Why We Felt Passionate About Our Social Issue
Aois na hóige, Aois na glóire
The age of youth, The age of glory
This for me encapsulates perfectly, the spirit of Largy College students. It summarises the school’s long standing belief, in the power and passion, kindness and generosity of our young people. Involvement with the Young Social Innovators programme provides a framework for students to express their passion for social justice, firing their enthusiasm, sparking their imagination and proving, unequivocally, that they are instrumental in sculpting their own destinies by being the change they want to see (to misquote Ghandi).
Our 2014/15 project, LGBT – Let’s Get By Together, stems from discussing the topic of equality in CSPE classes. Although students were only in 3rd year when the initial seeds were sown, equality and full social inclusion for the LGBT community was high on students’ radar. Homophobic bullying incensed a great many of them. They found it difficult to contemplate why someone would be subjected to cruel and damaging behaviour just because the love someone of their own gender. The scaffolding for a TYP action project, their YSI project, quickly materialised.
As the end of 3rd year approached and despite the cloud of Junior Cert exams, a core group of students ‘pitched’ the idea formally. And from that moment an anti-homophobic bullying/LGBT equality project germinated until the group arrived into TYP in September 2014. From there the project florished with the core group of innovating students tripling in size, making the class 28 in total. Several other students became ‘unofficial’ group members, wading in to help when needed.
Initial YSI sessions were spent researching the topic and students were fascinated and challenged in a great many ways. Heated debates clarified, educated, enraged, enlightened and ultimately resulted in the emergence of hugely passionate equality warriors. Boundaries were smashed even at this early stage as students informed themselves on the topic.
The miracle had only just begun and as the group worked their way through the school, they educated every year group and raised awareness among teachers, management and auxiliary staff. Quickly, amazingly quickly, changing attitudes and the opening of hearts and minds, became palpable. What was once a somewhat taboo subject, the butt of immature and awkward jokes, a topic of half truths, it very quickly became, well, normal! The embarrassment dissipated, the use of homophobic language, hitherto ‘innocently’ used for the most part, was now, ‘Not cool’. Students wrote about LGBT topics in essays, discussed the topic during break times, used the topic in Art classes as a theme and engaged in social media debates, hotly defending the rights of the LGBT community to feel safe, secure and included in their own communities and country.
Continued research and conversations with LGBT young people made the group ever more determined to obliterate boundaries and shatter prejudice. This they did with a dogged determination. They were heartened when students in other year groups told them about dinner table conversations and debates they were having with parents and grandparents. The group felt ready to tackle attitudes beyond the school gates. Not a group for pussyfooting around, a Mock Same Sex Wedding, with all the trimmings, dresses, suits, hair, makeup, spray tans, four course meal, red carpet, DJ and a full on, stratosphere splitting Samba Drumming band, all brought LGBT equality to Clones with a ginormous bang.
Media interest and coverage spread the group’s message beyond the immediate community to a regional audience and for the most part, the reception was excellent. Any less than enthusiastic feedback only fuelled the group’s determination to carry on, proving that there was still work to be done.
Ultimately, the knowledge that LGBT students in Largy College and LGBT people, young and not so young, were helped and comforted by the work of this YSI group, has proved endlessly rewarding and satisfying for the group. Feedback from the LGBT community continues to hugely inspire the YSI students and they remain steadfast in their commitment to keep LGBT equality issues on the agenda, where ever life takes them. They are responsible for a culture change in their school and younger students are similarly committed to including and protecting their LGBT peers.
I’ll risk a cliche at this point by stating that, the entire experience has been life changing for the group and for the people whose hearts they have touched. They have developed skills and a confidence that no other experience could ever hope to provide them with. Moreover, they have learned that with courage, commitment, hardwork and conviction, anyone, everyone, can make a difference.
What a group! What a project! What a year! Thank You YSI!
Sascha Cumiskey is a YSI Guide and educator from Largy College, Clones, Co. Monaghan. Her 2014/15 YSI students were winners of the Young Social Innovators of the Year Gold Award at the national Young Social Innovators of the Year Awards & Showcase for their work on promoting LGBT equality .
You can follow them on Twitter through @LGBTatLargy
You can also read more on their award winning project here