we need our allies to support us as well.”
More LGBTQ+ people are needed in elected office
Mal O’Hara, a Belfast City Councillor, spoke about the importance of having LGBTQ+ people in elected office. He noted that Belfast City Council isn’t as “as diverse as it should be”.
He particularly encouraged trans, non-binary, lesbian and bisexual people to run for elected office, saying LGBTQ+ people can help change the wider culture when they’re in positions of power.
Closing out the event, Kristen Beattie from Lagan College spoke about the school’s Queer Straight Alliance (QSA), describing it as “a hub of joy and diversity”.
Beattie said the COVID-19 pandemic had led to a surge of people signing up to be part of the QSA, with LGBTQ+ teenagers needing support and community more than ever before.
The 2022 series of events marks the fourth year Citi has partnered with PinkNews to draw attention to LGBTQ+ rights in Northern Ireland.
The community lunch was followed by a reception in Stormont, which saw leaders from across the political spectrum come together to discuss ways to improve life for LGBTQ+ people.
The reception took place on Wednesday evening (6 July) with Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill, Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole, Alliance MLA Eóin Tennyson, UUP leader Doug Beattie and DUP MLA Pam Cameron in attendance.
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