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|Nuala Devenny, Health and Wellbeing Services Manager Gavin Boyd, Policy and Advocacy Manager|
The Rainbow Project promotes the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender people and their families in Northern Ireland. The Rainbow Project is the largest LGBT organisation (by number of staff members) on the island of Ireland (Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) and has two central offices, in Belfast and Foyle, Derry.
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The organisation was established in 1994 by a group of volunteers who were concerned about the spread of HIV infection within the gay male population of Northern Ireland. These volunteers wanted to provide information and support to men who have sex with men (MSM) about HIV/AIDS. They carried out research within the gay and bisexual communities in order to find out what type of information and support services were required.
As a result of this research, the project began to offer information on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), distributing safer sex materials and leaflets at commercial gay venues and LGBT events.
Although initial work was focused on HIV and STI prevention, it became clear that service-users had additional support needs related to their physical health generally as well as their mental & emotional well-being. As such, The Rainbow Project was able to offer professional counselling services to gay/bisexual men, and those unsure of their sexual orientation, as well as providing practical interventions in the form of advocacy support for those men who had been discriminated against or been verbally, physically, and/or sexually assaulted because of their sexual orientation.
In the late 2007/2008 The Rainbow Project began researching the needs of Gay and Bisexual Men and Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Women. This began with "Through Our Eyes", a research piece which looked at the perceptions and experiences of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people towards Homophobic Hate Crime and Policing in Northern Ireland. The report paved the way for the employment of the first staff member who provided services to LGB women and GB men. The Rainbow Project secured funding to provide a Hate Crime Advocate who looks after individuals who have been victims of homophobic or transphobic hate crime or incidents.
2009 was a seminal year in the transition from being an exclusively Gay and Bisexual men's organisation to a more inclusive Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender organisation. The Rainbow Project, in partnership with Cara-Friend, launched a support group for parents of LGBT children (Family Ties) in 2009. Additionally the organisation employed a Mental Health Officer, Education Policy Officer and Youth Worker alongside a Sexual Health Officer.
In 2011 The Rainbow Project formally recognised a change in its service user demographic and changed its articles of association to include LGBT people and their families in its provision of service.
Today, the Rainbow Project is still committed to the prevention of HIV and STI transmission among men who have sex with men. However, the organisation is also committed to addressing the physical, mental, and emotional health needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. This is done by providing a number of services, facilitated by full-time members of staff, under the direction of a volunteer-led Board of Trustees.
The services provided by The Rainbow Project currently are:
- Rapid HIV and Syphilis Testing
- Full GUM Clinics in Belfast (in partnership with Belfast Health and Social Care Trust)
- Full GUM Clinics in Ballymena (in partnership with Northern Health and Social Care Trust)
- Safer Sex Packs for Gay and Bisexual Men and Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Women
- Expert LGBT Sex Positive, non-judgmental and confidential sexual health advice
- Netreach (Online Sexual Health advice)
- Ballymena LGBT Group
- Omagh LGBT Group
- Enniskillen LGBT Group
- Armagh LGBT Group
- Befriending and social gatherings (for socially isolated LGBT individuals or individuals looking support in coming out)
- Hate crime and housing support (for victims of homophobic/transphobic hate crime or incidents)
- LGBT affirmative counselling (co-cultural LGBT counselling for LGBT people by LGBT counsellors)
- Hues and Shades LGBT Group (a peer/social support group for LGBT individuals on the autistic spectrum)
- LGBT counselling forum (a forum for LGBT counsellors to share ideas and best practice)
- LGBT creative writing
- Gay Ethnic Group (a peer/social support group for LGBT people from ethnic minority backgrounds)
- Awareness and therapeutic training (for professionals/counsellors working with LGBT individuals)
- Family support (providing a support group for parents of LGBT individuals and a group for Gay and Bisexual fathers)
- Relationship and sexuality education (training for young people under 18 around sexual health and relationships)
- Public consultation and research on LGBT issues
- LGBT Youth support (in Foyle, Derry)
- TrYou (a youth group supporting the needs of trans young people exclusively in Foyle, Derry)
- Community allotment project (providing horticultural therapy for LGBT individuals in Foyle, Derry)
- Transderry (an adult trans support group in Foyle, Derry)
- Foyle men's group (a peer/social support group for Gay and Bisexual men in Foyle, Derry)
- Foyle women's group (a peer/social support group for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual women in Foyle, Derry)
- Drop in service (a safe, warm, confidential social drop in for LGBT individuals in Foyle, Derry)
- Social Enterprise (details to be announced in future)
The Rainbow Project has consistently worked to ensure that the needs of LGBT people are being met in the provision of services, in law and socially. In Partnership with Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Amnesty International, The Rainbow Project organised a mass public rally in support of equal marriage on 13 June 2015, with a 20,000 person turnout.
The Rainbow Project has campaigned on several issues which affect LGBT individuals such as adoption, marriage, blood bans, gender recognition and social issues.
- O'Doherty, John (2009). "Through Our Eyes" (PDF). The Rainbow Project. The Rainbow Project. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
- Irel, Henry McDonald; correspondent (24 May 2015). "Northern Ireland under pressure after Irish gay marriage referendum win". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
- "Thousands rally in Belfast for same-sex marriage". Raidió Teilifís Éireann. Retrieved 1 February 2016.