(Sing if you’re) Glad to be Voting Yes to Marriage Equality

I’ve been listening to this song a lot in the last week, pretty much any time a ‘No’ campaigner makes one of those comments that feels like a punch in the chest. Loudly singing along not only provides an outlet for unproductive rage, it’s also a valuable reminder of the historical context in which this campaign is taking place.

This is an exhilarating time to be an LGBT person in Ireland. After decades of exclusion, for the first time ever we have the opportunity to reach out to our families and communities, to share our pride in who we are and, together, to stand for a better future and a warmer, more accepting Ireland.

Unfortunately, a month out from the marriage referendum, I think the joy is fading from the ‘Yes’ campaign. I’m not surprised. As May 22nd draws closer, our opponents voices are getting harsher. And as ‘No’ campaigners ask ever more insidious questions as to whether we are abnormal, anti-social, or threatening to children, we are forbidden to defend ourselves with a simple truth: that those who oppose equality for LGBT people are homophobic.

Fifteen months ago, by threatening legal action against RTÉ and Rory O’Neill, members of Ireland’s extreme conservative establishment sent a clear warning to LGBT people and their allies: you are not entitled to the phrase homophobia, you are not entitled to your anger, you are not entitled to speak, or live, your truth. This has been endlessly reiterated since, most recently in the attack that’s been launched against Joe Caslin’s mural on George’s Street. The message, again, is clear: gay people should stay quiet and stop taking up space.

The worst thing is, I think they’ve gotten away with it. As LGBT campaigners we have allowed ourselves to be intimidated, we are running a campaign whose first goal is not to step on anyone’s toes. Terrified by the prospect of losing the support of the “soft middle”, the campaign has become about smiling nicely, saying unthreatening things about love, not being too flamboyant and not, under any circumstances, expressing anger against what Mary McAleese calls “the architecture of homophobia”.

To paraphrase Panti herself, instead of striving to be the being the best gays possible, we’re checking ourselves, trying not to “give the gay away”. And to me, that feels oppressive. What’s more, it loses sight of the concept that has, for nearly half a century, been at the heart of queer politics — Pride.

Right now, all the talk seems to be about what will happen if we lose the soft middle and, as a result, the referendum. But why not turn that on its head? If we convince ordinary, decent voters with an inspiring vision of the society we’re trying to create, we’re looking at a huge victory, a loud and clear statement that — just two decades after homosexuality was decriminalised — shame no longer has a place in our families, our communities, our politics or our society.

There has, rightly, been a lot of focus on today’s young LGBT people and on future generations of children who deserve to know love and acceptance. However, we also speak for another silent demographic, the generations of gay people for whom leaving the closet was never an option, the people driven from the country by violence, hatred and criminalisation, and the hundreds of gay men who should be with us today but fell victim to the AIDS epidemic, often stigmatised by their communities and left to die in isolation.

For me, and for many young gay people, that past is almost unimaginable, but its legacy continues. Just as future generations deserve our hope and our support, past generations deserve our anger and our pride. This is a fight, between silence and speech, between hatred and love, between shame and pride and, in the most severe cases, between life and death.

We have one month left. Let’s make it a party.

Want to show your support for the Yes Equality campaign? Click here to donate or here to find out more about volunteering.

Ireland, I owe you an apology…

Since leaving Dublin a year ago, I have checked out of Irish politics. My engagement has declined gradually, but it’s approaching the point where I couldn’t cast an informed vote in a General Election and before long it will hit the stage where I would struggle to pass Junior Cert CSPE.

My checking out isn’t purely due to laziness or apathy, though that may play a part. Whatever Michael Noonan says about young people making the lifestyle choice to emigrate, when I realised that Ireland and I were done, I was standing outside Leinster House the night that the Savita story broke, with  a crowd of other people who were devastated at what the country — our country —had come to.

Being Irish is hard. It’s hard to watch government fob off the issues you care most about, because they’re scared, or because they’re prioritising the next election, or because they suddenly need to gather more information, or because everyone’s tired of referendums anyway.

But the outrageous treatment of Rory O’ Neill in the last fortnight has reminded me that the voices that oppose change in Ireland are not only scurrilous and spiteful, they are frighteningly well-resourced and not afraid to threaten, to silence and to intimidate. And the national broadcaster, as it still has the nerve to call itself, has caved and suggested that these are the voices of democratic debate.

So I’m sorry that I left, but now I’m back. Not back in the country, but back in the discussion. I know it won’t have much impact, but surely we need every voice we can get.

Media preview

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre

A quick plug.

“Don’t fall over, don’t fall over, don’t fall over.”

