Sunday 25 September 2016

TV3’s Ursula Halligan comes out as she calls ‘Yes’ vote the ‘most Christian thing to do’

‘There must be so many gay people who lived incomplete lives, and gone quietly to their graves’

Published 15/05/2015 | 07:40

Ursula Halligan
Ursula Halligan
Ursula Halligan

TV3’s political Editor Ursula Halligan has given an emotional interview on her decision to come out as gay.

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The 54-year-old  journalist was speaking to Anton Savage on Today Fm this morning, after writing a moving piece in the Irish Times.

She told Savage that growing up in 1970s Ireland, she couldn’t accept being attracted to women.

“Back then it just wasn’t talked about. And when it was talked about it was talked about in terms of ridicule or jokes. I knew the names that gay people were called.

“I thought ‘ugh I couldn’t possibly be one of them’. I didn’t want to be one of them.

“It caused terrible internal mental confusion, and I really felt I couldn’t talk to anybody.”

She said that she felt the pressure to conform, as all teenagers do.

“Falling in love is a beautiful thing, I had these lovely feelings but I just knew I couldn’t express them or give a hint, so I repressed it.

“I thought to myself I just don’t want to be gay. I want to be normal. I wanted to be like everyone else.

“The pressure to conform at 17, you know what teenagers are like, they want to be like everybody else. I wanted to be like everybody else. I thought I was the  only freak in the world, and I felt like a freak.

“I felt very lost and desolate and alone. I felt there must be something really bad about me, something really wrong with me. I didn’t know anybody else who was gay. Maybe there were others in my class and they were like me too. But the assumption was everyone was heterosexual and that was meant to be.

“The internal mental anguish that caused was horrendous.”

The political correspondent said she had planned to talk openly about her sexuality a few weeks ago but her brother passed away.

“I had planned to do this about two weeks ago, and my brother Aidan died suddenly of a heart attack and I obviously put everything aside. When I came back to work on Monday, I looked again at what I had written, and I wondered was it too late? Should I bother going ahead,” Ms Halligan said.

“At that point, when I was thinking about it, I got a text from another brother Peter.

“He quoted one of Aidan’s favourite quotes.

“He used to quote Martin Luther King and the quote was: ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.’”

“When Peter texted me that, I knew, I had such a visceral reaction to the text, I thought I had no choice. I can’t remain silent on this,” she said.

“I thought if it helped even one 17-year-old girl or boy to cope with any anxiety they were feeling about their sexuality, well then so be it.

“I thought the only way I could do it was to tell the truth, the full truth, because that’s the only way we move on.”

Ms Halligan revealed she had only told some family members in recent days.

“I have only told my brothers and sisters in the last few days. I had told Aidan just before Christmas. I told my mum about a year-and-a-half ago. But then I pretty much went back into the bunker,” she said.

“I did tell a friend some years ago, but I was couching it in terms that ‘I might be, or I could be, or maybe I’m not. Maybe I haven’t met the right man’, because I really didn’t want to believe it myself.

“The hardest thing was accepting it myself.”

This morning, Ms Halligan also spoke of hiding her sexuality when she was younger, and even dating men.

“The only way I could survive was to try and just lock that side of me away, and yes I wanted to be normal. I dated a number of lovely men, but I never fell in love with them. That’s the difference.

“At a certain point then I just shut down completely, I just thought ‘this is the way it’s going to be’.

“I was resigned to going to my grave with that secret.”

The broadcaster added that she has thought of how many Irish people lived their entire lives with that secret.

“There must be so many people who’ve done that, who have lived incomplete lives and gone to their graves quietly. And that makes me really sad when I think about that.

She said that for many years she was the biggest homophobe she knew.

“I was still full of homophobia. In my own head, I’m the greatest homophobe going. I’ve absorbed all the negativity that I picked up in the 60s and the 70s. Political correctness hasn’t arrived. I heard the terms of abuse. I didn’t want that. I’d rather go through life pretending to be something else than to face that truth.

However the holding of the marriage equality referendum and the subsequent campaign forced her to go public.

“When the government announced it was holding this referendum I had no notion of going public. By nature I’m a private person.

“But I was surrounded by debate on the issue. I found myself getting angry listening to debates. I was taking it very personally looking up at posters. You can’t help but take it personally. Because it is my life, it’s about my life.

“The referendum forced me to confront the issue head on, it was too personal, it’s my life. I thought cannot remain silent on the issue.”

She pointed out that gay people have to wrestle with the issue of their sexuality, unlike straight people.

“It is easy for you to say that because the automatic assumption in society is everyone is hetero sexual. Heterosexuals don’t have to come out. They don’t have to wrestle with the issue – gay people do.

“There are no two people alike, whether they’re gay or heterosexual. Looking back, I should have been braver about this. I don’t know why it took me so long.”

She appealed to parents to start a conversation with their children if they think they could be gay.

She also praised her family and employer TV3 for their response.

“It has been wonderful. I have been swamped in the most beautiful texts from people.

“TV3 have been wonderful. I’m very grateful to all of them.”

When Savage asked her why people should vote ‘Yes’ in the upcoming referendum, she responded:

“Because gay people are equal in every way. I believe in the eyes of God everyone is equal. My love is a deep and sincere as the love of a heterosexual.”

Writing in today’s Irish Times, Ms Halligan says that she struggled to accept herself for a long time, after being brought up in 1970s Ireland where being gay was ‘an evil persuasion’.

She said that because of her upbringing, she was ‘revolted’ at the thought she was attracted to a member of the same sex.

The journalist said that in Ireland of the 1970s, political correctness was yet to arrive.

Gay people were treated as ‘defective humans’ or ‘biological errors’.

She explains that over the years as she watched siblings and friends get engaged and married, she distracted herself by studying or working.

“Emotionally, I have been in a prison since the age of 17; a prison where I lived a half-life, repressing an essential part of my humanity, the expression of my deepest self; my instinct to love.”

She said that homophobia was ‘deeply embedded’ in her soul.

However she said that the marriage referendum made her decide it was time to come out and support a ‘Yes’ vote.

“As a person of faith and a Catholic, I believe a yes vote is the most Christian thing to do”.

She said that a ‘Yes’ vote would end ‘institutional homophobia’ here.

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