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New group offers ‘safe space’ for LGBT community

A NEW group for Strabane’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community offers a “safe space” where members can express their true selves.

Formed last summer, it is one of the Rainbow Project’s nine regional LGBT groups across the North.

The group, which is for adults identifying as LGBT and meets twice a month in Strabane, has a diverse range of ages and professions represented within its membership.

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While funding has been secured from the Henry Smith Charity for the next two years, it is hoped that the group will become self-sustainable in the long run so that it will be able to continue even if it doesn’t have funding.

Mardi Kennedy, the Rainbow Project’s regional health and wellbeing officer, said that the Strabane group had a “special rapport”.

She said, “It’s really diverse. It does cover adulthood, from people in their 20s and upwards. We have people from different professions as well as different skills and interests. We’re an eclectic bunch of different gender identities, sexual orientation and from both sides of the community too.”

She added, “Everyone is highly-motivated to engage in activities and deliver the sessions themselves.”

With members of the group encouraged to come up with ideas for activities, Mardi said that they had done “lots of amazing stuff together” since last summer.

This has included soap making, cooking a nut roast for their Christmas party, a talk by group volunteer Stephen Birkett on queerness in Dr Who and a Harry Potter quiz.

A number of health and wellbeing sessions have also been delivered by Rainbow Project staff, on topics such as internalised queerphobia.

Explaining what this means, Mr Birkett said, “We expect queerphobia to come from outside, but, actually, because of the society we live in, some of us have it inside ourselves and we almost hate ourselves.”

While the group has also discussed transgender awareness, bisexuality awareness and sexual health, Mr Birkett added, “Sometimes we just sit and natter.”

Mardi said that it was very important to have a space where people could come to express their true selves.

“It is a safe space, whether they’re out in the community, whether they’re nearly coming out or just want to talk to other people and share their stories. It is a super safe space for people to come and do that,” she said.

Mr Birkett said that, over the last two decades, Strabane had become more welcoming.

He said, “Things were difficult 20 years ago. Now, nobody seems to have any issue at all. I’ve not had any hostility towards me as a gay man for years and years.”

But Mardi added that somebody who might be a gay man might have a very different experience to a transgender person.

She said, “Stephen has been pioneering in this community for such a long time and he has been doing such a great job for others to be safe to come out. But if we look at our trans population, I would say they are at way more risk of transphobia which is still a hate crime. The statistics of that are different to homophobic hate crime.”

In the coming months, the group is planning to continue with their wide range of activities.

On the agenda will be a mindfulness session, starting an allotment, baking, cake decorating, photography and yoga.

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