Artist Larry Dunne whose exhibition 'Quare Taken' is continuing at the Presentation Centre in Enniscorthy until August 16, spoke courageously at the official launch about the 'unrelenting homophobia' he experienced in the town as a teenager.
Choosing to make the opening speech himself, he said that from the day he started secondary school in 2001 until the day he left Enniscorthy in 2007, he was the target of non-stop harassment because of his sexuality.
He had words like 'queer and bender' shouted at him from passing cars; he was surrounded and held against a wall by a group of older kids and groped; he was harassed in changing rooms; had rocks thrown at him; his house was egged; he had fireworks thrown at him; he received abusive text messages and random phone calls; he was followed by lads shouting at him to go and kill himself. When they found out he was self-harming, the behaviour worsened.
The thing that he remembers most clearly is the silence, he said, how the other kids and the teachers looked away; the people on the street who kept on walking; the shop owners who stood on their doorsteps and did nothing when he needed help; the people of power and privilege who did nothing except display an insidious intolerance.
When he left Enniscorthy, the carousel of anxiety and depression travelled with him and is still with him today. He is still learning how to live with it but is doing better.
When he returned to Enniscorthy in 2017, he was 'absolutely terrified' that the harassment was going to start all over again but something even worse happened, according to Larry.
He found that his sexuality was being used as a weapon against his dad. The rumour mill in Enniscorthy was working overtime to brand him as a homophobe.
That hurt more than anything, he said, because his dad is one of the kindest, most generous, most accepting human beings you could ever meet.
Larry, whose current exhibition was inspired by the homophobia he suffered, said we live in a world where this experience is not unique. 'I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm still here', he said.
'I don't want sympathy or pity for what happened to me. I want people to get angry that this is still happening to people across the world'.
The artist said if viewers are to take anything from his collection of drawings, he would like them to take the inspiration to use their words for good and to use them loudly.
'Call out intolerance when you see it and step up when you see someone being harassed because of their ethnicity, gender, skin colour or sexuality. Use any power or privilege you have to lend your voice to anyone who needs it'.
Larry is visual arts editor of 'Tales from the Forest', a quarterly online literary magazine, lead designer of Enniscorthy Arts Trail and is currently visual arts and marketing associate at the Presentation Centre.
He has a BA in Fine Art from the National College of Art and Design and a postgraduate diploma in Cultural Event Management from IADT.