Saturday 16 December 2017

Does Pride still matter? We asked 10 young Irish LGBT what Pride means to them

Ahead of the annual parade, 10 young Irish LGBT people talk about what Pride means to them

(L to R) Cassie Stokes, Sophie Donaldson and Brian Conway
(L to R) Cassie Stokes, Sophie Donaldson and Brian Conway
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I went for dinner. Just after we had ordered, the man sitting at the table beside us leaned over to me.

“Are you American?” he asked, his American accent booming around the restaurant. I replied saying no, I was Australian. And then, in that very American way, he and his wife were regaling us with stories of their trip around Ireland. Eventually, the inevitable moment arrived.

“So,” said his wife, smiling, “are you just over here visiting your friend?” I replied no, and prepared to come out for the 12,899th time.

“She is my partner,” I said, gesturing to my girlfriend. “We live here, together.” Her eyes widened as her eyebrows shot up to her hairline. A heavy silence ensued.

“Oh!” she eventually said, her voice strangled with shock and confusion, before she remembered to try and smile.

They turned away, and I busied myself eating the seabass that had gone tepid in front of me. The silence over their table continued while my girlfriend and I chatted amongst ourselves. Then, a few minutes later, I saw his iPhone once being nudged toward us with more photos of their Irish adventure. Great, I thought. He’s not a homophobe.

The conversation picked up where it left off, and was only marred by him commenting that he had heard that girls from Australia and Dublin were “hot”. I winced, my girlfriend quipped that yes, it was unseasonably warm that weekend, and they eventually asked for the bill. Definitely not a homophobe, I thought, just a teensy bit leery- which is pretty good going in the day of the life of a lesbian couple.

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Sophie (left) and her partner

This may not sound like much worth writing about, but the situation could have gone differently. If that couple were not accepting of gay people, we essentially would have been paying to be in a situation that made us very uncomfortable. Sure, we could have changed tables, or decided to skip dessert and leave early. We’ve done it before.

But why should we have to accommodate the bigotry of others? Even if we had, the unease in your stomach doesn’t disappear when you leave the restaurant. That exchange with a stranger will stay with you and determine whether or not next time it’s better to say that yes, we are just friends.

Some people may wonder why Pride is still necessary. They might point out there is no heterosexual equivalent. But I don’t think there is a heterosexual equivalent to constantly having to check yourself, to paraphrase the inimitable Panti Bliss. For me, this is why Pride still matters.

Cassie Stokes, TV presenter

Age: 30

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Cassie Stokes and girlfriend Kathleen. Picture: Instagram
 

It's very important to celebrate a community who have worked very hard for equality and to be seen as equals. It's also an important time to celebrate with our friends and families, our allies. We have come very far, especially here in Ireland, but there is definitely still more to do. People are still afraid to come out of the closet and in some cases there's a lack of equality. I'm just happy if I can be a role model for younger people. I feel very proud to be who I am. I'm happy to be living in a country that sees me as an equal especially when it comes to marriage.

I think it's important to remember the gay community is not just for people who are gay, bisexual or transgender. It's a community for people who support all of the above as well, our friends and families, our allies. I think young LGBT people experience less negativity than previous generations but there are still some difficulties. From what I hear it's probably coming out to their colleagues in work that's the most difficult. It's very important to talk about these issues and hopefully come together to make changes for the better.

Rob Kenny, Snapchat star, influencer, presenter and brand manager

Age: 25

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Rob Kenny (right) with his partner

To me, Pride is still important today because it is the one day of the year that allows the LGBT community to come out together (excuse the pun). Gay people get to feel like the majority in society, instead of a minority subculture. I, like many of my generation, am always 90% comfortable in being as gay as I like every day of the year. But I know that much of the gay community does not share my own sense of confidence.

However, I too have that other 10% of the time, where I know from my surroundings that it is too intimidating a situation to be noticeably gay or to show affection with my long-term boyfriend.

Yes, we have had the Yes Vote and the LGBT community in Ireland felt the biggest metaphorical hug imaginable from our motherland. However, if a group of Irish teenage lads are walking towards me, I immediately detach my hand from my boyfriend’s. And, sadly, this is a reaction that all gay people in Ireland have become accustomed to.

Undeniably there are still huge mountains to climb in Ireland towards our basic human right of 100% equal to everybody else in society. For me, it is obvious that all of this work needs to go into young people and our schools.

Follow Rob on Instagram: @robkenny_ or Snapchat: @robkenny

Brian Clarke, photographer

Age: 29

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Brian Clarke

For me, Pride is this mix between a celebration of what we have achieved as a community and a political march for what we have left to do. Here in Ireland we have made great strides forward and I’m so proud to be part of this country, but we march not just for our community nationally but to show solidarity on a global scale. Around the world the gay community don’t have the same rights as we do and it’s important that we stand together. Each person on Saturday will have their own reasons for being there to celebrate. It’s a unifying day that brings us together.

Coming from a rural area, and when the information wasn’t so readily available, it was a confusing time. But I have to say that my coming out experience was something I had built up in my own head. I was lucky in my youth to have incredible support and parents I was encouraged to talk to, but I know many cases of people who didn’t have that support and I think an ongoing issue within the youth of Ireland is mental health. It seems to be prevalent issue within the youth of the LGBT community. We need to educate people from a younger age about who you can talk to and where you can find support.

