Guest posts: What Next? A safe space to be free.

As a follow-up to last week’s Guest Posts for Equality series (read them!), I asked people to share their thoughts on two topics: what does the referendum’s result mean to them, and what comes next. 

This one’s from Emer. You can read more from her on Twitter and over at her blog, Letters from a Patchwork Wizard. She also wrote an excellent piece, Yes to Love, for Guest Posts for Equality.  

equalityheart

Saturday afternoon.

I’m in the pub – they’re hosting a livestream of the referendum coverage. I have never seen this place hopping with so many LGBTQ people in my life, and because they are there, it makes me feel safe and wanted. I’m with friends who campaigned for YesEquality just as I did, they hug me and kiss me and we all revel in this atmosphere of pure, unadulterated love. I remember telling a pair of married friends that I hope that one day, I’ll have a wedding just as beautiful as theirs. I remember breaking down crying in front of the livestream and another friend putting her arm around me. I remember being at the bar, tweeting that I was crying, that my heart was fit to burst, and that my love counted. A Yes campaigner who’s been hovering behind me sees me typing this, and tells me that that was beautiful. I cry again. He cries again. We both hug and cry.

For the most part, it’s been the most beautiful day. There’s been so much love in this small space, and a bunch of us move away to watch Eurovision (I may have insisted on that, sorry guys), have drinks, have snacks, and talk shit before going out for a Yes celebration later. We all clamber onto the sofa at one point to take a selfie, and I’ll treasure that picture forever because the love, happiness, and friendship radiates from it. We are so happy. I look at myself in that picture. I am so happy. I am now an equal citizen in the eyes of the state.

For the most part of the day, I have held it together. And I have been able to hold it together because of love, goodwill, and support.

I make it into the party with my friends. But for some reason, it doesn’t feel like a celebration of our victory. It feels like another Saturday night. I have friends here but I don’t feel safe. What’s worse is that a person from my past, a person who has caused me a lot of pain, hurt, and trauma, is there and is very close by. Whereas I could withstand his presence in the pub earlier, for some reason I lose my nerve now. I’m tired and exhausted and I lose my nerve and I leave early. I get a takeaway, go home, answer a kind email from a friend about the result, and attempt to sober up.

And I’m angry. That night was not his night, and never should have been. It was mine. It belonged to me, and the Irish LGBTQ community. He will probably get some kind of sick satisfaction from knowing this, but on the day when I should be the happiest queer in the world, I can’t even properly celebrate my own attainment of civil rights without feeling triggered or upset.

A Yes result means that, in the future, I can stand in front of someone and make a commitment of love to them, and my sexual orientation won’t matter a jot. A Yes result has shown the goodwill and kindness of the Irish people towards its fellow citizens. A Yes result shows that we are moving away from this country’s past, and hopefully it will galvanise us towards more change.

But I am still sickened that I could not enjoy this result to the full.

Guest post: What now? Why do we throw our less respectable queers under the bus?

As a follow-up to last week’s Guest Posts for Equality series (read them!), I asked people to share their thoughts on two topics: what does the referendum’s result mean to them, and what comes next. 

The author of this post has asked to remain anonymous, as they are currently only out to a small number of their close friends.  

equalityheart

Now that the referendum campaigning is done, and the yesses have it, I’d like to talk about something I felt I couldn’t much during the past few weeks. The run up to the vote has been wearying, painful and damaging to the queer community. The venomous homophobia spewing forth from the many heads of the Iona hydra has taken its toll on everyone. How deeply that pain is felt depends heavily on the network of support a person has around them, and I for one am grateful that my immediate family and circle of friends are, at least most of the time, not outwardly homophobic.

However.

