What an amazing few weeks it’s been for LGBT equality! Just a few days ago Italy’s parliament voted in favour of same sex civil unions for the first time, dipping its toe in the equality water to see how it feels. As we know, the next obvious step is marriage equality, although I’m sure it will take a little longer to get there in the country which hosts the Vatican in its capital city. But Rome wasn’t built in a day (excuse the pun) and we’ve had some historic wins recently, so we have to look on even the smallest of moves as a step in the right direction. Last month, Greenland’s parliament unanimously voted in favour of extending marriage and adoption rights to LGBT couples, becoming the 22nd country to accept we are no different than straight people and deserve the same rights and privileges, at least when it comes to expressing our love. Of course, this followed the historic public referendum in Ireland where people left their homes to visit the polling stations to record their vote for marriage equality. This monumental happening in Ireland was watched around the world as its outcome would have powerful ramifications on the campaign for equal rights. This was the first time a nation of people, rather than an elected government, have been asked to personally decide whether we should be recognised as equal and no less of a human being. A ‘no’ vote would have sent a lasting tremor around the globe with those believing that homosexuality is a choice, rather than something which is part of us as much as the colour of our skin, being vindicated in their thinking.
Watching the lead up to the referendum from over the water was an emotional rollercoaster, so heaven knows what it must have been like in Ireland itself! I read heartfelt stories of Yes Vote canvassers feeling demoralised and defeated as they encountered so many doorstep refusals of support, the feeling being one so personal and deep seated. It’s not like they were canvassing for a political party, or an MP whose policies and beliefs are being judged. This referendum would make a public judgement on each and every gay person in the country and beyond, with every no vote sending a clear message that someone regards us to be a lesser human being – someone unentitled to share the same rights that the voter themselves have. A judgement on who we are and who we love. A judgement which tells us we aren’t equal in their eyes and a total lack of understanding or tolerance for their fellow man. Some of the accounts reduced me to tears as these canvassers shared their feelings and the effects the judgement was having on them emotionally and psychologically. Society has given many of us a lot of baggage as it is. It sends a chill down my spine when I consider that homosexuality was classed as a mental health condition by the World Health Organisation until 1990. That means for the first 18 years of my life, my fellow man considered me to be mentally ill for being gay – it’s no wonder I hid in the closet in complete denial, married a woman at 19 and didn’t come out til I was 34. As I’ve said before, even the fight for LGBT equality itself will have had a negative impact on many gay people – we shouldn’t have to fight for human rights which should be given freely. If we aren’t given them, then society is telling us we are less than human. But back to Ireland…
Some people were worried that apathy and complacency would go against the yes vote. It makes sense, the no’s often have more passion fuelled by hate and will go out of their way, whereas it would be easy for those not really affected by the decision to not feel all that bothered about the outcome – which is why the Yes result was so wonderful. It proves that the majority of people (in Ireland at least) are accepting of diversity and will go out of their way to support it. What an amazing thing to have been demonstrated. My friend Chas wrote an editorial just before the referendum and objected to something he considered a human right being voted for in a referendum – it felt wrong to him that our fate was being determined by our peers and in his words “what the referendum is really asking is whether the Irish public agree that our love is valid”. He was sceptical that the general public could be trusted with such a monumental decision and hoped he was wrong. Thankfully he was. The Irish public came through for us all, showed how enlightened and advanced they are and it really is a wonderful feeling to know the men and women “on the street” see us as equal. I wonder what the result would have been if the UK public had been given the chance to vote, rather than the decision being made by our government – but we’ll never know.
As the Campaign Director for Holding Hands 4 Equality, I often question myself as to whether I’m fighting on the right side of the battle for human rights. It’s a foolish man who follows his heart without challenging if he is right to do so – a sense check if you like. But I know I’m on the right side, because how could anything else be considered right? All we are fighting for is to be treated equally, no better and no worse than any other human being. I just can’t get my head around how that could be wrong? It’s a demand that can only result in a positive outcome. It’s not like we want better privileges or something straight people don’t already have. We just want to be recognised as equal – that we aren’t seen as second-class citizens, unworthy of equality. The other side of the argument, the denial of rights can only have a negative impact, resulting in people treated as less than human, a lower caste. While our side preaches love and acceptance, the other side preaches hate and intolerance. Sometimes, when you want to be heard above the drone of negativity, you need to shout, sing and dance around to be noticed – it’s why we celebrate Gay Pride with marches and festivals. Bullies succeed with an environment of support, but fail when they become a singular voice in a crowd. Here at HH4E we want to quieten the homophobic voices of negativity by inviting everyone to shout, dance around and hold hands for equality to show the world that love is stronger than hate in a demonstration that we are proud to be who and what we are. And, to slightly misquote Ghandi, if you are holding hands, you can’t make a fist.
One thing is for sure, Dublin Pride is going to be an amazing celebration of equality this year.