Monday 17 June 2019

Billy Keane: 'GAA fight for the rainbow jersey reflects changed times in Ireland'

Cork ladies football legend Valerie Mulcahy will lead the GAA in the Dublin Pride Parade later this month. Photo: Sportsfile
Cork ladies football legend Valerie Mulcahy will lead the GAA in the Dublin Pride Parade later this month. Photo: Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

So what does the homophobic Australian rugby player Israel Folau have to do with the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI?

Folau claims he was fired from Australian rugby on religious grounds. This self-proclaimed Christian condemned gay people to burn in hell. Folau has not advocated the use of violence against the LGBT community before they die. But there will be bigots who will say, 'why wait?'

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Folau is suing Rugby Australia for millions. The devout Folau, like many so-called evangelists, is not against the acquisition of Mammon. Folau, who takes a literal view of the Bible, must have been missing from Sunday school the day the Bible line "the love of money is at the root of all evil" came up for discussion.

The gay GAA leads the way in this country. The GAA reflects the changing of the times in Ireland.

Back when I was playing most of us knew about a gay Cork inter-county footballer and a gay Kerry inter-county footballer. There was no way a player could come out back then.

There was a bond and a brotherhood among the players, but back in the seventies and eighties gay people hid.

The thinking was gay men weren't manly enough to play a tough game. The perception then was of dainty men with funny walks and girls' voices. Gay people on TV were portrayed as limp-handed, camp comics who cracked double-entendre jokes about stroking Mrs Slocum's cat.

There must have been thousands of gay GAA players who suffered in silence. And how many were broken?

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Cork hurler Donal óg Cusack blew the 'sissy' theory away when he came out. Conor Cusack backed his brother. Conor spoke of the impact the hiding of his homosexuality had on his mental health.

Most of us thought there would be many more declarations from gay players. But there weren't. What did happen though, was gay players just told their pals quietly, and they were accepted for who they were, and are.

Valerie Mulcahy won 10 All-Ireland senior football medals with Cork. Valerie is gay. David Gough is one of the best referees in the game. David is gay. Four years ago, David was banned from wearing a wristband in support of the LGBT community. The reason given was the wearing of the wristband was seen as political and breached GAA rules.

The GAA, led by David and Valerie, will march in the Dublin Pride Parade on the 29th of this month. John Horan, the president of the GAA, was more than supportive.

The biggest LGBT rugby tournament in Europe took place in Dublin on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The competition was hosted by The Emerald Warriors, Ireland's gay rugby team. The event was a massive success and was sanctioned by the IRFU.

The FAI backed the wearing of rainbow numbers by the Irish team in support of our LGBT players when they played the US this time last year in the Aviva. Ireland is a good country to be gay in. Or is it?

David Gough has been abused because of his sexuality. Some of the bigots were from my own county. They dishonoured the green and gold. There isn't much we can do about the ignorant. But most people see Gough as our Nigel Owens.

Ian Paisley Jnr is one of the DUP MPs who holds the balance of power in Westminster. He said: "I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism."

David Simpson, the DUP man in Upper Bann, is a witty boy. He spouted in the House of Commons that it was "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."

MP Gregory Campbell from the DUP also rules Britain. He described homosexuality "as an evil, wicked, abhorrent practice".

These Christians in the DUP have consistently called for legislation which will enshrine their homophobia as a religious belief. They will take some hope from a recent case in the North where a bakery refused to make a cake for gay couple on religious grounds.

There is a possibility that an Irish rugby player will in the future plead freedom of religion as a defence for homophobia. The sporting organisations and the government must make a plan to ensure homophobia is a sacking offence.

The situation in the North will be more difficult to resolve. Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance are united in their support of the LGBT community.

There are some in the DUP who may not favour same-sex marriage, such as Arlene Foster, but who are in favour of some measure of anti- discrimination legislation.

The DUP's Alison Bennington, who is openly gay, was elected to the local council in Glengormley.

The rainbow jersey is worth fighting for and so are civil rights, but equality is still years away in the North.

The times they are a changin' but they are a changin' far too slow.

In the meantime, all we can do is to say to our brothers and sisters the words "we love you and you are one of us."

Irish Independent

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