While hateful lies published by right-wing scummers are easy to criticise, to mock, and, for some, to brush off, it will be harder for those of us on the Yes side to self-reflect and see the many ways in which our campaigns have been harmful to the very people they claim to represent. A good example of this is the incredibly misguided “Straight Up For Equality” campaign. The slogan serves no purpose, other than to state that you can vote in favour of same sex marriage, even if you’re Not A Gay. For straight people, literally the only people not directly affected by the outcome of this referendum, this campaign gives them an excuse to assert their own heteronormativity, to maintain an “us and them” straight versus gay dichotomy, while allowing themselves to feel like progressive liberal heroes. Straight people, listen up; this is not about you.

Another thing that the Straight Up For Equality slogan implies is that there are only two types of relationships, straight or gay, and that your sexuality depends on which relationships you happen to be in. What of queers who aren’t gay? Do two bi women in a relationship suddenly become lesbians? Are a straight woman and her pan husband in a straight marriage? What of individuals of nonbinary gender? I can imagine the answer from our self-professed straight allies would be something along the lines of, “…huh?”

This notion of straight and gay binary has been rampant throughout the referendum campaign. Using terms such as “gay marriage” when you mean “same sex marriage” erases the identity of the majority of people on the queer spectrum. I was surprised to see some of my bi friends championing former president Mary McAleese for the speech she gave to BeLonG To, in which she stated, “the only children affected by this referendum are Ireland’s gay children.” Using “gay” as a catch all phrase to mean the LGBTQIA community hurts those of us who are queer in anything other than the most mainstream, socially acceptable way.

A powerful symbol of the appeal to acceptability is the mural in Dublin of two men embracing, with the slightest suggestion of a kiss, which was followed almost as an afterthought by a mural in Galway of two women, decidedly not kissing. An important thing to note here is that all four individuals in these murals are white, able-bodied, and to be presumed cis. Where are the murals of our queers of colour, our queer Travellers, our queer trans folk, our queers with visible disabilities? No, poster gays (and lesbians if you insist) only please!

Why do we throw our less respectable queers under the bus? Are we afraid that mainstream society would vote against same sex marriage if it knew the reality of queer diversity? Is that is a society into which you would happily be assimilated?

I can only hope that the inevitable post referendum drop-off of “acceptable” queers (i.e.; gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry) will give rise to a more radicalised approach to queer politics in Ireland.

Fingers crossed.

Guest Posts: What Now? Thoughts as we celebrate the 34th Amendment

As a follow-up to last week’s Guest Posts for Equality series (read them!), I asked people to share their thoughts on two topics: what does the referendum’s result mean to them, and what comes next. 

Jon Hanna was born in County Down, but has lived in the Republic for all of his adult life, and Dublin for all but a few months of that. He once swore off activism on the basis that he doesn’t think he’s very good at it, but does still occasionally write things like this.

equalityheart

The strong sisters told the brothers that there were two important things to remember about the coming revolutions. The first is that we will get our asses kicked. The second is that we will win.

25 years ago, those words were part of the Queer Nation Manifesto handed out by the Act Up contingent at the Pride parade in New York.

At a time closer to the Stonewall Riots the parades commemorate than to today,
at a time when here in Ireland the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, and the 1885 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act made sexual acts between two consenting men illegal,
at a time when one of the ways you could identify someone on television as gay was visible Kaposi’s sarcoma,
at a time when people ganging up with the clear and premeditated intent to kill a gay man, because he was a gay man, and doing so, could expect to be given a suspended sentence,
at a time not long after that had happened,
I began to realise I liked boys as well as girls.

The right to same-sex marriage isn’t a right I hope to exercise, because I still liked girls as well as boys, and the person I since met, that I want to spend the rest of my life with, is a woman. And we got to celebrate our love and our wish to be together recently, in a beautiful wedding.

But you are who you are. And I am who I am. And when as a schoolboy I came out a little over 20 years ago, I was lucky to have that received well by good people. And I’ve mostly been lucky to have other such good people around me throughout my life, whether I was married, single, dating a woman, or dating a man. That my life never ended up such that I ever wanted to marry a man, is far from the point, and that is the same for many others who are LGBT (and let us not for a minute forget the T, or anyone else that doesn’t fit the cis, hetero pattern that we’ve for so long been told is “normal”).