Naoise Nic Gearailt, designer

Age: 25

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Naoise Nic Gearailt
 

Pride symbolises freedom of expression so I think it will always be a special day. My own experience has been mostly positive. Bisexuality can be difficult to understand for some but once conversations remain open, hopefully perspective and respect will naturally ensue. I hope more young LGBT people begin to learn that self-esteem is not built on social media.

I think the education system needs another push in regards to sex Ed and understanding gender fluidity. I would love to see feminism and gender studies turn into a junior cert subject!

Stephen Moloney, PR, freelance writer and editor

Age: 26

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Stephen Moloney
 

I am comfortable and confident in myself as a gay man, as someone who has grown to feel empowered in their sexuality; having reached this point I can say that being gay and part of the wider LGBT community is one of the best things "to happen" to me. But that journey was often a lonely struggle as it was for many young people and as it will be for many more. At a broad level there is still work to do on how we treat each other within our own community; ensuring all those who endure and survive on the margins feel included and embraced.

That said, given the progress we've recently made around Marriage Equality, Gender Recognition, an easing of the MSM blood ban and moves to allow younger people self-identify as their true gender, I hope being young and LGBT is getting easier. To see yourself and those like you increasingly represented in media is also hugely important.

Dean McDaid, model agent

Age: 26

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Dean (right) with his partner. Photo by Kathrin Baumbach.
 

Pride is always going to be a necessary thing until all LGBT people stop facing discrimination. Every day, all over the world, people are targeted because of their sexuality, gender identity or just because they don't fit the norm. Until this stops, if it ever will, I do think Pride is so important. I've been verbally assaulted many times and unfortunately, my boyfriend and I were also physically assaulted.

But in those things happening I saw how much love there was for me, as a gay man, from the amazing people around me. It's hard not to be angry at those people who have done these things, but to be honest we need to try and figure out why it's happening and what we can do as a society to prevent it.

Marriage equality was huge for Ireland and in my own personal life at the time it was huge, I felt so much more comfortable, I felt safer walking down the street. But to be completely honest once the dust settled there was still a huge amount of homophobia in the air and that's something we need to keep working on. Acceptance will always be our battle but I really think with all of the generations of gay people working together we are winning the battle.

Elaine Mai, musician

Age: 32

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Elaine (right) with her partner
 

For me, Pride is about recognising, remembering and celebrating the LGBTQ rights movement. So many amazing activists have gone before us and they are the reason why we can march freely today.

I think one of the biggest issues for young LGBTQ people in Ireland is feeling isolated and alone. It can be difficult to meet other LGBTQ people and even to talk about coming to terms with your sexuality. It's so important to find someone that you're comfortable talking to and reaching out for some support. BelongTo do some really amazing work with young people in Ireland.

Growing up in Mayo, I didn't know many LGBTQ people but that changed as soon as I went to university in Galway. There's a really strong sense of community among LGBTQ people in Ireland and this was never more apparent than during the campaign for marriage equality. I was lucky enough to be involved in the campaign and I canvassed with YesEquality in the run up to the referendum.

In May 2016, a year after the referendum passed, I asked my girlfriend to marry me and we’re planning our wedding for next year. It’s amazing knowing that a few short years ago we couldn’t have gotten married here, but now we can.

Paul Canning, photographer

Age: 36

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Paul (left) with his partner
 

Pride is still important to me for two main reasons. Firstly it’s celebratory - to show how far we’ve come, how thankful we are and celebrating this through love, togetherness, acceptance and joy. However secondly Pride to me is political, where we can shine a spotlight on the LGBT community, giving us a visual presence and bringing awareness that there is still work to be done on a global scale for LGBT equality.

Having grown up on a border town of Northern Ireland it’s important to note that LGBT rights in The North are the least advanced in the UK and remains the only region of the UK and Ireland that still prohibits same-sex marriage. You must also look at events like those in Chechnya and Russia and realize we are far from equal on a global scale where people’s rights are infringed and their lives in danger on a daily basis.

With the recent surge of LGBT progression in Ireland I am extremely proud to be an Irish LGBT person. The support of the nation alone in 2015 with marriage equality lifted a massive weight. For such a small country we’re making quite the big impact. I’m excited this year to be part of the main parade with my partner Colm and his company. So I shall be a-top a bus, flying the flag and having a mini shimmy through the streets of Dublin.

Brian Conway, fashion stylist and producer

Age: 25

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Brian Conway at the launch of Specsavers’ Darren Kennedy Recommends 2017 collection at WILDE in the Westbury. Picture: Anthony Woods
 

Pride is so important because it’s celebrating who you are. It feels so good to be open and to be proud. We have come a long way in recent years, which is really amazing and inspiring.

Growing up in rural Ireland was difficult because I felt like I had to hide the "real me". Then I moved to Dublin at 18 and it was such a release. I felt like I had escaped any judgement... I hope 7 years later it’s not like that in rural Ireland.

There definitely is still a lot of work to do. We can say it’s great because of marriage equality and our first gay Taoiseach but realistically, we are in our LGBT bubble. I work in the fashion industry too, where it’s completely normal to be gay. Being gay is never an issue in fashion but outside of this there is still hate, homophobia and bullying which we really need to tackle.

 

Independent.ie has changed its social media icons to mark Pride weekend

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