It is fitting that we gather at this time as the world prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the modern LGBTI rights movement. I had just fallen in love at that time. I was a young teenager and her name was Katherine too. This hearing is fitting and timely and will reassure young people across Ireland that Deputies and Senators remain determined to protect and respect their hard-fought rights in a different era from when I was growing up. Our gathering here is also a sign of solidarity to those who feel isolated, alone or bullied because of their sexual identity.
The LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy, a world first, is the focus of our discussions today and I am honoured to be in a position to give an update on our work in this area. At the outset, it is important to say that the strategy itself is the result of listening to the voices of young people.
More than 4,000 took part in consultations, both online and in person at meetings across the country. The 4,000 represent a decent sample number. The process was overseen by an oversight committee, with an independent chair, Ms Úna Mullally, and representatives from a broad cross-sectional group of relevant organisations, State agencies and Departments. The committee, as I said, had an oversight role, but all members were determined to ensure it would be the young people who would be in the driving seat. The result is a three-year, strongly oriented strategy which will inform policy decisions until the end of next year.
The results of the consultation process were deeply informative and I encourage all public representatives to take time to look at the views expressed. We should know what young people said when we asked what they thought. It is a cliché to say Ireland is a changed country, but it is important to acknowledge that recent changes did lead to positive comments from young people. Marriage equality, the Gender Recognition Act and even the fact that we are leading the world again with the youth strategy have all led to strong feelings of inclusivity among the young people of Ireland. If, however, our goal is to be a fully inclusive, equal and fair society, we are not there yet.
During the consultations, young LGBTI+ people acknowledged that discrimination and stigma, cases of bullying and harassment and a sense of isolation and exclusion continued. They made suggestions on how to deal with these difficult issues, including by providing better training for professionals engaging with LGBTI+ young people, enforcing anti-bullying policies and addressing the health and well-being of LGBTI+ young people. As a result, three goals were identified, the first of which was the creation of a safe, supportive and inclusive environment, which would be good for anybody. The second was to improve physical, mental and sexual health, while the third was to develop research and data to better understand the lives of young members of the LGBTI+ community. While my Department has a lead role, it is clear that what is required is a cross-government approach to respond to the shortfalls identified.
What progress has been made since the launch of the strategy last June? To coincide with it, I announced immediate actions in the areas of youth service provision, capacity building, awareness raising and research. Additional youth services included extra LGBTI+ specific youth worker hours, the establishment of transgender groups, sexual health programmes, one to one and group support, art and drama projects, rural LGBTI+ networking events, a parent peer support network and a trans parents information day. Trans parents are important and I have spoken to many along the way. We might come back to that point during questions. Additionally, I provided funding to carry out mapping of LGBTI+ youth service provision at education and training board level. Following this mapping exercise, additional hour swill be allocated in 2019 to youth services. I was also delighted to allocate grants for capacity building measures for 39 groups and organisations in 2018. They included youth services, family resource centres, sexual health centres, addiction services, equality organisations, arts therapy organisations and Traveller organisations. I have brought a couple of booklets with me to show and tell members about some of the results of that work and the capacity building that is ongoing within the different organisations. I have one from Outcomers Dundalk and, of course, another from the national organisation, Youth Work Ireland, and its "Young and trans in rural Ireland" resource. They are only a couple of many examples of the work that has been done. Next month I will announce a new capacity building grants scheme for LGBTI+ specific organisations for the development of further capacity building initiatives for professional service providers.
The strategy is also about to become much more visible. A national competition has seen young people design a new welcome sticker for all young people's services across the public, private and voluntary sectors. I look forward to seeing it everywhere. I was thrilled to be a part of announcing who won the competition. We have a copy of the image that was designed for everybody in the audience. It will go through some work from a communications company to ensure its visibility and power in the welcome it provides for young people.
The participation unit in my Department is working with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to complete a consultation process with young people on the reform of the relationships and sexuality education programme in the curriculum.
Goal two as it relates to mental health supports is very much the focus of the work led by the BeLonG To youth service. I am delighted to say my Department has long been a primary funder of BeLonG To. In recent years its expansion into providing specific mental health supports, in collaboration with Pieta House, an extraordinary organisation founded by Senator Freeman, represents the strategic partnership young people need.
Under goal three, the strategy commits to developing the research and data environment needed to better understand the lives of LGBTI+ young people. The tender to carry out this research has been awarded to Professor Saoirse Nic Gabhann in the HBSC Ireland team in the health promotion research centre at the School of Health Sciences in the National University of Ireland, Galway, and is due to commence in the coming weeks.
What will be our next steps? Over the summer an annual report on implementation will be prepared by my Department. In September I will host an annual implementation forum on the strategy. It will provide an opportunity to explore what is working well and future plans. Parents will be welcome at that event. Already a number of further actions are planned by my Department for 2020. Work will commence to develop a leadership programme for young LGBTI+ leaders and potential leaders. A biennial national event to publicly celebrate LGBTI+ young people and young leaders will take place. Research proposals will be developed to examine the factors that support positive mental health for LGBTI+ young people and ascertain how these positive factors can be replicated.
The national policy framework, Better outcomes, brighter futures, and the national youth strategy provide the framework within which the strategy is being implemented. A youth advisory group has been established to recruit a broader youth forum to ensure the voice of young people will remain central to the strategy implementation process. The first annual implementation report will provide a more comprehensive and detailed picture of full implementation; however, I have little doubt that the strategy has already made a significant contribution to improving the lives of LGBTI+ young people In Ireland.
It is 50 years since members of the LGBTI+ community asserted their rights on the streets of New York in the Stonewall riots. Next month, on those same streets, Ireland’s leadership will be acknowledged. At World Pride we will be honoured as a nation with a global luminary award. Ambassadors for the youth strategy will join me to accept the award. During my visit I will also lead 400 Irish-Americans as the Irish Consulate to New York joins the World Pride parade. With this honour comes responsibilities. We are protectors of rights. I am sure Deputies and Senators will agree with me that we must never shirk away from this, not least when it comes to supporting our beautiful young people.