If one of your resolutions for 2018 was to learn more about getting involved in advocacy, be a more effective advocate or support advocacy groups, we have a story that will get you motivated! Check out this profile for some advo inspo:
Cameron Keighron, a student at National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway, is making strides in his community by standing up for his LGBT peers and people with disabilities. You may recognize Cameron’s name from our 2017 story about an NUI Galway research team’s D1 now study on the relationships young adults with Type 1 have with their healthcare teams — Cameron is a member of the Young Adult Panel that advises the D1 now study. We recently picked his brain to find out what it takes for those of us looking to dive into a certain project or be a more active participant in our communities.
Become the advocate you need.
“I was the first and only Type 1 diabetic diagnosed in my family and was thrust into a world of complete confusion,” said Cameron, who was diagnosed when he was 16. “As is so common with my generation, I took to the internet to find some sort of support with this transition in my life. I found a group on a diabetes forum that would become my support group for the next number of years, juggling my diabetes with high school, university and much more.”
Cameron’s positive experience with the diabetes online community inspired him to give back when he found himself in a position to do so. “Before going to university, I asked to switch to insulin pump therapy. I became somewhat of a support for people I had met online for pump issues and transitioning from childhood to adulthood. I became the support that I so desperately needed when I was first diagnosed.”
Recognize when the time is right.
Cameron is currently a graduate student completing a master in Regenerative Medicine. After joining three student societies during his undergraduate years, Cameron became a disability advocate at NUI Galway and found a calling in administering to student societies as a grad student.
“I am heavily involved in LGBT and disability activism in Galway and the wider country,” he said. “When I finished up my degree it was a natural progression, really, to move from one side of societies to the other. I had been working on the development and governing committee of societies, working hard on implementing policy changes to the way societies ran themselves. With this, I found my home within my job of policy and training development. Currently, I mentor new and existing societies through their constitutions and through the training programmes we design for them.”
Think globally, change locally.
Like many of us with Type 1, Cameron has overcome other challenges through his work in the community. “I came out as a queer trans man at 19 and have been campaigning for equal rights ever since. NUI Galway strives to be inclusive of all LGBT+ students and staff. The biggest change that I have seen is the willingness to talk about these issues, to talk about what is going wrong and how can we fix it. We recently brought in gender-neutral bathrooms for all people across campus. We strive to educate both the student and staff population on LGBT+ issues and raise awareness of how people can get involved in the campaign for equality.”
He has seen broad impacts in his work in the diabetes sphere as well: “After becoming involved with the Young Adult panel, my passion for diabetes advocacy grew, especially in my age group. I saw what wasn’t working with my care and helped develop innovative solutions in the hopes of correcting this. We were given the opportunity to help write papers, present at conferences and influence the project in every aspect of its development. Right now, I have signed on to be a part of the second phase of the project where we are hopefully to be recognised as co-researchers.”
Appreciate every victory.
“My relationship with my diabetes team was essentially non-existent before the Young Adult panel. After joining the panel I started to build up a rapport with key members of the team. Since engaging with the group, I have found it a lot easier to engage with the team and that my own diabetes care improved.”
Cameron notes that advances in his college setting have improved his overall experience there. “When I started in NUI Galway no one really knew what “transgender” meant, no one had a way of relating to me and how I felt. I found a group of people who worked with me and on my behalf, lobbying for change and recognition, a fight still on going in many universities. For me, NUI Galway became a home, it adapted to its ever-changing demographic with provisions in place for people to change their student records and ID cards if needed.”
Keep an eye on the long-term.
For Cameron, advocating for any cause takes a lot of energy and focus. “In all the areas that I am involved with, in the positions that I hold, you generally get asked some inappropriate questions and it’s tough to find the fine line between answering their question with respect and without getting angry.”
“It’s also tough, I think, because as humans we surround ourselves with like minded people, that’s just who we are attracted to. So when we leave those bubbles and see that actually people in the world still have the crappy views on people it can be tough to keep motivated.”
Despite challenges, Cameron is hopeful about the future. “People with disabilities are becoming more and more visible on campuses across Ireland. They are given a voice to talk about their experiences and where we can do better.”
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