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16 October 2014
BBC NI - Eyewitness

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Étáin O'Kane works as an advocate for students with disabilities Image of Étáin O'Kane

I had, I think, a privileged experience growing up in Canada, where society is much more liberal in terms of sexuality, and there's a lot more positive role models for young people who decide that they want to come out. So when I came to Belfast at the age of 21 I found it very conservative and quite scary that there were really very few places to go and very few resources for gay people, especially young gay people. But because of my background I felt quite confident in my own sexuality and it wasn't an issue for me so I was able to come out to my family and to my friends and at work, and it's been quite a positive experience. But I recognise, having lived here for quite a number of years, that it's a much different environment for people who have been born and raised here all their lives.

What would you say are the barriers, the cultural barriers that gay and lesbian people confront in Northern Ireland?

Well, first and foremost, I think there's the whole sort of religious repression of sexuality that is still extremely strong here and being part of strong family and community groups where there are no gay role models, and it's really not acceptable to be out as gay and that can be either subtle or very overt reactions to it.

So when somebody does find the courage to come out, do they invariably confront a degree of prejudice, whether that be in terms of you know bad language or discrimination of one form or another?

Yes, plain and simple, yes. I mean, first because of the fact that it's, it's very hard to come out here. You have to battle your own internal issues with being gay; but then you also will be confronted with people who don't like you and will tell you they don't like you. And that can be everything from just excluding you from situations; or excluding you within your family; or failing to recognise your partner; or losing your kids; to actual violence - that does, it is quite a problem here.







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