My column in The Kerryman 27 February, 2013
I imagine it’s a frightening and lonely experience, growing up gay in Kerry. There are no famous gay role-models here. Our schools are dominated by a religion which dismisses homosexuality as disordered. Relationships between gay people are given second class status. Even worse, it is not safe for a gay couple, to walk hand in hand down any street in Kerry.
That’s the environment our State, our Church, our schools and our parents have created. It’s the environment in which we expect vulnerable teenagers to grow up in. This toxic environment in which studies show, gay teenagers are more likely to self-harm and/or to suicide, than their straight peers. We’ve created an environment that’s fatal to gay children.
Last week however, our Kerry politicians took a small step towards reducing the poison we’re subjecting our gay brothers and sisters to. They took a small step towards making homophobia less acceptable in Kerry. That’s not to say that a public display of affection between two men in Kerry, will not now most likely invite violence. No, but in voting to support marriage equality, our Kerry politicians sent a message to Kerry’s gay community, that yes, finally we recognise you should be full citizens and you are deserving of the respect and the protection of our laws.
One small step, but not yet enough. This symbolic motion was opposed. We heard councillors talk of homosexuality not being natural and fears expressed for the adopted children of gay couples. Yet no scientific evidence was cited. No reason. No insight. Just please protect the status quo.
The next step in this change, is up to the people of Kerry. It is the people of Kerry who must now decide how to contribute to ending the vicious anger and hatred their gay neighbours endure. But no one is going to knock on your door and demand you take responsibility for your part in this process.
That first step though, can take place in your own home. There’s a good chance that if you’ve children, they’ll be straight. There will however be someone in your child’s class who’s gay. That child’s life is in your hands.
Your son or daughter, no matter how different they think they are from you, will learn almost all their values from you. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, they will use a particular phrase or clear their throat or tug their ear and they will instantly realise that they are doing it exactly as you do. As you bequeath mannerisms, you instill values. And by your actions and words you will decide how your child behaves towards others. You decide how the ‘different child’ gets treated.
If you’ve been taught to recoil, taught to fear, taught disgust, then it will be effortless for you to pass this hatred onto your child. Without thought, you will empower your child to attack the ‘different.’
Are you prepared to make the effort to teach your child a different lesson? Those who hate homosexuality say that Marriage Equality is about children. They are right, it is about children, but not in the way the haters presume. It is about teaching children to embrace and support and celebrate difference. It is about making the teenage years of our gay children no more awkward than what they were for the rest of us. It is about sending a message through our laws and our words, that what went before was wrong.
Our politicians have spoken loud and proud in support of equality. Is it not time that we found our voices too? Surely our children deserve no less of us?