Friday, 22 May 2015
A nation holds its breath
After years, months, weeks and days of campaigning for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, the day is finally here. May 22nd 2015 will hopefully go down in history as the day Ireland changed for the better and accepted ALL her children, no matter who they love.
I couldn't help but feel the irony, driving into the carpark of the local Catholic school to cast my vote on this issue (the Catholic church have been the biggest No campaigners). I couldn't hold back my tears, a mixture of anger, empathy and determination filled me as we got the kids out of the car and asked them were they ready to kick some ass. Po-faced people left the building and I just knew they had voted No, clutching their pearls as they saved our souls. Surrounded by religious iconography, the statues, the posters proclaiming a "Christian ethos" in the school, I voted against the teachings of that institution and for equality for gay people. Did you know there's a bible in every polling station? In case you need to swear to your identity? Hmm... I hope the next referendum is one separating Church and State, which in Ireland are like Cheese and Onion, inextricably linked. Being an atheist here is unusual, but at least I don't have my private life ridiculed and lambasted in public like the LGBT community has. (My breastfeeding has come under fire but that's a drop in the ocean compared to homophobia).
I have really become aware in the last few months of the extent of hatred, homophobia and bigotry that exists in Ireland. Finally it's not behind closed doors any more, it's out for all to see. I've remained as much as possible in a bubble, not watching the televised debates, listening to the radio or reading too much in the papers or online, but I've still been disgusted at the language used and the vitriol for a whole community of Irish people who have no choice but to live as nature/GOD made them. In a way this extremism may have turned people towards the Yes side, but it has been infuriating to see attitudes like that given public airings. And I can only imagine what's ringing in the ears of the LGBT community from all the negativity.
Cowardly people haven't posted up on Facebook that they're voting No, but we all know they're out there. We all have the family members who are steadfastly clinging onto some outdated notion of what is acceptable human behaviour. Scared of their own sexuality, the natural attraction we ALL feel towards members of our own and the opposite gender, these people are still in the belief that they will go to hell literally or metaphorically if they succumb to human "base" desires. They are missing out. We all know that. It wouldn't be so bad if it was just them missing out on sexual adventures, but unfortunately these people are also preaching about it to their children, their communities, warping minds and causing shame and heartbreak in the younger generations. And making it ok for homophobic slurs to be bandied about in schools and playgrounds. Teachers turning a blind eye. Heck, teachers being pixellated out of loving photos in case their LGBT status gets them fired. The mind boggles.
So back to this week. I spent it at home, nursing first one, then two, then three ill family members through some rotten virus. So I had a lot of quiet time to think and read, following the Yes campaign online and doing my bit to spread the word. Firstly I have to commend the campaign for its absolute moral high-ground. It could have so easily turned as nasty as the No side, citing years of marginalisation and abuse, but it chose to celebrate the positives of Love, Equality and Fairness, as a winner really should. I don't know if that was pre-planned, but it certainly worked, and while the No's got ever more radical, screeching "but what about the CHILDREN?!" from their podiums, the Yes's ignored that and invited us all to join in singing their heartfelt song about Love between two people.
Secondly there was a gorgeous feeling of support from the straight community, a "we've got your back" message to our gay neighbours. Roddy Doyle's Facebook piece summed it up for me perfectly, see it here. We're sorry we didn't understand you. We're sorry we didn't have your back in school, so we're going to canvass with and for you, to make amends. Families shared stories about supporting gay relatives, companies showed their support, heck even the political parties got behind the Yes campaign, all of them!
And most importantly, we are looking at closing one chapter in Ireland's sad history of abuse and opening a fresh, new beginning. Hopefully there will be more welcoming smiles at gay couples in the street, an atmosphere of acceptance and less "us and them" mentality. This referendum may give fearful LGBT people the courage to "come out" to their communities, it may pave the way for more acceptance in the workplace. The schoolyards may see the phasing out of homophobic bullying. "May" because it is still up to us to teach our children we are all equal and deserving of respect. We are all responsible for the attitudes our children see and hear at home, which they bring out into the wider world.
Hopefully by the time my children become parents Ireland will be looking back on this day as a turning point, and they will shake their heads at how hard life was pre-2015 for LGBT people in Ireland. That's what I'm hoping and working towards in my family. It helps that we have fantastic LGBT role models in our family, so my kids know exactly what all this referendum fuss is about. Other families may not be so open or ready to share their stories, and that's understandable. It is still up to us to encourage our LGBT family members and friends to trust us, because that trust is not there yet, and is hard-won. They have a lot to be wary of. I'm going to keep my YES/TÁ badges and bumper sticker on show for the foreseeable future, because I'm proud to show my support for the LGBT community.
I'm hoping and praying for a huge Yes majority in the counts tomorrow, I'd like to see at least 70% Yes, that's my magic number. Come on Ireland!