Laura Harmon, UCC LGBT Campaigns & Human Rights Officer, talks to some of the key figures in Ireland’s gay rights movement about past victories and future battles.
Cathal Kerrigan, UCC Students’ Union President of 1980/1981 and one of the founding members of the UCC Gay Society, remembers when times were differet. ‘It was all very hush, hush,’ he recalls, reminiscing on his early days as a student at the college. ‘There was no Gay Society back then, things were very different’. Kerrigan fought hard to establish the Society (now known as UCC LGBT) in 1980, and found it a welcome turn-around when the University itself approached him three years ago to establish UCC’s LGBT Staff Network. ‘Attitudes to these issues have certainly changed a lot.’
When asked about his opinion on the current campaign for same-sex civil marriage in Ireland, he assures me that he will never marry. ‘It is not the outcome I wanted.’ Like many in contemporary Ireland, he doesn’t buy into the values which he feels marriage promotes. However, he firmly believes in an ‘inclusive’ rather than an ‘exclusive’ society and describes himself as a ‘reluctant convert’ to the campaign, purely because he recognises that everybody should have freedom of choice and equality of opportunity. ‘It is beneficial for society as a whole to have inclusivity … there is no such thing as half equality.’
Maurice Ryder, Secretary of UCC’s LGBT Staff Network, takes the view that ‘whether someone personally agrees with the idea of marriage or not, the reality of the situation is that it is a state institution which only heterosexual couples have access to – this is not equality.’ Maurice, who feels the need to take a proactive approach to bringing about change, raised €1,200 over the summer for MarriagEquality by completing five triathlons throughout the country.
Noelle Moran, Organiser and Coordinator of LGBT Noise’s Media Team, remarks that ‘by gaining access to the right to marry, LGBT relationships and our families will be recognised, valued and protected on equal legal, economic and social terms to our straight counterparts.’
‘I was living in London for over three years,’ she explains. ‘There, I experienced a gay community that was very confident, diverse and politicised. When I returned home to Dublin over 5 years ago, I felt disappointed and frustrated that our community seemed less confident and LGBT politics seemed to be less in the public arena, despite our glaring lack of rights. This is why I got involved with LGBT Noise.’
Moninne Griffith, of MarriagEquality, views the Civil Partnership Bill as inadequate. ‘There are many same-sex couples in this country who already have children’, she explains, ‘and there is no protection or mention of these children in this bill.’ Moninne condemns the deliberate and conscious exclusion of children from this bill and believes that creating a separate system for same-sex couples only serves to further stigmatize these families as unequal. ‘Call something different and it creates a difference.’
So what does the future hold for the campaign? According to Noelle, ‘there are many obstacles facing all campaigners for marriage equality. We are all volunteers and give our time and energy for the cause alone. It is essential that we have new blood and fresh ideas all the time to keep the motivation going and campaign alive.’
‘Many both inside and outside the gay community’, she explains, ‘are still unaware to what degree they are discriminated against by law. So educating and informing the community and wider public is core.’
Both Moninne and Noelle agree that the current economic crisis does not help: government and media attention have naturally focused on job losses and banking crises. As a result, LGBT issues have been pushed further and further down the political agenda. ‘Cuts in equality funding are also a wider problem at the moment,’ Monnine explains.
Nevertheless, both of these organisations have advanced the campaign so much in recent years and seem determined to persist until equality is secured. ‘I have heard it expressed by a few people,’ describes Noelle, ‘that we should be grateful for getting any legal recognition at all, while some have expressed the feeling that it is a good stepping stone to full equality. Perhaps they feel we can just sit back and in time that equality will just come to them; Noise certainly doesn’t see it that way.’
‘We only have to look at other movements that created large shifts in how our world is constructed – the suffragette movement, the struggle for civil rights in the US – none of these fights for equality were achieved by sitting back; every step on the road to equality was hard won.’
To find out more about MarriagEquality or LGBT Noise, you can visit their websites:
If you would like to find out more about UCC LGBT Society’s Campaigns or would like to get involved then you can contact Laura at email@example.com