Tuesday 15 October 2019

Justin McAleese: 'GAA and Garda will take Pride - but Church is lagging behind'

Belfast Pride: Leo Varadkar with members of the PSNI and Garda at a Gay Pride event in Belfast in 2017. Now the Garda will walk in the Pride march in Dublin. Photo: PA
Belfast Pride: Leo Varadkar with members of the PSNI and Garda at a Gay Pride event in Belfast in 2017. Now the Garda will walk in the Pride march in Dublin. Photo: PA

Justin McAleese

'Belonging means knowing you're part of a community. A community that has a place for all." These are the opening lines of the GAA's new manifesto: GAA - Where We All Belong.

With more than 2,200 clubs across the country, the GAA is the backbone of community in Ireland. It has an unrivalled position to provide leadership when the opportunity arises. We saw this in 2011 when Christy Cooney, then GAA president, welcomed Queen Elizabeth to Croke Park. We will see it again this month when, for the first time in Pride's 37-year history, the GAA will walk the streets of Dublin in solidarity with its LGBT members.

As the son of an O'Donovan Rossa footballer and son-in-law of a Buffers Alley hurler, I know the influence and impact the GAA has on its members and families across our country. It has the potential and capacity to make a difference in a way no other institution can, apart from the Catholic Church, to improve the experience of young LGBT people growing up in Ireland.

Research shows us young people, despite the progress of the last 30 years, find it difficult to come to terms with their sexuality in a society where they feel like they do not belong. The 2016 LGBT Ireland study, carried out by researchers at Trinity College, found 56pc of LGBT 14- 18-year-olds had self-harmed, 70pc had suicidal thoughts and one in three had attempted suicide. These are statistics that cannot be ignored.

In a separate report, Trinity College identified a checklist for LGBT diversity and inclusion which included the critical role of organisational leadership and the importance of having LGBT role models. The GAA's participation in Pride is setting the tone from the top and provides unambiguous leadership when it comes to LGBT issues. Role models such as Cork's Valerie Mulcahy and Meath's David Gough are important for all GAA members - gay and straight - to see. You can't be what you can't see so we need more of these role models at every level of our games.

Last year our Defence Forces, led by Chief of Staff Mark Mellett, walked in Pride for the first time. This year it is the turn of An Garda Síochána to provide this top-down leadership. Gardaí will walk in uniform for the first time because, as Commissioner Drew Harris says, "it is essential that An Garda Síochána reflects the diverse society we serve".

What a time it is to be LGBT in Ireland. I celebrated my second wedding anniversary last month in Co Kerry. My husband Fionán and I can walk hand in hand through Dublin or Dingle and no one bats an eyelid. We are so lucky, for this was not the case for thousands of men and women before us who could never have dreamt of the kinds of lives we live today. Looking at the origins of Dublin Pride tells us why.

It began in 1982 following the murder of a 31-year-old man called Declan Flynn. A court report said at the time read: "Five Dublin youths found guilty of the manslaughter of a 31-year-old man in a park walked free from the Central Criminal Court in Dublin after being given suspended sentences of one to five years' penal servitude."

It was said in evidence the man had died after being kicked and beaten by the youths, acting as a "team to get rid of queers from Fairview Park". Mr Justice Seán Gannon said the defendants could never have been accused of murder, although the man's death was an appalling thing for his family".

The message was clear: LGBT lives were not equal to those of our straight brothers and sisters. The first Dublin Pride march took place eight weeks after that judgment.

Fast-forward 37 years and we have the GAA and Garda walking in Pride. This is something to be proud of. Pride is an opportunity to recognise the immense progress made but also to reflect on the progress yet to be achieved. Young LGBT people in our schools are less mentally healthy than their straight peers and we - gay and straight - need to fix that for them.

Most Irish schools fall under the patronage of the Catholic Church. The Irish bishops' guidelines on sexuality and relationships don't acknowledge the existence of LGBT people. This unaccountable influence over Irish children's education is unacceptable. The Vatican agrees.

In its contribution to Pride Month last Monday, the Vatican said in respect of gender identity that "a democratic state cannot reduce the range of education on offer to a single school of thought, all the more so in relation to this extremely delicate subject, which is concerned on the one hand with the fundamentals of human nature, and on the other with natural rights of parents to freely choose any educational model that accords with the dignity of the human person". Dismantling the architecture of homophobia goes hand-in-hand with the divestment of the Catholic Church from our schools.

Times are changing. Let us make sure they keep moving in our direction. Happy Pride.

Irish Independent

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