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Be Who You Want To Be, Not What Society Expects You To Be

lgbt

On the 2nd of November 2013, in the Lone Star State of Texas, as he has done for many years, the incredibly talented Oscar Award Winning Screen-Writer and LGBT activist Dustin Lance Black encouraged people to “tell your stories and you can change minds”. I am a heterosexual, 22 year old student from Dublin and I am ready to speak out. I am ready to express my disgust at some of my fellow citizens.

My story begins nearly 54 years to the day before I was born. On the 1st of July 1937 the people of the Irish free state decided with an
overwhelming majority to accept the provisions of a new constitution, Bunreacht na hEireann, that would set Ireland free and open up a new window of opportunity by giving Irish people the chance to succeed.

However, we are still awaiting the full enactment of the constitution. The constitution states that “all citizens, shall as human persons, be held equal before the law”. That simply is not worth the paper it’s written on. People will give me the spiel about Ireland being a democracy but I would not be writing this today if that was the case. A democracy is not just a country in which people can vote but in which people can live and not just exist. Of the group I will talk about today, the LGBT community, people, my fellow countrymen and women, find this community or group of people, hard to comprehend, hard to accept. How can people who engage in that sort of activity actually exist at all? People make choices in life and in a so called democracy they have the right to live their lives as they and only they wish to do so.

When one considers our past, one era of Irish history always jumps out and that is the horrific years of the troubles in Northern Ireland. The ceasefire was agreed three years after I was born but everyone has their own pictures in their own heads of the troubles. Mine is not one of death and destruction but one of a painting on a wall near Bogside in Derry which simply asked “Life Before Death?”.

Although the troubles was amongst the most horrific times of our past it did not cause the most deaths. Over the last 25 years nearly five times the amount of people who died during the troubles have committed suicide or contributed to their own deaths. It is estimated that sexuality effects the decision of 9.7% to take their own life. This means that nearly half of the amount of people who died during the troubles have died in the last 25 years because of the lack of opportunities this country provides for them to live their lives as who they are or who they want to be. Also, this is only death by suicide and does not include “undetermined deaths”. By this point it is likely that more people have died for this reason than died in the whole era of the troubles.

In a poem about the single greatest tragedy of the troubles “the Dublin and Monaghan bombings” the great Irish poet Eavan Boland states that “living, must learn from you, dead”. But we have failed to learn, even from the dead. One death by suicide should be too many, let alone ten a week with a population as small as ours.

The main reason for suicide is that people don’t believe they are getting the same opportunities as others, or they feel that to be recognised they have to try to be something they’re not. In a lot of cases that is wide of the mark but it is with sadness, horror and regret that it is bang on the money with regard to LGBT rights. It doesn’t cost this state a cent to enact its constitution, a constitution which sees all people as equal, failure to do so will cost countless numbers of people their lives, countless families to lose their loved ones, countless young people seeing their friends be buried and hundreds upon thousands of people wishing they had done better but by that stage it will be too late. For many of the people that once walked the streets of our cities, used our transport system, worked on our farms, drove on our roads, it is already too late.

My story continues all the way through my school years in an education system which, irrespective of how many times I sat my leaving certificate, is narrow-minded and flawed. Once and only once, through no fault of  the great schools I attended, did I ever learn about gay people in school, as we studied Colm Toibin’s novel, The Blackwater Lightship. Therefore I did not understand why someone would be or why they would even want to be gay. We were never taught about the LGBT community nor were we taught about a gay lifestyle. That is wrong. Our education system doesn’t encourage it’s young people to come out and live their lives as who they are, not as who society expects them to be. That too costs lives.

In college it was different. I had and have LGBT people in my class. I treat them no different to the other students in the class, as I believe people should not be defined by their sexuality but it is a fact that they are.

Everyone gets on well together, and an outsider would not even notice at all unless they knew. All they saw were people getting on as they should be, with a deep respect for each other, irrespective of gender, age, social class or location of birth. All that is except for one person recently.

I sat there absolutely speechless at what I had just heard, my mind was in over-drive as I had one thought for my friend and one thought about the punishment I would dish out to the man who had just degraded my 19 year old friend as “a sick weirdo” amongst other hurtful comments. This is not a story from 1067 this is a story from 2014.

We had been sitting in the restaurant for over an hour at that stage on one of two occasions every week that our college timetables allowed us to meet and have something to eat with each other, minding our own business, laughing at each others’ stories and having a chat about the general news items impacting on our personal lives at that time, when a man approached me and said:

Can I ask you son why you are talking to people who should be locked up in a zoo? You have got to learn that they are sick weirdos and don’t deserve to see the light of day let alone have rights.

He was referring to people like my friend, who are interested in both people of the same sex and people of the opposite sex, bisexual people.

I seriously considered landing a punch on him but, for a number of reasons, the fact that I am known personally by many people in the restaurant at that time and secondly I have never, even at the lowest points in my life, resorted to that level as an answer for anything. I considered standing up and screaming in his face but didn’t want to lose my vocal chords due to this old man with no understanding of modern day life. To many people, including that man, life is black or white, there’s no in between. So I simply remembered what I had always been taught, and have experienced from working in a sometimes hostile environment, that there is one person who must keep their head even when everyone else is losing their own and that person is you. So I looked at him and said “I am 22 years of age, it is a long time since anyone has made a decision on my behalf. Now get lost”. He smirked before walking away. My friend then said to me “it is great that a straight person like you stands up for people like me.”

That is disgusting. People who don’t pay income tax on €25,000 a year salaries, which is a crime, are sent to prison. People who commit heinous crimes like this are free to walk around and do it again and again and again. This is verbal manslaughter. This sort of behaviour costs lives.

That night I didn’t sleep, I stayed awake thinking of this young man, my friend, three years younger than me with the world at his feet. I sent about 100 text messages to him to ensure he was ok as I was terrified that he would take the ultimate decision and take his own life. I couldn’t bear it  that night, I watched the clock, egging it to go quicker so I could see my friend in person again. I am not yet one myself but nights like that are every parents nightmare. They are certainly every best friends nightmare.

That is why I, as a heterosexual individual, am jumping on the bandwagon. We cannot change the past but we have all the tools we need to take the necessary steps and change the future. A future in which the dreams of our forefathers are realised by everyone, and that goes for every person of this state, and they will have the chance to live their lives and fulfil their dreams in a world of peace and honour, freedom and most of all equality. I know that waging peace (or in this case equality) is risky but I know that if I am to help people achieve a life worth living by bringing LGBT education into our schools, by encouraging sports/social organisations to come down hard on homophobic bullying and by getting the LGBT people a right to marry and to raise a family that I will have to
take risks. But I am also aware that “Peace comes dropping slow”. Yeats wrote this, I believe, in a way to explain, that great things come to those who wait.

As I look around the world today at so many countries changing their laws in this regard I am hopeful that Ireland’s day will arrive very soon, and will come without the disrespect and insult involved with a referendum. Anyway what question will our country put to its voters? The constitution already recognises marriage, and also already recognises all people as equal. It just needs to be announced, not voted for, again.

I believe a time for a new beginning in Ireland is not far away. A new Ireland in which nobody will be left behind, or left out. I am sure that as our Taoiseach once said that the end of a dark road is just around the next corner , “for all the people who always believed that the dark midnight would never end.”

I will fight this issue until the very end. People will ask if I’m not gay why would I do that. I will do that because I believe in happiness. I believe in love and I believe in equality, equality, equality.

By Sean McNicholas

Image courtesy of SCPR.org

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