'the fight for equality must continue across all fronts'
Joey, 30, DUblin, Ireland
In June last year, I made a visit home to Ireland from London, just a few weeks after coming #HomeToVote in the same-sex marriage referendum.
During this trip, I met a man named Marty, who was visiting Dublin from Australia, where he has lived since emigrating from Ireland in 1991.
During our conversation, I learned that a big factor in Marty’s decision to leave Ireland at that time was the fact that he was gay. In Australia, he told me, he was able to ‘be himself’ in a way that he never felt he could in his homeland, where homosexual activity was still illegal.
Marty’s story has something of a happy ending in that he is now planning to return to Ireland to marry his long-term partner, something he cannot currently do in Australia.
However, the fact that generations of Irish LGBT people were driven to leave the country in order to find more accepting communities is to Ireland’s eternal shame.
My own experience of emigration is quite removed from Marty’s in so far as my sexuality wasn’t really a factor in my decision to leave Ireland. When I moved to London in June 2014, it was primarily to seek out work opportunities and I suppose, after ten years spent living in Dublin, I was craving a change of scenery.
Working in Soho and living near Vauxhall, I was initially surprised at how commonplace it was to see two men or two women kissing or holding hands in public. At home, kissing and hand-holding with ex-boyfriends had generally been a clandestine business, confined to ‘queer spaces’ or the privacy of our homes.
It soon dawned on me the extent to which I had been ‘checking myself’, in the way that Panti describes in her ‘Noble Call’ speech. The reality of course is that, outside of a select few neighbourhoods in big cities, ‘checking yourself’ remains a fairly universal experience for members of the LGBT community.
In February 2015, Enda Kenny confirmed that a referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland would take place. To me, the referendum represented an amazing opportunity for Ireland to redress its shameful history of discrimination against LGBT people and I knew that I wanted to play my part in helping see it pass.
We live at a time when seven in every forty people born in Ireland live outside of the homeland and yet our voting provisions for citizens living abroad rank among the most restrictive in Europe.
In the absence of the option to cast a ballot by postal vote or proxy, it would be necessary for me to travel home on May 22nd in order to participate in the referendum. Worse still, those who had left Ireland for a period of more than 18 months were debarred from participating entirely.
When I started the Get The Boat 2 Vote campaign, encouraging vote-eligible Irish citizens to return home and vote, I began receiving emails from members of Ireland’s LGBT diaspora who felt they had a very real stake in the outcome of the referendum and were frustrated that they were being denied a say on account of Ireland’s archaic electoral legislation.
Despite this barrier, Irish citizens abroad certainly made their voices heard in the run-up to May 22nd, with campaigns like Irish Abroad For Yes and Be My Yes helping to highlight the strength and scope of support for the referendum among the diaspora, LGBT and otherwise.
I was among the thousands who travelled home to vote in favour of same-sex marriage. In Dublin that weekend, it really felt a major milestone for the LGBT equality movement in Ireland; a signifier for a seismic shift in attitudes, after decades of hard-won fights.
In many respects, it was unfair that the Irish people were asked to vote on the rights of a minority but this quirk of jurisprudence forced difficult conversations at dinner tables around the country that I believe helped foster a lot of healing.
In August of this year, a little over two years after starting my adventure in London, I moved home. Had the referendum been defeated last year, I doubt that I would have ever lived here again. Three weeks from now, my boyfriend arrives from Melbourne and I look forward to proudly holding his hand as I introduce him to the streets of Dublin.
Homophobia and transphobia are definitely still rife in Irish society and the fight for equality must continue across all fronts. However, in the wake of the referendum result, it does feel like progress is being made and hopefully fewer and fewer people will feel a need to leave Ireland for the reasons Marty did 25 years ago.
To that effect, it would be really great to see Irish LGBT citizens living abroad formally recognised in the next version of Ireland’s Diaspora Policy, as opening a dialogue between the Irish government and these communities could have many benefits.
I also hope that the government will reconsider the way it disenfranchises citizens living abroad so that, whether they intend to return to Ireland or not, members of the diaspora can have an opportunity to help shape a better, more inclusive Ireland of the future.