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

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

Notes for Equality.

It may be the last couple of days before the referendum, but there’s still time to have conversations, to do something.

My housemate had the most lovely idea the other day. She’s made handwritten notes to send to all the apartments in our complex. She- and, as of this evening, me too- has been writing these for days.

Here they are:

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Feel free to use the text, if you would like! We’ve received some wonderful notes in return from our neighbours. And hopefully led some more of them to think a little about Friday.

Guest Posts for Equality: These people are not teachers.

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

Unfortunately I can’t give you a bio for this piece’s author. He has kept his name from this article both because he wants to maintain his practice of not expressing his opinions through his professional identity and because, sadly, due to Section 37 it is still inadvisable to come out when you’re a teacher without job security.

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I am a teacher. I help young people to develop and grow, to recognise their strengths and to become the brilliant people they can be. To say I love this work is a massive understatement. I have met vastly different kinds of young people, all unique and all with different strengths and talents. It has been an honour to be their teacher.

In this role, I have many responsibilities. For example, in helping my students to develop as their own people, it is not my job to impart my views and opinions to them and expect them to fall in line. As such, I never discuss my politics or my personal life in class, as is proper. Separately, I’m a gay man. Needless to say I have personally found the run-up to this referendum hard. I expected that. I didn’t expect to find it hard as a teacher, but then I learned about the “Teachers for No” group set up on 14 May.

One of the primary responsibilities of a teacher is to care. To foster a safe environment for their students, to accept and embrace diversity as represented through the individuals they teach, and to allow those young people to develop and grow in a warm, accepting environment.

It is not to create an atmosphere wherein even one of their students is made to feel second-class because of who they are. Choose any ten schools at random and look at their mission statements. You’ll see messages about inclusion, safety and caring. This group represents none of those things. Like much of the No campaign all they represent is their own discomfort at a reality that they can no longer pretend isn’t there.

Objectivity is important, but even casting aside my own personal reasons for opposing the No campaign, the effect of their message and its tone on young people is abhorrent. These people claim to be standing up for children. They are not. They stand up for a dying era in Irish history which saw untold suffering in so many different ways, and standing against a better future for many of the young people they have the responsibility to care for.

These people are not teachers.

 

Guest Posts for Equality: David Norris says YES

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

A friend of mine ran into Senator David Norris on the train this week. Naturally enough, he was eager to ask him some questions about the referendum- not that there’d be any doubt over what Norris’s position! But here’s what he had to say: