Joel Anthony McKeever
On the 27th of January the second Q&A Training took place in Trinity. Organised by Student2Student Equality Officer Katie Biggs in cooperation with Q Soc, the three hour ‘Queer & Allies’ training workshop aimed to provide an understanding of LGBTQ issues to a variety of student volunteers and support staff in the College, including S2S peer mentors and peer supporters, members of SU council, GSU Officers, the Student Counselling Service, College tutors, Niteline volunteers and Q Soc members.
The unique workshop series engaged with issues that may face transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay students within the university and endeavoured to furnish the attendees with an understanding of the queer community that will enable them not only to contribute to a better support network in College but also to be active allies to their fellow students. David Carroll, Chairperson of Loving Our Out Kids (an organisation for parents of LGBTQ individuals) and Director of Services in BeLonGTo (a support network for LGBTQ young people) spoke to the group on how to best offer support for individuals during their coming out process. Odhran Allen, Director of Mental Health Policy for GLEN (Gay & Lesbian Equality Network) discussed the specific mental health challenges that some LGBTQ individuals may face and how friends and allies can help them overcome these issues and achieve their potential. Ben Power, Company Secretary for TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) discussed his perspective on the unique difficulties that transgender individuals face in Ireland and the importance of awareness and unity in trans* activism from both allies as well as other elements of the LGBTQ community.
Myself and fellow Q Soc committee member Sarah Scales facilitated a workshop on ’Breaking Down Misconceptions of LGBTQ’. Participants were encouraged to discuss stereotypes and misunderstandings about the different orientations under the LGBTQ banner. As a queer activist this was an invaluable opportunity to step outside the buffer-zone of my immediate peer group, all of whom are either queer or active allies, and see first-hand what kind of ideas are coming first to mind for the average student.
Some of the stereotypes that came to mind were more than expected, “gay men are all effeminate and bitchy”, “trans* people are usually male-to-female and associated with cross-dressing” and “lesbians hate men.” Notably, if not surprisingly, it was more difficult to provoke ready examples of bisexual stereotypes, a somewhat sobering reminder of the still pervasive lack of visibility that non-monosexual students face amongst even the relatively informed student population of Ireland. The group demonstrated a great willingness to engage with the woefully out-dated misconceptions that fuelled these stereotypes and how they can approach their support work and their relationships with a perspective that doesn’t make the false assumption that heterosexuality and cisgender is the norm.
The group raised an apprehension that speaking too readily about these issues to their LGBTQ peers would potentially offend them or run the risk of saying the wrong or uninformed thing. To close the workshop we discussed how the best thing that they can do as allies is acknowledge that it’s more important to be vocal and passionate than perfectly correct, willing to make mistakes and learn from them, speaking with their queer fellow students when they can and being confident to raise their voice in support of them in circles where they would otherwise be silenced. Most importantly, we acknowledged how vital it was for allies to remember that the struggle for LGBTQ equality is about human rights, not gay rights, and to ensure that the voices of queer students are at the centre of any discussion of their experiences.
Q&A Training is an invaluable service provided by dedicated people within Trinity College, one which will hopefully continue and maintain Trinity’s position as a trendsetter in queer activism and progressive support of its students’ mental and emotional well-being.