I’m running the Flora Women’s Mini-Marathon on Monday in aid of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. I’ll be running the Flora Women’s Mini Marathon in aid of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. This is an organisation that quietly makes a difference in all our lives, by supporting men and women we know and care about. We may never be told their stories, but the DRCC gives them a space in which they can speak and be heard. The value of that service is immeasurable.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre offered me support when I needed it most, without question, without charge, and without judgement. I’d like you to help me pay them back.

You can donate here. Many thanks.

Homeless Truths – Child Homelessness in Ireland

What a week this has been in dear, dirty Dublin. There are quite a number of things that I’m hoping to write about this weekend, but I think I’ll need a large cup of coffee and the weekend papers before I can fully untangle my thoughts.

For now, I’d like to flag the report released last week by the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan. The report is called “Homeless Truths and deals with child homelessness in Ireland. The Ombudsman’s brief includes consultation with children and so this report describes the experience of child homelessness in the words of homeless children. It’s a striking, sensitive and insightful document, accessible and succint and certainly worth reading here.

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Now I’m not going to tell you to take to the streets and fight for homeless children. There are a whole lot of political problems, and only so much any of us can do. But I do have a few observations about this report.

  • It once again reminds us of the importance of a stronger presence for children’s rights. In light of the referendum on the issue which (hopefully) will take place in the next twelve months, it’s important to be informed about the situation of children in Ireland. Those who oppose the children’s rights referendum do so largely based on the rights of the family. The children speaking through this report are ones without the protection of the family unit and so it’s crucial they we invest them, and others like them with intrinsic rights.
  • As the Ombudsman recognises, homelessness is far more than the lack of a roof over your head. “None of the children were focused on buildings or physical structures, rather what having a home represented – dignity, self-esteem, feeling safe and secure. This is what really mattered to them.” 
  • Accordingly, the provision of adequate supports, such as education, counselling, daytime activities and support in learning to live independently, are also vital considerations when we try to seriously address homelessness. Soup runs and shelters are obviously valuable services, but there’s also a bigger picture of which we all need to be aware.
  • These children are amazing. This is my most important observation. They’re sensitive, articulate, grateful for the smallest kindnesses, deeply aware of the risks presented to other children in similar situations. Several are completely committed to their education, even in these unimaginably difficult circumstances. They’re not looking for the moon, but for something to do during the day, kindness and attention from social workers and the HSE, school uniforms and a place that allows them to feel like they have a home. We all have our prejudices towards the homeless, with some justification, but this kind of resilience, determination and maturity is exceptional and deserves our attention and respect.

You can also listen to spoken word extracts from the interviews on this page.

What are you Doing with Yourself?

I’ve got a new job, friends.

I haven’t mentioned “unemployment” here over the last few months. Partially because given my particular set of circumstances I didn’t see myself as unemployed. Partially because I was embarrassed that people would think of me as unemployed. Most importantly though, because it wasn’t relevant to my writing or opinions.

It also hasn’t been particularly relevant to my life. In many ways, over the last few months I’ve done and learnt more than I did in my fours years of university. I won’t necessarily get a line on my CV from it, but I will live a better life for it. I’ve written here and elsewhere on the internet (Gaelick, Siren, broadsheet.ie) and begun a creative writing course, reawakening a huge interest that had lain largely dormant in recent years. I travelled to Italy, Scotland, London, Sweden and New York. I volunteered with a great organisation called Fighting Words. I cooked good food and drank good wine. I’ve read widely, watched good films, and gone to plays. I’m learning to kick-box, a very long-held ambition of mine.

And yet, throughout this time I’ve been filled with dread at the prospect of going to parties and events, and running into friends and acquaintances. I was massively intimidated by the inevitable question: “so, what are you doing with yourself these days?”

Now, I’ve always disliked this question. I don’t think people are or should be defined by their jobs, nor do I think work is often a fun topic to discuss at parties. However, in the last few years I have come to think of the prevalence of the question in all of our lives as rather cruel and unusual. In “these recessionary times” there are just too many people for whom this question is intrusive, uncomfortable, or even humiliating. Of course, the friend we previously thought of as interesting and intelligent isn’t less so because he or she doesn’t happen to have a job or be in college. But the pitying, understanding nods make it feel that way.

I have lied outright in response to this question. I’ve pretended to be a student or English teacher. I’ve exaggerated the small amount of paid writing that I’ve done (because somehow I believe that getting money for writing generic internet content is more impressive than writing news or opinion for its own sake.) Or I’ve just talked about the future.

“Well, I’m planning on starting a Masters in September”.

“Ah”, people nod in relief. “Learning in a narrow field for which you will be rewarded with a piece of paper? Good for you”.

I have often been tempted to defiantly spit back “Actually, I’m doing loads, LOADS. What are you doing? Hmmm? Skipping lectures and boozing?” Unfortunately, there’s only so confrontational you can afford to get over bad wine and biscuits. I’m also entirely aware that the people asking have no negative intention, are usually genuinely interested and are probably not judging me nearly as much as I think, if at all. I was largely projecting my own insecurities about what I’ve been doing. But I doubt I’m alone in that insecurity, so the principle remains the same.

