|"Is That A Girl or a Boy?"|
One was a middle-aged man, a friend of the family. The other was a young guy in my peer group, somebody I knew from around town, a quiet, friendly guy I would see at music gigs.
By the time it happened, I was already gone from my small city on the south coast. It was only years later that I really thought about what happened, and realised that both these men (well, one almost a boy) had almost certainly been gay. And they had looked at their lives in late 1980s Ireland and decided that they were not worth living.
But it was never talked about. Their deaths, the reasons behind them, the existence of gay people in our lives. I only really knew one Gay guy in our entire city. I hung out with him (shared an unhealthy obsession with The Smiths), but we never talked about why he, every weekend, he had to fight some twisted bastards who saw the blue streak in his hair, his clothes, his manner, and tried to pound him into the ground. I didn't really know how to talk about it and I think he didn't want to take the risk that I would stop being his friend. Around the time I left, he left too. Went to London to try and make a life.
It just wasn't talked about. It was never mentioned on the radio, on TV, in the newspapers. The first time I vaguely became aware of "otherness" was seeing Boy George And Culture Club on Top of the Pops and hearing my dad, like millions of other dads who witnessed the strangeness of that apparition, splutter; "Jesus Christ, is that Queerhawk a boy or a girl?".
It was only later that I found out that Boy George was working-class London-Irish. And as tough as that particular breed of people comes. Tough because he had to be.
My parents grew up in a cold, grey, utterly repressed and terrifying Ireland. I only found out recently that a Great Aunt, who helped to raise us, was forced to give up two children of her own because she was not married to the man she loved. They literally took the children from her in the hospital. Years later, she plucked up the courage to track down one of her daughters. When she went to her house, she had the door closed in her face. The shame was still there. On and on it went, down the generations. Those who could, left. Many who stayed endured misery and a kind of madness. Many - gay, straight, whatever, self-medicated via alcohol.
Ireland was a strange, cold place for so many. In 1990, in one of my first interviews as a student journalist, I talked to Richard Branson, who had shocked the country by offering condoms for sale over the counter at his Virgin Megastore in Dublin. Seriously, in the midst of the AIDS crisis, you basically couldn't buy condoms in Ireland unless you had a letter from your priest/doctor. Richard Branson is a polite, media-savvy man. But you could see he just wanted to shout; "What the F**K is WRONG with you people?"
For most of the '90s, I worked in a newspaper industry in Dublin that apparently employed no Gay men and women. Not one. LGBT people were invisible. Non-people.
|David Norris. A Brave Human Being. And Great Craic.|
As recently as 2002, the newspaper I was working for had a front page "splash" - with Government Minister Brendan Howlin declaring; "I'm Not Gay!". There had been a whispering campaign against this popular politician, one which some say cost him the leadership of his party. So he felt he had to say it.
So on May 22nd, my country votes on Same Sex Marriage. The polls suggest the referendum should pass, though some are worried about the Irish habit of saying one thing to the pollsters and doing another in the voting booth. And there's Donegal, of course. Going on past form, Donegal may take the chance to bring back the death penalty or vote us into the Russian Federation.
|Can't Argue With That|
There has been a loud, sometimes strange, often hysterical campaign against granting this basic civil right to Irish men and women. The veteran and respected journalist Bruce Arnold this week said we shouldn't vote Yes because we feel sorry for gay people.
Let that one sink in for a moment. "Banish your empathy, people of Ireland! It is merely a weakness of the flesh!"
The Catholic Church, once the power in the land, now grimly marching towards some dark, obscure place, says No.
The self-appointed experts say Say Same Sex Marriage will destroy the fabric of Irish society, lead to child abuse, compulsory gay adoption, cloning, cataclysmic genetic experiments in Leitrim, brother marrying sister and plumber marrying florist. Your basic frogs, blood and Elton John albums raining from the sky, scenario.
The arguments against Gay Marriage have mostly been high, wild and crazy. And have been shouted endlessly on the airwaves and in print by a class of people who up until very recently had total control of our society and yet now claim (in their newspaper columns and on endless TV and radio appearances) that they are a persecuted minority without a voice.
One leading politician and Noted Idiot said this weekend past that he was against Gay Marriage as he didn't want "any Elton John scenarios". We'll leave that one to future historians to work out.
What they are really saying - actually, screaming - is; "We are terrified. We once ruled this land. We imposed our morality on a cowed people. And now they are turning their backs on us, on Mother Church, on the old ways. We have lost our power."
Divorce didn't destroy the fabric of our society. Allowing gay men and women to live out in the open without fear of criminal prosecution didn't destroy our country. Giving them the same rights to marriage as enjoyed by the rest of the country won't either. You really would have to be in full flight from reality to think otherwise.
|Rock On, Bishop Michael Burrows|
Of course, being a Godless Protestant, he would say that.
So I think back to those two human beings that took their own lives that year I left school. And the countless lives that were lived in misery, fear and waste because the Catholic Church and others has had such a bizarre obession/problem with human sexuality. With love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Y'know, your basic Christian-values stuff.
I think Ireland has changed greatly. Since Gay people have been allowed to live openly amongst us, the famous, probably mythical block known as "Middle Ireland" has seen them for what they are. Brothers, sisters, friends, neighbours, sons, daughters, barmen, brickies, politicians and cab-drivers.
I think most people see same sex marriage for what it is. A basic civil rights issue. And more importantly, a Happiness Issue. We want our friends, neighbours and family to have that chance of being happy.
I think we will vote Yes with a significant majority on May 22nd because most Irish people will look at the real issues with clear eyes and decide it is the right thing to do. The human thing to do. And yes, the Christian thing to do.
So hopefully, we will choose happiness. Knowing we were mired in misery for too bloody long.
One final question - how could any country that loves the Eurovision soooo much (and guys, that's another thing we need to talk about), possibly vote against Same Sex Marriage?
Think about it, people. And VOTE!
***HEY, thanks for reading!***