#MarRef: Homophobia has adapted to a changing Ireland; we cannot let it win

And our penultimate pitch comes from reader Oisín Hassan in favour of a Yes vote tomorrow.

By Friday night the long slog of months of campaigning will be over, and by Saturday afternoon the outcome of one of the most momentous decisions the Irish people have ever been asked to make will be known.

Opponents present marriage equality as a demand too far, dreamt up in the heads of ‘gay agenda’ pushers to force alternative ‘lifestyle choices’ on society. In reality, marriage equality has been lifetimes in the making. It is a dream many never even dreamt of, and a reality that many (even days from the end of the campaign) still fear to imagine to be possible in case it slips through our hands.

Many young LGBT+ people may actually have never experienced face-to-face homophobia or bigotry in modern Ireland, and it is sometimes easy to forget that that was not always the case. Often homophobia is personified in misplaced phrases or sayings that even the most liberal of us fail to see as problematic.

We have yet to recognise how truly devastating our jokes or jibes, no matter how innocent, can be to a person struggling with their identity. Thankfully, vitriolic and violent homophobia is not something that all LGBT+ people will face, but don’t get me wrong, it is still all too common an occurrence.

But public discourse is giving rise to an ever more dangerous form of homophobia, disguised as rational debate. With social media the exposure to anti-equality campaigning has been amplified. But it is not just the so-called ‘arguments’ against marriage equality that have caused untold damage to the psyche of an already isolated and vulnerable group.

So too the debate around lifting the ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood, the vociferous calls in favour of a ‘conscience’ clause for Christian-run businesses to refuse service to gay couples, and especially the attempts to belittle and demean the idea that a family can have two parents of the same gender, has all proven how homophobia has been transformed in 21st Century Ireland.

As the demand for equal rights for Ireland’s LGBT+ children reaches a crescendo this week, we are met with the new face of homophobia. Homophobia has evolved with the times, and is becoming much less blatant. Rather, it is more calculated, knowing that the grip of outdated, religiously-based arguments is waning.

During the course of the referendum campaign the No side has attempted to rebuff the criticism of their campaigning as inherently homophobic. To label No campaigners as homophobes is supposedly abusive, and is an attempt to silence them.

Indeed, some Yes campaigners inhale deeply and protest profusely that they don’t agree with all this labelling and finger pointing!

But that is to deny the tone and sentiment of the No campaign, which has focused on the idea that same-sex couples are unable to make good parents, or that their love is somehow different and therefore equality for that love is a misnomer.

The presentation of the No campaign is based on the idea that difference should mean that same-sex couples are excluded from elements of the law, or should be treated differently by the law in order to shield society from the negative effects of their ‘agenda’.

At this very moment equal marriage is not yet secure, despite the polls. The No campaign has successively peddled the idea that children are somehow at risk if they don’t have a mother and a father.

It’s all rather reminiscent of a bygone Ireland, where the single mother was shunned because it was thought unimaginable that she would provide a stable environment for her children. But no one wanted to help lift her children from the apparent nightmare that society believed they were living.

So too, the children of gay and lesbian couples the length and breadth of the country are not the concern of the No campaign. Why else would they blatantly ignore the fact that this referendum will have absolutely no implication for the already enshrined legal right to adopt children, and access surrogacy, for same-sex couples?

I agree wholeheartedly with my fellow LGBT+ friends and comrades that no one should have the right to decide on our equality; it should be inherent, as equality is indeed within us all as human beings. The No campaign has proven why that decision should never be anyone’s to make.

There are those who loathe the idea of two men holding hands in public, who think that two loving mothers is worse than an abusive mother and father, and who think that a young person who feels trapped by the gender of their birth is just ‘going through a phase’.

Those people have been given a platform by this referendum; a platform to attempt to rationalise those views. Views not founded on fact or understanding, but founded on fear.

Homophobia is irrational. It is a fear. And it is still widespread. That fear is based on prejudice, and it has informed how the No campaign operates and argues. Today it campaigns on the streets and lanes, hills and boreens of Ireland.

As a young man from County Derry, based in Belfast, this referendum won’t technically have any effect on my inequality or on that of all those living on the northern side of the border who cannot marry the person they love. Indeed, the past few years here have been plagued by the openly homophobic outbursts and utterances of some of our politicians. Sadly, that won’t change on Saturday.

I watched the fourth debate on the Assembly floor on marriage equality from the public gallery. I watched DUP politicians in awe. In awe of their hypocrisy. Arlene Foster (one of the supposedly milder politicians from the DUP brand) argued that civil partnership was fair, despite the DUP being vehemently against it at the time it was introduced.

I heard her attempt to speak directly to the LGBT+ community, and sympathise with them, that the nasty politicians on the opposite bench wanted the debate and vote simply to use them as a ‘political football’.

Arlene was not the only one. Some of her colleagues went much further in their efforts to harm the LGBT+ community that day; this despite the fact that Jim Wells had brought scandal down upon their heads just days earlier for saying similarly nasty things.

For those who utter homophobic slurs, or defend those utterances, to then stand before the LGBT+ community they have so deeply harmed and attempt to sympathise with them was truly galling.

And that is why I ask that all campaigners, gay or straight, recognise their place in this fight. That each and every one of us, whether we are equal before the law or not, is arguing for the equality of someone else on this island.

Because the truth is, marriage equality is not the end of inequality for LGBT+ children.

It is just the fall of another frontier on the road to equality. When that frontier falls on Saturday, as I believe it will, there will still be thousands across this island living in fear.

Thousands still hurting from the effects of this campaign. And in the homes of No campaigners and voters, be assured, that young LGBT+ people will be there. They will need the fight to carry on the most.

While the No campaign rationalises homophobia LGBT+ people across the island and further afield are fatigued; they are hurting; they are fearful. To continually hear on the airwaves that they are inherently unable to make good parents, or to create stable loving homes is to be repeatedly punched.

They cannot watch the news without facing into the darkness of homophobia. Those arguments are merely the day-to-day thrust of political campaigning for some, but for those who this referendum affects it has been a physically and mentally draining experience.

It looks likely that the referendum will pass regardless, even though the margin may be much smaller than hoped for. Though, homophobia will not die on Saturday. That fear inside the LGBT+ people of Ireland will not die; but hope lives, and true happiness could be reality. For the first time recognition will be tangible.

As the younger generation on this island reaches that time in their lives when they consider settling down, gay and lesbian couples too will be able to make the exact same commitments to each other as their heterosexual friends and family. Perhaps too, there will be those who denied themselves their entire lives, born into a state in much darker days of religious intolerance and oppression, who will finally feel the warmth of acceptance.

In the North court cases are being prepared, and an argument has begun about having our own referendum. LGBT+ people here rightfully fear that referendum if it became reality. Given everything that has been suffered at the hands of some of our most powerful politicians, would it stand a chance of passing?

Would the No campaign be even more horrendous than the one currently fighting for an Ireland of olden days that is on life-support? The truth is that that Ireland is not yet dead. On Saturday it will take a fatal blow.

As the light of equality spreads in the hearts of those who have always loved, but never been allowed to love equally, so too that light will spread across the border to an LGBT+ community that is growing in strength – but one that is tired from a bitter fight. Homophobia has taken many forms, and has adapted to a changing Ireland.

This referendum is proof of that. Let’s hope, that unlike in the divorce referendum, progress and fairness has a resounding victory, and homophobia is rightfully defeated by a large margin. That message would not just travel across the border closest to home, but across borders worldwide.

It is a message of hopeful determination, that anything can be achieved in the name of equality if we stand together.

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