Friday 2 December 2016

I'm hoping for a 'Yes' vote in the marriage referendum - so I'm no longer called 'dyke', 'lezzer' or 'freak'

Christine Allen

Published 20/05/2015 | 16:02

A mural by Irish artist Joe Caslin is installed on a 15th-century castle near Craughwell, Co Galway
A mural by Irish artist Joe Caslin is installed on a 15th-century castle near Craughwell, Co Galway

Third level student Christine Allen is calling for an end to homophobic bullying, which she believes will only come if there is no perceived difference between individuals based solely on their sexual orientation.

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"Go and jump under a bus."

The above is just one of the many hurtful comments which were hurled in my direction by my straight peers throughout the course of my adolescence.

'Dyke', 'Lezzer', 'Man' and 'Freak' are all names which were too thrown my way.

A mural in Dublin's Temple Bar area by street artist SUMS supporting a yes vote in the gay marriage referendum
A mural in Dublin's Temple Bar area by street artist SUMS supporting a yes vote in the gay marriage referendum

And so, it would be fair to say that on foot of coming out at nineteen, and finding myself surrounded by other LGBT people, I felt a sense of relief.

After all, I had escaped.

A mural by Irish artist Joe Caslin is installed on a 15th-century castle near Craughwell, Co Galway
A mural by Irish artist Joe Caslin is installed on a 15th-century castle near Craughwell, Co Galway

Escaped from those 'straight people' who for so long had both stoked and invoked such feelings of shame and sadness in regards to who I was and who I loved.

It should come as no surprise therefore to hear that upon coming out, I did what many gay people often do. I immersed myself within the gay scene, surrounding myself with a number of friends who solely identified as LGB or T.

To be frank, back then I viewed straight people with suspicion. I was wary of their motives. I didn't quite believe that they wouldn't, at some point, put me down for my sexual orientation. I believed that they felt superior in their opposite sex attraction and so in turn, whilst in their company, I felt inferior.

I guess it would be fair to say that the homophobia I experienced from the age of eleven onwards resulted in a form of hetero-phobia, born out of fear, abuse and rejection.

Saoirse Ronan and Eamon Farrell at the launch the ‘Your Yes Matters’
campaign in Dublin yesterday
Saoirse Ronan and Eamon Farrell at the launch the ‘Your Yes Matters’ campaign in Dublin yesterday

When I began attending University however, everything changed.

Having signed up to Dublin City University's LGBTA society, within a number of weeks I befriended a handful of straight allies who not only accepted me from the off, but actively encouraged the acceptance of LGBT students throughout the University.

Unfamiliar with straight people not only accepting LGBT people, but advocating for LGBT rights , I initially assumed that these 'allies' must themselves be gay (or at least bisexual.) After all, why else would anyone dedicate so much of their time to making the lives of LGBT people better? (So was my skewed thinking at the time..)

Following on from this, shortly after the referendum date was set, my straight peers began to show their support for Marriage Equality via their profile pictures on Facebook and status updates countering the various arguments made by the No campaign.

Enda Kenny at the launch of the Fine Gael Marriage Referendum
Enda Kenny at the launch of the Fine Gael Marriage Referendum

As D - day loomed ever closer, this then led to a surge in the number of young people registering to vote - over 40,000 in fact.

While the hard work undertaken by many within the Student Unions and LGBT societies in colleges across Ireland (not to mention the high profile campaigns such as 'Straight Up For Equality') vastly contributed towards this rise in voter registration, the increase would not have materialised if it were not down to acceptance.

In 2015, my straight peers now not only accept LGBT relationships but believe that they should be viewed as no different to their own. Ask the majority of individuals between the ages of eighteen to thirty and they will tell you that this referendum is a no brainer, that everyone on our island should be equal.

While the majority of young straight people who have vowed to vote Yes this Friday will not have engaged in homophobic bullying in the past, some undoubtedly will have.

Homophobic bullying after all takes many forms. Off the cuff remarks regarding someones sexuality for example.

The Campaign for Civil Marriage Equality has launched a series of campaign posters featuring lesbian and gay citizens of Ireland, from all walks of life, asking the Irish people to vote Yes on 22 May. Pictured L-R David Caron, Sandra Irwin-Gowran, Celeste Roche, John Curren and Sarah Gilligan.
The Campaign for Civil Marriage Equality has launched a series of campaign posters featuring lesbian and gay citizens of Ireland, from all walks of life, asking the Irish people to vote Yes on 22 May. Pictured L-R David Caron, Sandra Irwin-Gowran, Celeste Roche, John Curren and Sarah Gilligan.

Not realising the consequences of their actions (or inactions) back then, some of my straight peers may in the past have viewed homophobic attitudes and behavior as 'horseplay', aligning it with the relatively innocuous 'slagging' that went hand in hand with growing up.

While not condoning such behavior, undoubtedly,  they will have been influenced by what was then an inherently homophobic culture,  one which had only a decade previous decriminalised homosexuality.

Between the early to late nineties, homophobia was not frowned upon in the manner in which it is today. At that time, it was still 'cool' to slag off a gay person.

Members of the public beside a mural in Dublin's Temple Bar area by street artist SUMS supporting a yes vote in the forthcoming Gay Marriage referendum in Ireland
Members of the public beside a mural in Dublin's Temple Bar area by street artist SUMS supporting a yes vote in the forthcoming Gay Marriage referendum in Ireland

Yet the fact that the vast majority of my straight peers are now actively advocating a Yes vote in the run up to this Marriage Equality referendum is not hypocritical. It is a reflection of how our country and its citizens have evolved and changed. No longer are many LGBT people in fear of their straight peers. No longer is it a matter of 'us' and 'them.' We are now all in this fight together -  this battle for equality.

Such support by my straight peers in regard to the LGBT communities right to Civil Marriage can only set a positive example for those who are not yet of voting age, in regards to how they should treat and view LGBT people and our relationships.

With a recent report by GLEN revealing that 58% of students stated that homophobic bullying existed in their schools, setting such a positive precedent may be life changing for many LGBT children who are on the cusp of  entering education.

So let's enshrine such progress in our constitution come May 22nd, and formally end any form of perceived difference once and for all between both gay and straight people alike.

Christine Allen has just completed a three year Diploma in Information Technology at DCU – a part-time course funded for those that are unemployed. She has been previously published in Gay Community News, thejournal.ie and Diva magazine. 

Follow Christine on Twitter here.

The Yes Bus visits Gorey; Jessica O'Connor, Philip English, John Ryan, Rebecca Doyle, executive director, Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O' Gorman, Moninne Griffith of Yes Equality), Cllr. Anthoney Donohoe, and Niamh Griffin.
The Yes Bus visits Gorey; Jessica O'Connor, Philip English, John Ryan, Rebecca Doyle, executive director, Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O' Gorman, Moninne Griffith of Yes Equality), Cllr. Anthoney Donohoe, and Niamh Griffin.
Best-selling author Marian Keyes speaks at the rally to call for a Yes vote

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