Top stylist Andrew Fitzsimons emphasizes LGBTQ+ ally importance in Stand Up Awareness Week

For 14 years now, Stand Up Awareness Week has been a time for second-level schools to take a stand against the bullying, harassment, and name-calling that hurts, harms and shames many LGBTQ+ students, and can result in serious mental health challenges. The theme of this year’s campaign is LGBTQ+ allyship.

Stand Up Awareness Week is a great opportunity for the entire school community to be visible in their support for the LGBTQ+ community. Findings from the 2022 School Climate Survey with Columbia University show that LGBTQ+ students who enjoy a higher level of staff support for LGBTQ+ identities are more likely to feel like they belong in school and less likely to miss school days due to feeling unsafe. Research shows that LGBTQ+ young people who have friendships with allies have less internalised stigma about their identities.

Andrew Fitzsimons (he/him), celebrity hairdresser said: “When I was young, I was bullied at school because of who I am. Aside from my Mum, I didn’t have any allies to talk to about what I was going through until I found solace while working at the salon and was amongst strong women who simply accepted me for me. It was very difficult. If Stand Up Awareness Week had existed back then, I am sure that my time at school would have been happier and less lonely. It’s an honour for me to join Belong To for this campaign and emphasise the importance of allyship for the queer community. This Stand Up Awareness Week, we are asking students and teachers alike to be an ally and stand up for the LGBTQ+ community.

Minister for Education, Norma Foley (she/her) said: “Schools across Ireland are vibrant and innovative places of learning, but for some children and young people bullying is an unacceptable reality. As Minister for Education, I firmly believe every child and young person should have the best possible opportunity to thrive at school. I welcome the 2023 Stand Up Awareness Week campaign and hope it will be a week in which all students value and celebrate the principles of respect, inclusion and equality for everyone – in particular students who are LGBTI.

I hope that the focus on inclusivity demonstrated through this campaign will continue to prevail long after the week has ended so that every student in Ireland is in no doubt that they are an equal and important member of their school community.”

Moninne Griffith (she/her), CEO Belong To said: “Stand Up Awareness Week is a time for school communities to increase the friendship and support of LGBTQ+ students by other students. This year the focus is on allies, who play an invaluable part of creating spaces where LGBTQ+ people are safe and supported to be themselves. In recent years, attacks on the freedoms of LGBTQ+ people have increased, and we are seeing increasing levels of hate directed towards young LGBTQ+ people. Against this backdrop, it is more important than ever for allies to stand up and show their support for the LGBTQ+ community. I am so proud of the dedicated teachers, principals and youth workers across the country who go above and beyond to make Stand Up Awareness Week a memorable – and educational – week for their entire community.”

As part of Stand Up Awareness Week, every second-level school, youth service and Youthreach in Ireland has been given a free resource pack with information, activities and advice to create an LGBTQ+ inclusive environment.