Eventually, I came up with a reasonably effective strategy. When someone asked what I was doing I replied with the most interesting thing I’d done/was going to do that week. “I’m reading a lot of existentialist philosophy”, “my band is playing a gig this weekend*”, “I’m going to the Irish Craft Beer Festival later on”, “I’ve become very interested in Arctic exploration.”  Most often those kinds of answers spark a much more interesting conversation. And even if they don’t, no one with the slightest inclination towards good manners can follow up and say “actually, with that question I was hoping to ascertain your employment status…”

Now, even though I’m employed, I’m pledging to continue answering like this. Even though there’s a part of me that wants to say “Me? Funny you should ask. I have a JOB!” My answer might sometimes relate to my job, if I’ve done something particularly interesting in work that week,  but otherwise if you ask the question you can look forward to enthusiastic responses about researching feminist rock, training for the mini-marathon and eating awesome Hindu food in Govindas.

I can only hope that I’ll hear some of the same kinds of stories from other people too. Because I’ve never yet found a person who isn’t incredibly interesting in his or her way, and it’s a shame to waste all that on tick-the-box conversations on jobs or the lack thereof.

*I don’t have a band, but a girl can dream.

What do you hold worthy of earnestness?

I’ve been absent lately. I’ve always found that as the velocity of my life increases, the velocity of my writing decreases considerably – a rather worrying imbalance. Thankfully, I have someone in my life who has pushed my, very amicably, back towards this blog. My wonderful friend Stephen consistently sweeps me into his infectious love for literature, for meaningful thought, and for truth, perhaps more importantly, for interesting and inspiring truth. Last week I asked him what I should write and he replied with the following:

For a change from the combative and critical, what do you hold worthy of earnestness that many forget matters? What’s good?

I found this challenge appealing, but unsettlingly difficult. Am I really so at home in the “combative and critical”? Stephen has highlighted for me that while I have no shortage of outrage and righteous aggression, perhaps I have forgotten earnestness. I imagine there are many in my situation.

This week I’ve been listening almost exclusively to an album called “Chimes of Freedom”, a beautifully earnest celebration of what’s good. The album was recently released to celebrate fifty years of Amnesty International and features 86 tracks worth of amazing artists covering Bob Dylan.

The people at Amnesty International spend their days and years grappling with the most horrific betrayals and abuses of human dignity. For fifty years they have had the courage to look at what’s darkest in the human spirit and then see it repeat itself again, and again, and again, and again. The organisation was founded in response to The Forgotten Prisoners, two imprisoned students in Portugal. At the moment, their attentions are focussed on civilians in Syria, teachers and doctors in Bahrain, abuse victims in Ireland, oppressed women across the world and all those who continue to be threatened with the death penalty. This is a tiny sample of the work they do.  Simply receiving their emails a few times a week I’m often overwhelmed.

And yet, out of this devastation they can produce a collection of music that is a real tribute to what is brightest in the human spirit; the innocents in Homs who continue to fight for a freedom that must seem unattainable, the women in Iran at the centre of the human rights struggle, the amazing Lady in Burma who endured twenty years of house arrest and now stands again for election.

It takes great strength to look at the horror of the world and then to look harder, find the good and sing about it. A lot of the time, as I realised of myself, it’s easier to focus on the negative. Hope is a risk. When we hope we get hurt, we’re disappointed.

There’s one song in particular, performed breathtakingly by Adele, which I’ve listened to over and over, like the lovelorn teenager I am at heart.

I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawlin’ down the avenue
No, there’s nothin’ that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love.

Though storms are raging on the rollin’ sea
And on the highway of regrets
Though winds of change are throwing wild and free
You ain’t seen nothin’ like me yet.

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
To make you feel my love.

Maybe this is what we should give to all those suffering in the world, the destitute and desolate, who endure attacks on their rights and dignity. We fight the darkest and most frightening things in the world not because it’s easy, but because we love humans we have never met, as we love the ones we have met.

This week Amnesty International, Bob Dylan, Stephen, and a host of great artists have reminded me that outrage isn’t all we have to offer. We also have a pretty exceptional capacity to love, and should try to feel that love and make others feel it with us.

Consider buying the album. If nothing else, the music is terrific.

#vaticanlols

The last post on Catholicism was shocking serious. I spent some time in Vatican City this week and remembered that while the Church is often scary and sinister, it’s also pure hilarious a lot of the time. Here are some of my favourite examples; the smouldering priests of 2012, the grim reaper in St. Peter’s Basilica,  and the multi-racial babies Jesus.