Not everybody has been lucky in that way. And nobody should have to be lucky that way. People need protected rights, protected not just by a few good people they are lucky to have around them, but by the people; that “we the people” don’t hand out moments of decency, but insist that all of us the people are treated with respect.

And those who are gay need to have their gay lives, and their gay loves or lack of them as those gay lives unfold, treated with respect.

And those who are trans* and those who are ace need to not have their lives forced into the mould of another’s.

And those of us who are bi need to have our lives treated with respect, with the loves that may come to us as our lives unfold neither allowed because they are straight enough to fit the norm, or allowed because they are gay enough to distance us firmly from the norm, but accepted because they are our loves and they are our lives, and we are all of cherished as citizens by all of us.

And we the people should have been able to legislate for same-sex marriage through our representatives. But when some in the Dáil insisted it wasn’t constitutionally possible without a referendum, that was what we the people had. And, on the day that would have been Harvey Milk’s 85th birthday, a million Irish people said that they think all of our loves and all of our lives should be given the same respect. And that brought with it something that no constitution can give the Dáil the power to deliver, something that goes further than the right to marry the person you love, or even the equality it still brings to those with no intention of such a marriage; it brought a genuine sense that we belong in this country, that we the queer people are indeed seen as part of we the people.

And in a moment of fear that we would lose, and that the loss would push us back grievously, I thought of the few rare optimistic words in the Queer Manifesto; “The second is that we will win.”

The strong sisters could tell the brothers that, because the sisters had been in other fights before, and they knew that we would win, just as they knew that we would get our asses kicked.

They were right on both counts.

And if it’s tempting now to think that we are near the beginning of the end, we need only look at the sisters’ fights to know that this isn’t the case (Repeal the 8th!). There will still be fights, and we will get our asses kicked, and we will win. As will the sisters. It’s not the end, but an Ireland where a million people vote to allow marriage to be lawful “without distinction as to their sex” — an Ireland where people will not only travel to their polling station to do so, but thousands will fly or sail into the country to do so — can be one where we might be near the end of the beginning.

Never Stop Holding Hands: how love took on a monster, and won.

image

Panti said that she got through an entire day without checking herself, and that she does not feel oppressed.

A couple of friends of mine walked to the local shop together. A man approached them shook their hands, and told them to never stop holding hands.

Another friend talked about all the same-sex couples she saw holding hands, embracing, being unapologetically together on our streets and in our parks.

And I walk down the street alone with a Yes badge on my shirt- I can’t bear to take it off yet. It’s met on every street with infectious, unstoppable smiles. Moments of overjoyed connection with strangers- and not just the strangers we’ve been led to expect. The buttoned-up, the middle-aged, the most conservative appearing of us can’t help but break into grins when we see each other.

This is about marriage, but this is about so much more. This was about changing a society, and it was about letting everyone in that society know how it had changed.

This campaign was hard. It was cruel at times. The helpless frustration of seeing signs on every street telling you that you are unfit, inadequate, should be happy to put up with less. Hearing unashamed bigotry dressed up as genuine concerns in a cowardly media. Feeling the weight of money and influence wielded by people who hate us so much that they threw everything they had into keeping us down. Hearing stories of kids of same sex couples, of adopted kids, of kids of single parents seeing those same posters telling them that their families weren’t enough, and feeling helpless to do anything about it.

The campaign was cruel, and it was an unnecessary cruelty.

But- and here is the beautiful thing- the campaign was also kind. We didn’t just fight. We cared for each other. We knew that we could only win by sharing some of the most vulnerable parts of ourselves with strangers, and by being judged for those. So we did. On doorsteps and streets and online and in newspapers and even on TV we shared our stories, our families, our lives and our fears, in the hope that they would find a spark or humanity and empathy in people who had never met us. And it did. [Read more…]

Yes we said yes we will YES

It’s looking like a landslide.

I have never ever felt proud of my country like I do this morning.

