Creating a #MeToo movement in the LGBTQ+ community

An Interview with activist group Queers Against Sexual Assault Ireland (QUASA)

Content Warning : This article mentions sexual assault and image based sexual absuse 

On the 8th of February 2021, one of the founding members of Queers Against Sexual Assault (QUASA), Oscar, tweeted a thread describing the need for a “me too movement” within the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland. One day later, with the help of co-founder Dan, QUASA was launched. Speaking to Trinity News over Zoom, the pair outline their current plans for the organisation: “QUASA is for anyone who wants to end the toxic culture of assault that exists in our society, in clubs, in places where we should feel safe. It’s an organisation that seeks to protect everyone, not just members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

     

“You can always call out to the void and point out that things are bad, but this whole project… it’s about putting your money where your mouth is and causing change to happen.”

Dan and Oscar are certainly no strangers to social justice activism. Oscar points to his Leaving Cert action project for Politics and Society as his first major step into campaigning – he organised a blood drive in his school after realising gay men cannot donate blood in Ireland. Dan on the other hand has been involved in social justice campaigns since the Marriage Equality Referendum in 2015. Oscar refers to his Twitter thread on queer sexual assault as the starting point for QUASA as an organisiation. “You can always call out to the void and point out that things are bad, but this whole project… it’s about putting your money where your mouth is and causing change to happen.” Dan agrees, noting, “I had reposted it on my story and then left it for a couple of hours, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was so profound and true and I couldn’t not do anything about it”. They go on to talk about how often, the LGBTQ+ community is hesitant to show it’s flaws and weaknesses: “with QUASA, we’re trying to get the message out that being vulnerable is okay. It ties into patriarchal norms and showing weakness is interpreted to be bad. With queer people, there’s a desire to be strong because we go through so much trauma.”

The relationship between the queer community and the Gardaí has historically been one of opposition. Many LGBTQ+ activists consider the death of Declan Flynn in 1982 and the suspended sentences of his murderers to be one of the catalysts for the modern day gay-rights movement in Ireland. One of QUASA’s manifesto points deals with hate crimes directly, calling for an increase in Garda resources. When asked what QUASA’s relationship with the Gardaí would be like, Dan pointed to the need for reform in the system as a whole, elebroating that the Gardaí at present are not suited to dealing with sensitive cases like sexual assault and image based sexual abuse (IBSA). Dan outlines the areas where QUASA hopes to educate both members of the LGBTQ+ community and those outside of it. “There’s a huge issue with IBSA in the community. There’s apps like Grindr where safety isn’t a priority.” Oscar points to the need for better consent education for all in Ireland, calling it a “major issue” in Irish society as a whole. Oscar, who is studying education, describes his ideal curriculum as having “consent education beginning in primary school, referring to personal space”. Oscar also mentions the need for LGBTQ+ representation in primary education in a non-sexual context and an all-inclusive RSE curriculum for secondary school students.

In regards to safety in clubs and bars, QUASA hopes to implement a safety-scheme across gay clubs and bars in Ireland similar to the “Ask for Ani” scheme for domestic abuse victims in pharmacies in the UK. The scheme will involve having bar and hospitality staff knowing a code word which customers can use to go to a safe space, away from danger. Dan mentions QUASA’s determination to end discrimination to minorities within queer spaces and the desire to create spaces that are “totally against any form of oppression”.

We want people to come across any issue and to be able to say, ‘oh there’s a QUASA post for that.”

According to Dan and Oscar, QUASA will not only be a support service for those who have been sexually assaulted, but will also support and raise awareness for other health issues affecting the queer community such as STDs, HIV testing and mental health. Dan outlines that QUASA will hopefully become “a pool of information and resources for people to not only use but also will share around. We want to be as accessible as possible in case someone is looking for how to access HIV treatments like PrEP and PEP. It will be an immediate resource that unfortunately doesn’t exist at the moment”. Dan then points out that the HSE often provides confusing advice and information in regards to queer issues and alludes that QUASA will help resolve this. “We want people to come across any issue and to be able to say, ‘oh there’s a QUASA post for that’”. QUASA also aims to increase awareness around queer mental health with the eventual goal of setting up a support service or helpine for victims of sexual assault. For the moment, on an organisational level, QUASA will implement crisis and compassionate grounds training for its members.

When asked about transgender issues in Ireland, Dan remarks that the trans-healthcare system in Ireland is “nearly non-existent” and that the healthcare that is offered to trans people is “underfunded, undersupported and unprotected”. Dan then goes on to describe how the healthcare system in Ireland as a whole is based on “governmental greed” that fundamentally fails all Irish citizens and that QUASA will “do it’s best” to campaign for adequate funding and support for the transgender community. 

To end the interview, both Oscar and Dan outlined their goals for the next year, with Oscar detailing how he wants there to be a culture of “knowing what to do in a crisis” with a more sympathetic approach to those suffering with the trauma of sexual assault. Dan mentions their hope that clubs will become “a place where we don’t have to worry about what might happen”. Both agree that making people aware of their surroundings and being “an ally for everyone” is the very least QUASA can do before clubs open again in Ireland.

You can find QUASA on social media here ;

Instagram.com/QUASAIreland

Twitter.com/QUASAIreland

Eva O'Beirne

Eva O'Beirne is the Deputy Life Editor of Trinity News and a Junior Sophister History student.