SUbmission to the department of foreign affairs and trade

April 2017


Greater Inclusion for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI) Members of the Irish Diaspora in Ireland's Diaspora Policy

Dear Minister,

The attached document is being officially submitted to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and asks for increased recognition and inclusion for the LGBTQI members of the global Irish community in diaspora policy. This submission highlights some of the unique difficulties experienced by LGBTQI member of the diaspora and suggests meaningful actions the Government of Ireland can take to better engage this population and create a more inclusive diaspora policy.

The DFAT has been both proactive and forward thinking in how it seeks to engage the wider Irish diaspora. Important contributions have also been made to supporting LGBTQI members of the diaspora. The DFAT has generously funded a small number of LGBTQI specific initiatives in Australia and the UK. Last year two high profile LGBT advocates received the Presidential Distinguished Services Award for their work to create greater inclusion within Irish communities overseas.

Despite these welcome actions, further efforts are needed. Inclusion is an ideal that must be actively pursued. Meaningful inclusivity cannot be built solely on an absence of explicit discrimination. Effective engagement with groups - like the LGBTQI community- that have traditionally been marginalised and discriminated against in Ireland and within Irish communities overseas, will require deliberate efforts.

The Global Irish: Ireland's Diaspora Policy document must include language that recognises the LGBTQI members of the diaspora. Initiatives are needed that promote the active engagement of all minority groups. The sentiment of fairness and inclusion so important to the Irish people, as demonstrated by the marriage equality referendum and the Equal Status Act 2000, must inform the policies and initiatives of the Irish Government in relation to the global Irish community.

The Global Irish policy document itself is arguably one of the most important diaspora engagement initiatives to date. The document wields great power; it has the capacity to exclude, ignore and marginalise. It also offers vast opportunities to actively embrace minorities within the diaspora and reclaim those who Ireland has rejected, mistreated, or exiled. This submission asks the DFAT to capitalise on those opportunities by acknowledging the experiences of LGBTQI members of the diaspora in the Global Irish policy document and within diaspora policy initiatives.


Submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Recognising Ireland’s LGBTQI Diaspora

 

Summary  

We will never know exactly how many LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) people left Ireland’s shores. Neither can we claim to fully know their individual motivations for leaving. We can, and should, however make efforts to understand their unique struggles growing up LGBTQI in Ireland. These struggles often impacted both their decision to leave Ireland and their experiences as immigrants overseas. For so many, leaving Ireland was the first of many painful steps necessary to achieving an honest and open life.

In both the Irish and global contexts, sexual and gender identity has been a neglected element of understanding the movement of people and their experiences as both emigrants and immigrants. Like so many that grew up in an Ireland blighted by economic stagnation, LGBTQI emigrants too were motivated to leave by financial hardships. However, for them there was also another difficult narrative tipping the scales in favour of emigration. Despite an impoverishment of empirical data on LGBTQI Irish emigrants we can safely assume that for many, leaving Ireland was an escape from oppression and discrimination.

However, there was no LGBTQI mecca to escape to. Such a place never has, and still does not exist. Even after they left, a great many LGBTQI emigrants continued to struggle for acceptance in the face of discrimination, isolation, and punitive laws. While large cities overseas could offer greater acceptance and LGBTQI communities that were more connected and visible, instances of violence and exclusion remained commonplace.

Even today, in countries which are considered to be more socially equitable or where LGBTQI people have finally been granted certain protections, their daily lives play out against a political and social backdrop where their civil liberties are still contested and debated.

Unlike other Irish emigrants who could create extensive communities overseas based on a shared sense of home or culture that validated and supported their identities, LGBTQI emigrants found themselves excluded from these ‘Irish’ networks. They could not access the protective social, emotional, and economic supports offered by these immigrant communities.

This submission documents some of the most prevalent issues related to the unique experiences of LGBTQI emigrants. Additionally, this submission sets forth recommendations on how the Government of Ireland - through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Emigrant Support Program (ESP) which provides funding for Irish organisations throughout the world - can support initiatives that better address the needs and experiences of LGBTQI Irish emigrants.  

 

Issues

  • There has been no official recognition of Ireland’s LGBTQI Diaspora. LGBTQI emigrants have been excluded from recent important diaspora engagement initiatives such as the ‘Supporting the Next Generation of Irish Diaspora’ research initiative and ‘Global Irish’ - Ireland's first ever official diaspora policy.

  • Very little is known about LGBTQI Irish emigrants. As a group, they have been almost entirely excluded from research on the diaspora.

  • LGBTQI people who left Ireland have faced dual discrimination as both ‘immigrants’ and ‘LGBTQI’, creating even greater barriers to accessing employment, housing, and healthcare.
  • While LGBTQI people who left Ireland may have found themselves in more supportive environments overseas, they brought with them the painful experience of growing up LGBTQI in Ireland. Being LGBTQI in a hostile environment creates greater susceptibility to a range of social, emotional and psychological difficulties.  
  • Even after they left Ireland, LGBTQI people were subject to discrimination, violence, and exclusion in their host countries.
  • LGBTQI emigrants very often could not avail themselves of the social, emotional, or financial supports offered by the ‘Irish’ communities created overseas. In some instances Irish communities abroad have been openly and actively hostile to the LGBTQI Irish.  
  • Even today in countries where significant progress has been made towards equality, the lives of LGBTQI people remain the subject of political, religious, and civic debate. Living in an environment where your identity and rights are perpetually contested creates a great deal of stress and anxiety.