I haven’t any words right now- I’ll have thousands later- except YES.

We’ve done it.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, a thousand, a million times YES.

Guest Posts for Equality: The personal is political.

In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message

Cat McIlroy moved to Stockholm in 2013 to start a new life adventure with a Swedish person. Despite some bureaucratic frustrations and difficulties with the Swedish Migration Board and Tax Agency, life in Stockholm has revealed many wonderful new possibilities to live and love.

equalityheart

Over the past few months, I have been watching the Marriage Equality Referendum battles from the sidelines in Stockholm, reading online articles, comments and posts from friends. I travelled back to Dublin on Sunday for a number of familial reasons – birthdays, a surgery, and also very importantly, to vote.

On 12 August 2014, my partner, Ulrika, and I got married in New York. We had decided to go there for a holiday, planned to get the marriage licence, and do it quickly and easily the following day. It was just the two of us, with a friend, Maria, who acted as both our witness and photographer, along with all of the other couples waiting our turn.

I have to admit for the first 40 years of my life I was quite sure that I would never get married; it was not something that was on my horizon at all, not even something that I wanted or considered. But things change. I was Spouse A.

We were one of many queer couples to get married in the Manhattan Marriage Bureau that day. Slightly older dykes in jeans and matching waistcoats with rainbow-coloured roses in their lapels, their friends and families standing happily and proudly beside them – so touching to be there and be part of it all. And then it was our turn. Such a wonderful, memorable, surreal experience.

Our marriage is recognised in 37 states of the United States, and in a growing number of countries around the world, including Sweden, but not Ireland. There is still no legal recognition of trans* people in Ireland either. In fact, with the proposed gender recognition legislation, trans* people who are married or civilly partnered will be specifically excluded and prevented from being legally recognised. The on-going lack of recognition and respect for trans* people and our families is shameful.

This can change tomorrow.

I am Irish. I am trans*. And I am married.

It is time that my country recognises and respects that.

Guest Posts for Equality: It is common for migrants to be seen as stereotypes rather than as we really are

In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message

Luke Bukha is a Zimbabwean born Irish activist with Anti Racism Network (ARN)

equalityheart

This was originally published as a letter in the Irish Times:

Editor,

The Irish Times speculates “tens of thousands of Christian immigrants who have become Irish citizens” and even “up to 200,000 immigrants” may “help swing the vote in favour of No on May 22” and paints a picture of African people in Ireland especially as one unvaried, homogenous group (““New Irish” Christians gather to vote No in referendum”, Sunday 17th May). It is common, as Irish people know, for migrants to be seen as stereotypes rather than as we really are, in all our diversity. The media tries, in articles like this, to pigeon hole us, the “New Irish”, in a particular way that does not reflect us as we really are. We in the migrant communities in Ireland are diverse and our paths to this country and our experiences before and during our journey here were also many, and have shaped how we live our lives now, in the present. Some of us are Christian, some Muslim; some of us are of no religion, some atheists. Some of us are straight, some LGBT. Some of us have come here to escape persecution and threats to our lives and the lives of our families because of our political views, our ethnicity, our gender, because of poverty, to escape war, to make a better life for ourselves and our families, and some of us to escape persecution because we are LGBT.

That is why this referendum is about more than same-sex marriage for those of us who are calling for a Yes vote in the migrant communities. Voting Yes on Friday is about opening up to the other who may be different to you or me. It is about overcoming suspicion of anyone who doesn’t behave or look like ‘us’. Racial and ethnic minorities in this country know what it feels like to be discriminated against and held suspect because of our skin colour, our accent, our way of life, our religion. Voting Yes will help this country that is now our home to move away from the intolerant Ireland that was not a place for non-white people, and closer to a future where we can all be accepted as we are.

To show that many of us in the migrant communities, LGBT and straight, support Yes for Equality, a number of us came together to make a video with Anti-Racism Network Ireland (ARN) calling for a Yes vote on Friday. Articles such as the one published this week in the Irish Times ignore our existence, but we are here, and for every one of us calling publically for a Yes vote, there are many, many more.

