Shauna, 16, Cork

My Youth Group, UP Cork, became a safe space for me, where I could share my opinions and truly be myself around people my age.

Shauna, 16, Cork

It was in primary school that I was first made to feel ashamed of my identity. I was eight years old when I learned that girls loving girls was ‘not normal’ and ‘unusual’. Whenever I was brave enough to mention the lack of LGBTQ+ representation on the curriculum, I was taken aside to be told that the teacher in question couldn’t tell me about that sort of thing. I had to wait until I was older and more mature. This may have alleviated the stress put upon teachers to actually educate themselves in these matters, but I don’t think they ever considered the sort of impacts it would have on me. This rejection year after year only made me feel more and more invisible and ashamed. It took me a long time to unlearn the harmful and frankly dangerous ideals taught to me in primary school.

Even now, it feels weird to talk to my friends about LGBTQ+ issues, especially in my school where there are very few resources for LGBTQ+ students. We don’t have a Gay/Straight Alliance in our school, and our Relationship and Sexual Education curriculum is mostly ignored. In the one lesson we had during my second year, queer identities were almost entirely neglected, and were only acknowledged when I asked about the topic directly.

My Youth Group, UP Cork, became a safe space for me, where I could share my opinions and truly be myself around people my age. The Thursday Zoom meetings were a haven for me, and once I was able to meet all my new friends in person, it was even more so.

The youth group has organised workshops, one of which discussed the Sustainable Development Goals through poetry writing and spoken word with Kelvin Akpaloo of Youth 2030 at NYCI.  We were joined by young people from Lebanon and together, we brainstormed which of the SDGs we felt most strongly about. I chose to work with #4: quality education, and #10: reducing inequalities, and creating a poem I called ‘My Truth’, which discussed self-acceptance and the dangers of erasing LGBTQ+ identities within the education system. I had written poetry before but had never considered using it to discuss my queer identity before, but now writing about my experiences has helped me to find my voice and feel empowered.

I shared the poem I wrote as part of the workshop with my Year Head and discussed how the school could become a safer and more inclusive place for LGBTQ+ students. I hope to continue to pursue this topic with them in the new term.