Tuesday 20 February 2018

Brave LGBT teenager emotional as she talks to Taoiseach Enda Kenny about love

Taoiseach Enda Kenny talks to Dylan Byrne, Nathan Beatty and an emotional Alison Kershaw
during a visit to the BeLonG To offices in Dublin, yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Enda Kenny talks to Dylan Byrne, Nathan Beatty and an emotional Alison Kershaw during a visit to the BeLonG To offices in Dublin, yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

It was all a bit stilted and awkward at first. Enda Kenny and James Reilly were perched on a sofa in a bright room, flanked by seven young members of the LGBT community.

The pair of them had called into the city centre headquarters of BeLonG To, a nationwide organisation offering support to young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, to hear their stories about how a 'Yes' vote on May 22 would affect their lives.

Discussing a subject as personal as one's sexual orientation is uncomfortable at the best of times for self-conscious teens - but it is surely infinitely more difficult when surrounded by a gaggle of reporters, TV cameras and photographers, not to mention the presence of the Taoiseach and Children's Minister.

Nonetheless, the group talked about their experiences, while the Taoiseach laid out the consequences of a 'No' result.

"If this vote were to not approve the referendum change, it means that Irish citizens are denying other Irish citizens the right to an equal society or equality in society in terms of the marriage contract and the civil law," he said.

Enda also warned against taking victory for granted - an understandable anxiety, considering the pie-in-the-face delivered to him in the last referendum in October 2013 which sought but failed to abolish the Seanad.

"Complacency is always the enemy of every referendum," he emphasised, speaking through bitter experience.

But then an outburst of heartfelt emotion broke through the awkwardness. Nineteen-year old Alison Kershaw from Blanchardstown was talking about her own two-year relationship with her female partner. "It's a happy, successful relationship," she said, adding that although she doesn't want to marry yet, "I want the right to get married like every other girl my age has the right, and it is upsetting," she said, dissolving into tears.

"I'm being discriminated for who I love and who I am, and that's not right and not OK, so I encourage people to go out and vote for young people like us, who just want to be happy," she sobbed.

"We don't discriminate against anyone's colour, religion or beliefs, and we're just the same as anyone wanting to live a happy life and love who we want to love." Enda was all sympathy.

"That's a really powerful message, and nobody will say it better," he assured her.

"That's what people all over the country need to hear, that people are sad and have suffered bullying, and here's a referendum which can help relieve that."

Alison's honesty sparked a more relaxed air. After the Taoiseach left, James Reilly stayed on to talk further.

Another teenager from north Dublin was equally candid. "A 'Yes' vote means that I'll be able to have the big white wedding that every girl dreams of when they're small. When I found out that I couldn't, well, it was heart-breaking," she said.

"If we get a 'Yes' vote, it'll make it much easier for LGBT people to talk about their lives, but a 'No' vote will make us believe we're not equal, and it will have a horrible effect on young people," she declared to warm applause.

At the end, James Reilly stood up and applauded the young men and women. "This is very real - it's not a theoretical, theological discussion. It's real people, real stories and a real future," he said enthusiastically.

After both politicians had departed, one of the BeLonG To members asked, "What brought Enda to support 'Yes' so strongly?"

Now that's another real story yet to be told.

Irish Independent

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