In common with all citizens in Ireland, for those of us who can vote the referendum is our chance to define the country we want to live in. Let’s go and vote, but let’s vote for the future, not for the past.

Yours

Luke Bukha, Dublin 2

Guest Posts for Equality: Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Lesbians??!

In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message

When not freely giving her unsought opinion on a wide range of topics, Fiona works half the week as a designer, photographer and social media manager  (both of which can be found on Facebook) and spends the other half trying to negotiate/trick/bribe her three year old into just being sound.

equalityheart

Legend has it that when Queen Victoria signed the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1885, banning oral sex between males, no banning or even mention of oral sex between females was included because she refused to believe that lesbians even existed. The credibility of that legend has been disputed, but if the late monarch found herself in Ireland during the Marriage Equality Referendum debate, she could be forgiven for holding that very belief. The invisibility of lesbians, their lives and their relationships during this debate has been quite shocking and incredibly insulting to all LGBT women, especially those working tirelessly on the campaign.

Despite the fact that the marriage equality referendum in Ireland owes a huge amount of its success to date to Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone, almost every debate has been framed in the context of two men. In discussions where Paddy Manning and Keith Mills obsessively bookend every sentence they utter with the phrase “I’m a gay man”, and Eileen King – as a woman – finds it deeply offensive that the Yes campaign are trying to “remove” women from marriage, LGBT women, afraid to rock the boat and deflect from the real campaign issues, are left facetiously asking each other on Twitter how they suddenly mastered a collective disappearing act.

Obviously, this is largely down to the No campaign, who are using the example they know plays on the fears of those opposed to surrogacy and the one that will unsettle their staunchest voting demographic (middle aged and elderly men). There appears to be a bid to convince the electorate that, if passed, we’ll wake up on 23rd May in some sort of a post-referendum dystopian wasteland, where gay men forcibly marry all the straight men, kidnap fertile women, chain them up and use their ripe ovaries and juicy wombs to create a surrogate baby production line. However, the Yes side, committed to running a positive campaign focused only on the relevant issues, have been slow to take an active role in trying to create gender balance within the debate.

The only satisfaction to be derived is from appreciating two sweet ironies – one that the No side, who argue so vehemently about the importance of maintaining gender balance (cringingly described as “yin and yang” by Breda O’Brien) and women’s traditional roles, have deliberately tried to remove any mention of the women that this referendum affects the most. And secondly, that, if passed, it will undoubtedly be women voters who push the referendum over the line.

It can be argued that currently and historically, nationally and internationally, women are more politically and socially progressive. During this campaign, official polls and anecdotal evidence from canvassers have reflected that, with women of all ages more like to to be Yes voters. Take a walk through Dublin and I bet you’ll see more women and girls wearing Yes Equality badges.

From my own conversations during canvassing and with friends and relatives, I’ve been struck by how many older women, of a generation we might assume to be overly influenced by their husbands and male clerical figures, have given us a strong ‘Yes’. For this same reason, Daniel O’Donnell’s recent statement in favour of a Yes vote will have come as a blow to the No campaign – these women are unpredictable and flexible. They will not be controlled, they will listen to both sides of the story and make up their own mind.

The flip side of this coin is that the whole discourse has also been incredibly demeaning and insulting to men, especially fathers. It has played up to a tired cliché that paints husbands, fathers and men in general as irresponsible, infantile and barely able to look after themselves, let alone be trusted to care for a child. This trite tale isn’t fooling modern Ireland. We’ve seen a huge increase in stay-at-home fathers since the recession, and working fathers are significantly more hands-on than the generation before them. The vast majority of voters know from first-hand experience that a man can provide his child with the same care, love, attention, and affection as a woman.

Next week, regardless of the outcome, the Irish LGBT community needs to examine how and why, in so many debates and conversations, it allowed its female members to be thrown under the campaign bus and to remember that being part of a group that tries to dismantle patriarchy, does not make us immune to it.

