While much has changed in Northern Ireland since The Rainbow Project was set up nearly 30 years ago, campaigners say LGBTQIA rights continue to be overlooked.

The Rainbow Project, a charity which works to improve the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people in Northern Ireland, has found that while there has been a positive shift in societal attitude, political progress is an ongoing struggle.

The political landscape in Northern Ireland – which includes a government dependent on fragile cross-community consent in order to function, a Westminster government reluctant to intervene and the influence of traditionalist political figures - has meant vital government social policy has been repeatedly delayed. 

Among these, the implementation of an LGBTQIA strategy to address barriers and inequalities has faced years of delays.

For Aisling Playford, the policy and advocacy manager at The Rainbow Project, the failure to address social issues facing people in Northern Ireland with clear policy and legislation is causing harm.

“We’ve achieved so much in terms of equality in Northern Ireland,” Aisling said. “We’ve seen the blood ban lifted so now gay and bi men can donate, we saw the introduction of equal marriage, we have seen adoption and fostering legislation change, we have seen historic convictions expunged from people’s records.

“There has been so much achieved but our political situation continues to be a stumbling block. Unfortunately, LGBTQIA equality and people are caught up in that division."

In 2021, reported hate crime against the LGBTQIA community in Northern Ireland increased by 34 per cent and the use of conversion therapy, particularly in religious contexts, continues to be reported by service users of The Rainbow Project. Trans people are facing waiting times of five years for a first appointment and as the waiting list grows, funding has been cut. Delays in other social policies are heavily impacting service users struggling with issues ranging from fuel poverty to the threat of deportation, Aisling said.

“The fact we have no Executive is hampering the human rights and existence of people here in Northern Ireland,” Aisling said. “This is simply about human rights – we’re not asking for anything more or less, we’re asking for equality.”

Working from offices in Belfast and Foyle, The Rainbow Project is the largest LGBTQIA+ organisation in Northern Ireland and its 25-plus team offer services, advice and support to hundreds of service users.


As one of two dedicated policy and advocacy workers in this field, Aisling works with other sector partners to advocate for the community by taking people’s concerns directly to government bodies. She shapes public policy by gathering data evidencing the different forms of inequality experienced by LGBTQIA people in Northern Ireland, then building a suggested reform package and then working to generate political support.

The sector has been working on a LGBTQIA strategy for over 13 years, years of discussion and work led by The Rainbow Project alongside their sectoral partners. The previous strategy know as the Sexual Orientation strategy was due to be signed in 2017, but then the previous Executive was shut down and the work delayed indefinitely. The latest version of the strategy began in 2020 with the Rainbow Project being invited to join on the government’s expert advisory panel.


Aisling continues to work with political parties and those working on similar campaigns across the UK and she remains hopeful that the Northern Ireland Executive will eventually commit to legislating for equality.

“If this strategy is introduced and resourced appropriately lives will be saved – especially if we see improvement in mental health and trans healthcare. If we are tackling the discrimination and inequality faced by LGBTQIA people - whether at home, in the work place, or in education - we’ll see a reduction in hate crime and LGBTQIA people will feel more welcomed and valued in society.”

-   The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust makes a core grant to The Rainbow Project to support its policy and advocacy work. The grant is made as part of JRCT’s Northern Ireland programme which supports those whose work to promote peace, human rights and participatory politics contributes to the ongoing transformation of the Northern Ireland conflict.