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15 Years OF BeLonG To

As BeLonG To, Ireland’s leading youth organisation for LGBTI+ young people, celebrates its iteenth birthday, Chris O’Donnell speaks to the people involved and takes a look at its journey. Photographs courtesy of Alex Ricöller and BeLonG To.

Since the doors of BeLonG To opened in 2003, it had always been envisioned as an advocacy youth service. As founder Michael Barron pointed out, “it’s important to note that BeLonG To was never set up to be a youth group. In one way it was set up with the purpose of providing a safe space for LGBT young people, but it always had an activist and advocacy mandate as well. From the very beginning, the idea was that we’d support LGBT young people in where they’re at, but that we would also work with them in advocating for systemic change”.

So how did such a visionary and unusual model come into being? It started out in 1999, when Barron was working with Focus Ireland as a key worker. He recalled, “I was out as a gay member of staff. Because of that when LGBT young people would come in I’d become their key worker. One of the things that became apparent really quickly was that there was no service specifically to support them. And there was a disproportionate number of young people who were homeless and LGBT.”

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About GCN

In this special edition, our community's younger members take over for the annual Youth Issue. Our guest editor Emily profiles a group of young activists leading the charge for a new Ireland. We celebrate 15 years of the awesome BeLonG To, the national organisation supporting LGBTI+ youth while one of their subgroups, The LadyBirds, tackle the lack of awareness around women's sexuality and sexual health. A young asylum seeker in Direct Provision tells us of his struggles with homophobia while LGBT+ people in rural areas speak about the effects of isolation and how youth groups helped them find confidence. We top things off with a preview of the upcoming Science Of The Kiss exhibition, part of GCN's takeover of the Science Gallery. This is a good one!