Guest Posts for Equality: Being gay is not a small part of who I am.

In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message

William Quill is a political nerd who finally got around to start studying law last year. In 2011, while on the executive of Young Fine Gael, he led the campaign to get the youth wing of the party to support equal marriage, before helping to set up Fine Gael LGBT in 2012. He occasionally blogs, often tweets, but spends most time online on Facebook.

equalityheart

This is the sixth referendum campaign I’ve taken part in. I’ve also been to the count centre after every general and local election since 1997. I was emotionally invested in the result on each occasion. I have both great and difficult memories from those count days. Yet I will watch the results come in on Saturday with more trepidation than ever before. This isn’t normal politics, whether in the distribution of resources, or arrangements of political structures. This referendum is about me, and others like me, a political decision on our lives and relationships, and our place in Irish society.

It is the natural step in the decline of animosity and the growth of empathy towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Ireland and elsewhere, that we would have the same opportunity to marry as anyone else. Slowly at first, and then in rapid succession, other countries and territories have come to view the limitation of marriage to heterosexual couples as an unjust exclusion, and changed their laws to reflect this new insight and understanding.

We have seen since the beginning of this year in particular what a Yes vote would mean to so many people, what a difference it would make. Those who were quiet for decades about this part of their lives, silent even to themselves, who felt compelled to speak out. And felt so much better for it. And we can think of young people, beginning to realise their difference from their peers, how wonderful the effect of a Yes vote would be for them, how devastating the effect of a No vote.

Being gay is not a small part of who I am. It doesn’t feel right to say that I just happen to be gay. It is not an incidental feature like height or hair colour, but a distinguishing feature of one of the relationships most important to me. From when I properly realised that future romantic relationships would most likely be with other men, it was something I could not but see as an important part of who I am. Indeed, it was before then, though I did not yet fully realise it. It is important because of where we now stand in society. A successful result will allow us each to determine its significance for ourselves. I look forward to the idea that my romantic life will no longer be a political issue.

This isn’t about any need for validation, but a commitment that society should treat us all with equal concern and respect, and that where the state is involved in our lives, our laws should recognise our equal dignity. With civil partnership and family law reform in place, to withhold marriage is such an arbitrary and needless act of discrimination.

When I attended a wedding service of two friends of mine earlier this year, something that stood out is our part in that. Not only did they commit to each other, for better, for worse, but we, the community of friends and family gathered there, also pledged to stand by them. The vote this Friday is that moment writ large. It is a chance to say clearly that when two people choose to make this commitment, we will stand by them, and hold their relationship as something to value.

So vote Yes. Be part of what should be a great moment for so many of us. Plan your trip to the polling station on Friday, and make sure others you know have done the same. Every vote will send a message, and every Yes vote will help secure a more equal Ireland.

Guest Posts for Equality: The nation’s ready to come out

In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message

Ursula has just recently finished studying Psychology and works part-time as a Parliamentary Assistant in the Seanad. In her free time she enjoys writing, playing Bach and Leonard Cohen and long conversations over pots of good tea. You can find her on Twitter.


“Holding your boyfriend or your girlfriend’s hand should not have to be a political statement”, a friend of mine said memorably in a debate about Ireland’s LGBT community five years ago. But during this long and seemingly never-ending campaign, each hand held in public, each vulnerable conversation, each embrace of love, has been a political statement. There exists a debate within the minds of LGBT people when engaged in conversations about the referendum with their families, friends, colleagues, and even at the doorsteps canvassing, of whether to come out yet again, to them. Whether to make the political debate personal. Make it real. Put a face on it. But in so doing, open oneself up, and lay one’s life bare and open to judgement. It has been difficult to escape the politicisation of our lives, and be unaffected by that vulnerability.

