SPEAKING OUT A group of teenagers from the ‘Don’t Label It youth LGBTI+ group’ are pictured at last Saturday’s launch of their booklet at The Maple Youth Centre in Ballinrobe. Also in the picture is Rory O’Neill, who officially launched the booklet; Grace McGee, Youth and Community Development Officer with the local Tacú Family Resource Centre; Garda Fiona McHale, Ballinrobe Garda Station; Garda Supt Gabriel Moran, Claremorris District; and some locals who attended the launch. Pic: Liz Parsons Photography
BALLINROBE native Rory O’Neill, the well-known equality campaigner and performer also known as Panti Bliss, returned to his home town last Saturday to launch an ‘A to Z of LGBTI+’ booklet that was produced by a group of local teenagers to create awareness about LGBTI+ terms and issues.
O’Neill, who has become one of Ireland’s most high-profile gay-rights activists, congratulated the the members of the ‘Don’t Label It youth LGBTI+ group’ for coming up with the novel idea.
He also admitted that he could never have imagined a booklet like this being launched in Ballinrobe when he was growing up in the South Mayo town back in the 1980s.
“If you had told me when I was 15 that I would be here in 35 years’ time, launching this booklet, sitting here eating pizza with these guys, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Rory O’Neill told the large crowd that gathered at The Maple Youth Centre for the official launch.
“I’d have thought, ‘Ballinrobe won’t have pizza!’,” he smiled. “But times changed.”
The 51 year old, who owns the well-known Panti Bar on Capel Street in Dublin, also recounted a story of how a group of Ballinrobe teenagers had called to the bar two years ago while in the capital to celebrate the Pride festival.
“And now Ballinrobe has its own LGTBI group, producing a booklet about coming out,” he said. “Honestly, when I think back to what my 15-year-old self would have thought of that. He wouldn’t have believed this was possible at all. A huge amount of social change has happened [in Ireland] in a relatively short amount of time,” he continued.
“And the best part about it, of course, is that to make that change and to make people more comfortable in their own towns all over Ireland, nobody else had to give up anything.
“Nobody has anything to fear from these changes and they make for happier teenagers.”
Rory added that he was ‘really impressed’ by the booklet that was produced by the LGBTI+ group, in conjunction with the local Tacú Family Resource Centre. “It’s really well done and put together,” he added.
Mary Jackson, the project co-ordinator at the Tacú FRC, also paid tribute to the group of young teenagers who were involved in the planning, production and design of the booklet.
“Recently there’s been a #believeinballinrobe campaign running, well today I think we can #believeintheyouthofballinrobe — they’re absolutely wonderful,” she said.
“I want to say well done to the young people involved in the booklet. They’re fantastic ambassadors for young people in the area.”
Ms Jackson also thanked Youth and Community Development Officer, Grace McGee, and Claire McNally, who worked in the area of Community-Based Family Support, for their sterling work with the local resource centre and wished them well as they move on to start in new roles.
MORE For more information on the ‘A to Z of LGBTI+’ booklet, contact the Tacú Family Resource Centre in Ballinrobe.