When I think of my childhood classmates, they are always there on the periphery, a little to the left. Always on one side. And I can’t help but think that if I move the location of my head to the left, my first days of school will be on full display. There I am, sitting in one of those uncomfortable chairs at the Douglas National Boys’ School, the smell of chalk making me sneeze. Looking around I can see all my old friends; some faces are empty, I don’t remember. Some are no longer living. Some are very familiar to me and smile back at me. What connects us all is that none of us are gay.
Sure, there were gay boys in my class, but none of them felt safe admitting who they were. And when I moved to high school, again, there were no gay teenagers either. When I think about that experience and the Ireland we live in today, I feel a certain shame and pain for those children who grew up in a time that was incredibly myopic and destructive in terms of the opinions she had of the people she we like. .
They were simply born at the wrong time. A time before the homosexual referendum of 2015. A time when people did not feel proud of their orientation and had to hide it for fear of prosecution. A moment when holding someone’s hand could mean you would be beaten badly. A time when loving someone of the same sex meant having a mental disorder. It is a dark legacy, which should not be forgotten. But I am also very proud to be Irish, as we have moved away from the homogenous society I grew up in in the 70s and 80s. Our Ireland is diverse, an Ireland that recognizes and celebrates all members of our community .
Today marks the start of Pride week, turning the rainbow into green as the saying goes. Pride is such an important word for what this week means. I have been working with teenagers now for over 20 years. I have seen firsthand the devastating consequences for young minds when they are forced to hide who they really are for fear of societal discourse or physical injury. This Pride week seems more important than ever. We have had a number of terrible incidents over the past two months that are stark reminders of the need to support each other so that we all feel safe with whom we love.
And yet, the murders of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee, and the attack on Evan Somers remind us that we still have a long way to go to eradicate oppressive and pathological thoughts about sexuality. Pride is an important event because it shows people (like the person who attacked Evan Somers) that their ignorant, archaic way of seeing the world is no longer acceptable.
Calling someone a “faggot” and a “bad ass” as Evan’s tweet revealed, has no place in our society, it will not be tolerated and will be punishable by all law. Celebrating Pride shows the world that an attack on one member of our community is an attack on all of us and by all of us together, whether we are gay, straight, bi, queer, trans – it sends a very important message of solidarity. And it makes someone with troubled views about sexuality think twice before taking action and harming someone.
I have had the privilege of working with so many young people over the past 20 years. This particular generation of teenagers refuses to allow themselves to be positioned outside of what is considered the norm. They are formidable in celebrating their sexuality. Of course, it comes from parents and from a society that allowed them to think of themselves beyond reductionist labels.
When I first worked with teenagers, the majority of those who came to speak to me were struggling with sexuality issues. This has decreased significantly over the past few years. I am always filled with such joy when I see the rainbow mailboxes and guard cars. Because I know, if you’re a kid sitting at home thinking there’s something wrong with you because you feel uncomfortable about the clothes you’re wearing or whoever you want to love, all those signs in the society tell you; you are not weird, you are not alone and you are normal.
Pride is such an important event in our children’s calendars. I’ll leave the final say on the meaning of Pride to a handsome young gay man I had the pleasure of teaching last year. Alex inspired me in so many ways, his courage and honesty were a joy to behold, and here are his words on what Pride meant to him:
“To see our community come together for Pride Week, which has endured so much together, is not only a victory for the larger scale of Irish culture, but a victory for the personal culture of young LGBTQIA+ people like me.