 

Recommendations

  • Meaningful discourse about/with any minority group must be preceded by an acknowledgement of both its member’s minority status and the unique issues they have encountered. The next version of Global Irish must explicitly recognise the many LGBTQI individuals who left Ireland. They must be counted amongst the other valuable components of the Irish diaspora. Furthermore, recognition must be given to the additional challenges they faced as emigrants.
  • We challenge the Government of Ireland to engage and represent those elements of the Irish diaspora - including the LGBTQI community - that have historically been alienated in Ireland and by Irish communities abroad.  
  • We recommend the Government of Ireland consider creating an initiative to engage disenfranchised Irish around the world in a direct way similar to ‘Come Home to Work’.   Rather than encouraging these emigrants to return to live in Ireland the focus could be on strengthening connections between Ireland and disenfranchised members of the diaspora.
  • Too little is known about the LGBTQI diaspora empirically and narratively. We ask the DFAT to support research initiatives that address this lack of useful information about the LGBTQI diaspora.
  • We entrust the DFAT to support networking initiatives and encourage organisations to be more sensitive to the inclusion of the LGBTQI community. Irish organisations need support to ensure that they are equipped to meet the needs of LGBTQI emigrants, particularly the elderly and those struggling with mental health issues or addiction.
  • We ask that DFAT resources for the diaspora include information on accessing LGBTQI services. Organisations funded under the Emigrant Support Program must be required to provide information on LGBTQI specific resource and support services in their locality.
  • Eligibility criteria for ESP funding must stipulate that applicants have detailed anti-discrimination policies in place that facilitate minority engagement and demonstrate a recognition that the Irish diaspora is comprised of diverse components. Furthermore, personnel at ESP funded organisations should be required to undergo LGBTQI sensitivity training.
  • Mechanisms to assess an organisation's compliance with antidiscrimination policy requirements should be added to the DFAT’s auditing instrument, ensuring organisations in receipt of ESP funding are being inclusive of minorities within the diaspora.
  • Organisations and projects that work to provide support and assistance to emigrants returning to Ireland must explicitly address the concerns of LGBTQI individuals and families within this cohort.
  • We ask the DFAT to consider recognising organisations that have exhibited a committed or innovative approach to engaging minorities within the diaspora.
  • Non-ESP funded organisations that work to engage the Irish diaspora should be encouraged to adopt policies and programs that promote the inclusion of minority groups within the diaspora.
  • Support should be given to the creation of Irish LGBTQI social and support networks throughout the world.

 

Conclusion

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has illustrated an unequivocal desire to connect with the broader global Irish community. Through the establishment and continued support of the Emigrant Support Program the Government of Ireland has demonstrated a deep commitment to engaging, protecting and supporting the Irish diaspora throughout the world.

In recent years this conviction - unmatched by any other nation- has been expressed in innovative and creative ways through research, funding, and policy. Initiatives such as the Emigrant Support Program and the Global Irish Civic Forum, have created practical expressions of a desire to positively impact the global Irish community. We commend the efforts that have already been made, particularly as they relate to supporting the more vulnerable and marginalized members of our diaspora.

With the passing of the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000, Ireland adopted a stance that supported and protected the equal participation of all. We have a responsibility to ensure that our work with and on behalf of the Irish diaspora throughout the world is guided by this same unwavering principle. The referendum that preceded the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Act 2015 was a decisive and resounding account of the Irish people’s desire for equality and inclusion for the LGBTQI community. This approach - so clearly favoured by the people of Ireland - must be extended to Irish communities overseas.  

The upcoming review of Ireland’s diaspora policy presents us with an opportunity to enshrine diversity and equality as central tenets of diaspora engagement. We believe that together we can build upon the work that has been undertaken thus far to create a diaspora policy and a global Irish community that is even more inclusive and affirming of all of us.  Ireland has a chance to make a bold and decisive strike for equality by being among the first countries in the world to acknowledge the struggles of its LGBTQI diaspora. As a department with a deep commitment to diversity and to engaging all facets of the diaspora, the DFAT could provide much needed funding and leadership, paving the way to a better engaged and ultimately stronger diaspora.

 

Supporters

Having read this submission, the organisations listed below support the recommendations laid out herein and ask that the DFAT officially recognise the LGBTQI members of the Irish diaspora.

  • New York Irish Center
  • Irish Canadian Immigration Centre
  • Irish Outreach San Diego
  • Chicago Irish Immigrant Support
  • Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia
  • Liverpool Irish Festival
  • Emerald Isle Immigration Center
  • Aishling Irish Community Center 
  • Safe Home Ireland
  • Irish in Britain
  • Nottingham Irish Studies Group
  • London Irish LGBT Network
  • Sydney Queer Irish
  • Mind Yourself
  • Gay and Lesbian Equality Network
  • Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers
  • I am Irish
  • Irish International Immigration Center
  • London Irish Center  
  • Irish Australian Support and Resource Bureau