The panel on Marriage Equality in Catholic Ireland was led by Irish LGBT activist Moninne Griffith and took place on Saturday, May 27 at the Wolrd OutGames Human Rights Conference in Miami Beach.

Moninne Griffith is at the forefront of progressive change in Ireland, a country ideologically dominated by the Catholic Church. 

Griffith works with BeLonGTo, an LGBT youth organization established in 2003 that aims to secure equal rights for LGBT youth through youth work projects, research and changing attitudes in order to ensure that they will be able “to thrive as healthy and equal citizens.” 

In Ireland, the majority of schools and hospitals used to be funded by the Catholic Church, a reality which Griffith said leaves a legacy that must now be dealt with. 

“Anti-LGBT bullying in schools is a huge issue,” Griffith said. “And there are little to no resources for sexual health for LGBT students.” 

Ireland has the fourth highest rate of youth suicide in Europe according to Griffith, and has the highest suicide rate for teenage girls. 

Teenage men who have sex with men (MSM) also have the highest national rate for new cases of  HIV infection. 

“I have no doubt that homophobia and transphobia come into play with those figures,” Griffith said. “If the government wants to resolve those issues, they need to put resources into those programs. Those are the issues we want to focus on, find solutions and secure funding for.” 

In order to find solutions for these issues, Griffith and BeLonGTo have campaigned to revise the existing youth strategy in Ireland to include LGBT youth, a campaign which has recently been approved. 

“We have taken our existing youth strategy that looks at health and wellbeing, safety from human harm, etc. and are asking the question of how those outcomes can be achieved by LGBT youth,” Griffith said. 

This revised strategy will look at mental health, patterns of social exclusion and rejection and anti-LGBT bullying strategies, and other topics, in schools and homes around Ireland and provide data that organizations like BeLonGTo, as well as the school system, can use as a base to work toward solutions. 

Currently there is a one-in-twenty dropout rate of LGBT students from post-primary schooling, the majority of which are transgender students. According to Griffith in Ireland many schools still uphold a very homophobic and transphobic atmosphere due to Catholic backgrounds and legislation against the LGBT community. 

“Up until three years ago, teachers could be fired for being gay,” Griffith said. “They back away from these issues; they don’t want to talk about it.” 

“We have a program that lets schools work through issues of bullying and inclusion that helps school officials strategize how to change not only the negative perception of LGBT youth, but any diverse youth, in schools,” Griffith continued. “So far, we are implementing this program in 35 percent of Ireland’s schools.” 

Griffith said that many schools are reluctant to discuss these issues, but BeLonGTo is working hard to help more and more students. 

On a larger scale, BeLonGTo mobilized 15 other LGBT organizations to vote for the marriage equality referendum in Ireland in 2015, which passed successfully on May 22. 

“A new generation has spoken. This is a generation with open, kind hearts, a generosity of spirit and a great capacity to love. They have gone to the polls in their thousands and are responsible for this historic victory for their gay brothers and sisters” Michael Barron, founding director of BeLonGTo said in response to the victory. 

According to BeLonGTo’s site, there are an estimated 75,000 LGBT individuals in Ireland under the age of 18. Griffith said that being out in Ireland is still tough and there is a lot of work to be done in securing more progressive laws and thought in the country, but they are making progress. 

“We’ve changed forever what it means to grow up LGBT in Ireland,” Barron said. “The Irish people, via the ballot box, have today given each and every gay child and young person in Ireland – and across the world – a strong and powerful message that they are loved, they are cared for, and don’t need to change who they are.