It is 30 years since I came out. I was 18. It was 1984 and Ireland was a very different country. Being gay meant I was a criminal.
A year earlier, 31-year-old Declan Flynn had been savagely beaten to death by a gang of young men in Dublin’s Fairview Park. The gang who killed him walked free from court on suspended manslaughter charges in March 1983.
The case provoked fury amongst an emerging LGBT activist community and resulted in the first large-scale public demonstration against anti-gay violence, when up to 1,000 people marched from Liberty Hall to Fairview Park.
The LGBT community had learnt that visibility mattered. The brutality inflicted upon Declan Flynn and other LGBT people happened in hidden places. The courts appeared reluctant to recognise the violence and hatefulness of those attacks. It was time to act, to demand equality and justice. We understood that being forced out into the fringes of society dehumanised us, and made us invisible. It allowed official Ireland to ignore the violence and discrimination we routinely experienced.
The Ireland of that era was a country blighted by oppressive shame and judgement. It was the Ireland of Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries, where those who wouldn’t or couldn’t conform to the strict dictates of a blind, judgemental and uncompassionate code of sexual morality were pushed to the edges of ‘decent’ society or simply banished behind high walls.
Ireland was finally forced by the European Court of Human Rights to stop criminalising people because they dared to love. Homosexuality was finally decriminalised in 1993. That long battle for freedom was won because of the dogged determination of a community that discovered its outrage and, crucially, its pride. A community that refused to be banished because others couldn’t confront their own shame and sexual hang-ups.
Yesterday, as I led out Dublin Pride Parade 2014 it struck me that 1993 was not so terribly long ago. It struck me that those marching yesterday who were 21 or younger are the first generation of Irish LGBTI people to be born into a society where they are free to love.
Yesterday, as I led out Dublin Pride Parade 2014 it struck me that 1993 was not so terribly long ago. It struck me that those marching yesterday who were 21 or younger are the first generation of Irish LGBTI people to be born into a society where they are free to love.Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland
Our freedoms then, are young, and they are incomplete.
Ireland is a transformed society.
But, we have a way to go still if we are to guarantee equality and freedom to LGBTI people. We have yet to allow equal access to civil marriage, and to provide equal rights and equal family security to children raised by same-sex parents. We have yet to respect the human rights of transgender people by granting them legal gender recognition. We are almost there, but not quite. And partial freedom is not freedom; ‘near equality’ is not equality.
The constitutional referendum on marriage equality, if passed, will secure full equality for same-sex couples and their families. According to opinion polls it is looking good. But when it comes to referendums, especially those on social or family issues, opinion polls at this stage may not reflect the ultimate result. It would be foolish to be complacent and believe that the referendum will sail through. It will not. It will be a tough campaign.
There are those who will use the old tactics of fear and loathing, dressed up as concern for decency, morality and tradition, to seek to deny LGBT people and our families equality before the law.
But there are also people who have concerns that must be heard and answered. Changing our constitution, especially in an area such as marriage and family, is something Irish people take seriously. Those of us who propose change must continue make the case for it. We must do so with care, and recognise that not everyone who is yet to be convinced is motivated by bigotry. We must listen to their concerns, and respond with openness and clarity. If we do, I believe we will succeed.
Yesterday I led out the Pride Parade. Beside me sat my husband Paul and our two now almost grown kids. Paul and I have been together almost 15 years now. We are a family like any other. We are not especially exceptional. Our everyday is just the same as most other families we know.
Perhaps what is remarkable about our role in this year’s Pride is that we are a model of the increasingly unremarkable. We are a family.
Yesterday tens of thousands of people marched. We marched in love, we marched in pride and we marched in solidarity. We march to celebrate the freedoms we have won, and to demand those we have yet to secure.
We marched in solidarity with LGBTI people in other places who are not yet free from violence, discrimination and persecution. With gay men hunted in Russia, LGBTI people persecuted and imprisoned in Ghana, in Nigeria, in Uganda. With men, women and trans people across the world who are murdered by mobs, or executed by their States simply for being who they are.
We marched in solidarity with LGBTI people in other places who are not yet free from violence, discrimination and persecution. With gay men hunted in Russia, LGBTI people persecuted and imprisoned in Ghana, in Nigeria, in Uganda. With men, women and trans people across the world who are murdered by mobs, or executed by their States simply for being who they are.Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland
There are of course those who find Pride parades ridiculous, even offensive. There are those who will be offended by the clothes that people wore yesterday and the boldness with which they proclaimed their identity. Isn’t it a strange thing though to be offended by another’s self-expression, no matter how over the top or colourful?
Why would anyone be offended by the sight of a man in a frock dancing down O’Connell Street, or couples in love holding hands or sharing a kiss?
Isn’t that just another manifestation of that old heavy shawl of shame that we are still struggling to throw off?
Maybe Pride can help us do that. That’s partly the point of it for me. It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate difference. To recognise that we no longer demand cruel and unloving conformity and that Ireland is a changed and more open society. And that’s something for us all to celebrate…whatever our sexuality or gender identity. We can all take pride in working towards a more inclusive, honest and compassionate society.
It makes us all truly free.
Colm O’Gorman is Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland and was Grand Marshall of the Dublin Pride Parade 2014, this artilce was first publised in the Sunday Business Post on 29 June 2014