7 Jan 2004

Comments By The Commissioner For Children And Young People At The Launch Of The Youthnet Report “Shout” On The Needs Of Young People In Northern Ireland Who Identify As Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Or Transgender

I am delighted to be here today. I am the Commissioner for all children and young people in Northern Ireland whatever their backgrounds or lifestyle choices. It was thus an easy decision to agree to attend an event concerned about the victimisation and rights of a particular group.

When Youthnet wrote to invite me to the launch, there was an interesting phrase in the letter – “We are very aware of the sensitivities around young people and sexual identity, however this is not about the morality of homosexuality”.
Morality is an interesting word. When I read some of the statistics in this report:

  • 65% of those in the survey had experienced verbal abuse
  • 29% had attempted suicide
  • 26% had self harmed
  • 16% had experienced homelessness
  • 44% had been bullied

I thought – this IS a moral issue. It is an issue about the fundamental human right to life and to liberty.

We are not talking here about the promotion of a particular lifestyle as better than another, about what some perceive as an aggressive political agenda on sexual orientation– rather we are simply talking about the freedom to discover who you are, what your identity is and to do that without being bullied, without being verbally abused, without being so tortured by society’s attitude that you contemplate suicide.

I think this report has done us all a great service. I especially commend the young people for taking part, and not being afraid to speak out.

What we now need to do is to translate the concerns raised into concrete action that will protect young people. A number of Commission’s and Commissioners have an interest in this… the Human Rights Commission who published their own study by Dr Christine Loudes last July, the Equality Commission and myself as Commissioner for Children and Young People.

I don’t know what the collective noun is for Commissions or Commissioners – but I think we should get together and consider an agenda for change.

Nigel Williams
Commissioner for Children and Young People