Something else has also happened. Not only has the personal become painfully political. The political has also become remarkably personal. We see it in Leo Varadkar saying that he would be more devastated if this referendum does not pass than if he lost his own seat. And you believe him. We see it in political correspondent Ursula Halligan’s beautifully honest article in the Irish Times; Ursula, who found herself compelled to come out and speak out (revealing the power of gentleness) despite being so private, because she could not help being personally affected by the campaign, and knew that it might just help. It’s a lot to hope for, but perhaps this vulnerability can lead the way towards creating a more compassionate politics.

Henry James once wrote that three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. The act of coming out demands great empathy and kindness from the receiver, but it is also an act of generosity and kindness from the person coming out. I think of that line which Nina Simone sings: “I wish you could know what it means to me, then you’d see and agree, that every man should be free.” While I had always felt different in one way or another, when I was nearly 13, I knew I was different in a particular way. Years before I spoke to anyone about it, in my own mind I was happy to name that difference as bisexual. I knew then, as I know now, that I wasn’t undecided or confused. Rather, I had a real sense of my sexual identity. The fact didn’t surprise, or bother me. I had fallen in love with a girl in school, and knew it was as real as any of the crushes on boys which my peers spoke of. Comments from girls at school about lesbian, gay and bisexual people, not directed at me specifically, but a reflection of the overtly heteronormative culture in so many secondary schools until recently, were alienating. Though I bore them no resentment, I could not relate to their language and world, and for most of my adolescence reconciled myself to a happy solitude. Now, 12 years and many loves later, I have no idea if I will ever marry, or if I will ever wish to marry, but this Referendum has helped me to understand more fully what my identity means to me. Beyond that, it has also forced me to consider what that identity means to the society in which I live.

There is no doubt, that whatever the outcome of the count on Saturday, that something remarkable has happened in Ireland during the course of this campaign. The country has been forced into a cross-sectional, inter-generational, and fast-evolving conversation not just around the question which will be voted on this coming Friday. This national conversation is also about difference. As a small nation, obsessed with our historical identity, our struggle with difference, and with what is Irish, or what is Gaelach, has been the inner social struggle of our recent history. Irish people, young and old, have now been faced with vital questions: What is difference? Who is different? Why on earth does it matter? Are we intolerant of difference? Maybe, maybe not, but surely tolerance is not enough when we speak of our fellow humans? And, the most painful question of all, have we been unkind to those we love, who are different?

We’ve seen tens of thousands of young people register to be able to vote on May 22nd, and many hundreds of them out in droves canvassing. This Referendum has given many demoralised and unheard young people the opportunity to dream of an Ireland they can take pride in. Pride, of course, is such a vital word for this community. The right to take pride in one’s life is taken for granted by those who think that pride is the opposite of humility. But pride is not the opposite of humility; rather, it is the opposite of shame. For so long, this community was shamed into invisibility and exile. And pride is a struggle, and an ongoing one, which will continue long after this Referendum.

The humiliating preoccupation of opponents to equal marriage with the sex lives of gay people stems from a very real homophobia. Homophobia is essentially a discomfort with same-sex intimacy, but homophobia further belies an inability to fully appreciate the personhood of LGBT people beyond that preoccupation. I have met that preoccupation on the doorsteps from people whose discomfort with same-sex orientation blinds their ability to see that their love is the same. The seeming contradiction, which is not a contradiction at all, of this campaign, is that we are fighting for the right to live privately, to not have people preoccupied with our lives, and to not have to come out in order for them to understand. It has been so necessary to do so, in order that future generations will not have to bear such a burden. When we ask for equal treatment under the law, and when we ask for the same rituals which are available to others, as Colm Tóibín put it recently, we are simply asking to be included.

The cumulative impact of so many individuals finding their lives are more liveable when they can hope to love freely has had a freeing effect on the country. Ursula Halligan’s piece began with that great line from Martin Luther King and so I’ll end by looking at it another way: that our lives really begin when we can speak about the things that matter. Amidst the trepidation and anxiety of the coming days and the ongoing tireless efforts of the campaign is a sense of a beginning. A kinder, more confident, more alive beginning.