I have had the pleasure of attending BeLonG To Youth Services for many years now and receiving lots of great opportunities during my time there. One of the biggest has been creating a harm reduction pack for young people to have a safe day at Dublin Pride this year. Although every year Pride is a great and fun occasion for everyone involved, it is important to acknowledge certain risks and dangers it poses. Sexual activity and drug use are prominent at Pride and poor mental health is a serious issue among LGBTI+ youth.
We are committed to ensuring young people have a Pride that is fun and enjoyable, but also safe. Thanks to the support of the Gay Health Network and the HSE, we were able to create a pack for young people to reduce some of the risks at Pride.
A Collaborative Process
The way BeLonG To runs is through peer led youth groups. This means that the youth workers do not set the agenda for young people attending the service. Instead, young people are the forefront of the groups, deciding what to learn about, what activities to run, and how to best overcome challenges.
This is why before Pride, a group of our young people including myself got together to discuss the dangers and risks we face at Pride from our personal experiences and those of our friends. For example, we discussed how sex education in many schools is directed towards not getting pregnant but does not address STIs. We talked about not having the appropriate knowledge to make informed decisions regarding drug use. We discussed how these challenges could be addressed and reduced. For example, better education regarding drug use or the availability of condoms to prevent STIs. We then started to create a pack to distribute at Pride to reduce some of these risks.
Harm Reduction Pack
The pack comprises of a wide variety of items all designed to create a safer environment for young people during Pride. To begin with, it contains condoms and lube to ensure young people engage in safer sex. Likewise, it includes information on personal development education programmes such as “In The Know” a free personal development course where young gay and bisexual men and trans women can learn about safer sex and relationships. The pack also includes information on a number of drugs, for example ecstasy, so that young people can make informed decisions on whether they choose to use these drugs. It also includes advice regarding drug use such as not to mix drugs and alcohol or only taking half a pill at a time.
Mental health is also something young people struggle with so there is information on various supports included in the pack. For example, BeLonG To and Pieta House collaboration and provide free counselling for LGBTI+ youth who are self-harming or thinking of suicide. The pack includes information on ‘Monday Chats’ a casual support service for LGBTI+ young people.
The pack also includes a list of BeLonGTo’s youth groups nationwide. Many LGBTI+ youth may not have heard of BeLonG To or may not know there is a group or service near them. Likewise, many people may be questioning or struggling coming to come to terms with their sexual orientation/gender identity, or may know somebody who is and would like to know where they can go to get support.
The packs also contain fun items such as lollipops, pens, stickers and badges. This is to encourage people to take the packs and also get the condoms, safe sex and drug information as a result. When we distributed them at Pride 2016, they were gone in a matter of minutes. Young people ran up to us eager to take them. We were so happy that people actually used and engaged with the packs.
If you are at Dublin Pride this year, I’d definitely encourage you to come and take a pack for yourself. Be sure to get there early before they are all gone! Pride is fun and enjoyable, but only when everyone has a safe time. So be proud this June 30th but also safe, see you all at the parade!