On Monday, April 1, Siena College hosted Mary Hassan, a graduate from Queen’s University Belfast, who held a discussion on her international and political career. Mary Hassan discussed what it was like growing up in Northern Ireland, her own experience attending Queen’s University Belfast, and the fight for equal rights for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. Mary Hassan’s international and political career includes work in Sierra Leone with the United Nations, speaking at the White House in 2015 on LGBT equality and most importantly, being the first openly gay woman to contest the assembly elections of Northern Ireland in 2016.
During the discussion, Mary Hassan showed the audience a video of her talking to the former British Prime Minister David Cameron about LGBT rights in Northern Ireland. The conversation between Hassan and David Cameron was a clear reflection of Hassan’s passion for LGBT rights. This interview was during the assembly elections of 2016, which Hassan was critical of. One point that Hassan made was the importance of genuinely supporting an idea instead of only supporting it because a different political party opposes it. Hassan discussed her own ideas of what justice and equality are and how her fight for equal rights for the LGBT community is difficult, considering the strong presence of both Christian and Protestant religions in Northern Ireland, which, historically, have been critics of the community.
During her college education, Hassan studied abroad in both China and Spain and now serves as the Study Abroad Recruitment Officer for Queen’s University Belfast. Hassan credited studying abroad for helping her learn more about herself, and opening doors to new experiences she would never have had if she stayed at Queen’s University Belfast. Not only did she study abroad, but another international experience Mary Hassan discussed was working in Sierra Leone while she worked for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. She outlined her experience in Sierra Leone as an amazing opportunity and one that changed her life. At one point in Sierra Leone, she was the highest ranked person in charge there, and at such a young age, it was hard to be in that leadership position, with such little experience. Hassan was thankful for her experience in Sierra Leone and how it helped her grow as a person.
Mary Hassan’s discussion was eye-opening, in terms of her experiences in the political and international realms, as well as how LGBT people are treated in different countries other than the United States. The discussion also illuminated the struggle of the LGBT community around the world. It was interesting to see how difficult it is for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland and how some of their struggles parallel those the communities have in the United States.