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Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community have been calling for help for years. We need to act now.

Words: Eva O’Beirne

40 years ago, in Fairview Park, a young man named Declan Flynn was attacked and murdered as part of a series of “queer-bashings”. This was seen as the catalyst for the gay rights movement in Ireland. 40 years later, the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland is still facing the same issues.

Last week, Dublin was ranked number five on the list of LGBTQ+ friendly cities globally. Six days ago, Evan Somers was badly beaten near Dame Street at 03:00 in the morning. Left with a fractured eye socket, two fractures and a dislocation in his ankle, this was one of four homophobic instances that have left Ireland’s queer community reeling.

Being a queer person in Ireland is difficult. In some places, you’re a novelty, in others completely normal, and in some, you are harassed for simply looking a certain way or holding someone’s hand. You can be killed for simply being who you are. This appears to be the case with Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee.

The community in Ireland also has varying states of privilege, a concept that is underdressed when it comes to LGBTQ+ services in the country. Not everyone can come out to their families or afford healthcare, not everyone can escape an abusive household, especially with the current cost of living crisis.

Every business that loves to trot out their rainbow logos every June and change them back as soon as it hits midnight on June 30th should commit themselves to being queer-friendly every month of the year.

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LGBTQ+ persons have very few spaces where they can go and be unapologetically themselves, and even fewer spaces where alcohol is involved. Every business that loves to trot out their rainbow logos every June and change them back as soon as it hits midnight on June 30th should commit themselves to being queer-friendly every month of the year. Whether it is working with LGBTQ+ artists, facilitating events or introducing a gender-neutral bathroom (you don’t have to get rid of the other two options), allowing the community to exist in your establishment, your space, comfortably is the smallest gesture you can do.

Seeing calls for an increase of Gardaí on the streets just shows how little politicians can understand minority communities. It hasn’t even been 30 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in this country. 30 years ago, you could be arrested for homosexual acts by Gardaí that are still active members of the service.

Now there are calls for more Gardaí, in the hopes they’ll stop violence against the community? How is that meant to work? How can we ensure that the police understand how to best serve LGBTQ+ persons?

Racism amongst Gardaí is undeniable – a 2020 study conducted by the Gardaí itself could not find a single frontline officer who did not admit to harbouring bigoted views against at least one ethnic minority. In 2017, 8% of trans people reported feeling “high trust” in the Gardaí in 2017. For people of colour, immigrants and trans people, more Gardaí on the streets don’t mean an increase in safety but rather an increase in anxiety and fear that they will be targeted. For a community to be safe, they need to be at least respected.

All five of Declan Flynn’s killers walked free, and most of them are probably still alive. They were teenagers when they murdered him. Their whole street was allegedly celebrating once the news of the suspended sentences reached the neighbourhood. The person who killed Aidan and Michael this week was 22. The Irish Government can’t stand aside and continuously delay inclusive Relationships and Sexuality Education any longer.

There are massive gaps in Ireland’s sex education and still, this country pretends we can continue to function within this Catholicism-permeated system. There is a cluelessness on how to approach gender and sexuality. There is ignorance about how to dismantle typical gender roles and toxic masculinity.

Ireland’s sex education scheme for schools was only introduced in the mid-1990s, with official documentation saying: “Sex is a gift, a most sacred act, and full sexual intimacy belongs in a totally adult relationship where there is equal trust, respect, acceptance, and understanding for both partners – as in marriage.” This quote becomes even more disturbing when one realises that the last mother and baby home in Ireland closed just 24 years ago, in 1998. 

Every public school in Ireland should have thorough and inclusive LGBTQ+ education in the curriculum, there should be no loopholes that erase whole communities.

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In most Irish schools, there is a reluctance to understand anything that isn’t cisgender or heterosexual. In fact, no school is obliged to follow any standard RSE program, instead, it can simply be taught “within the ethos of the school”. Every public school in Ireland should have thorough and inclusive LGBTQ+ education in the curriculum, there should be no loopholes that erase whole communities. By ignoring the existence of LGBTQ+ persons and their lifestyles in our education system, we start to build on the idea that there is a wrong and right way to love another person.

We should be applying the pyramid of sexual violence to cases like the past week. To some people, using a slur or calling someone a pervert as a joke is hilarious. For the community, it can be terrifying. I remember hearing the f-slur being used in secondary school, again as a joke, and feeling like I could be attacked for just existing. I felt like I couldn’t call it out, in case I became the target, in case my friends wouldn’t back me up.

If you see someone targeting the community, call it out. If you see someone making fun of pronouns, explain why they’re important. If you hear someone use LGBTQ+ people as a punchline, explain the fear that they go through every day. LGBTQ+ services and apps have issued guidelines on how to stay safe when meeting up with others, in case they are attacked or being led into a trap. They shouldn’t have to live with this fear, but that is where we are now.

I think Ireland likes to think of itself as some kind of champion of gay rights. But conversion therapy is still legal on this island. The Anti-Conversion Therapy Coalition was founded in April of 2021 due to frustrations over the delay of the Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill in the Seanad. Almost 20 senators co-signed the bill when it was first put forward but nearly four years later the bill has only reached the third stage in the Seanad.

I think Ireland likes to think of itself as some kind of champion of gay rights. But conversion therapy is still legal on this island.

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Minister O’Gorman, the current Minister for Equality has indicated that his department is investigating the matter, but months of silence and lack of clarity is continually letting the LGBTQ+ community down, especially given the recent news in the UK that they plan to outlaw some kinds (but not all) conversion therapy. Why is the government dragging its heels? Why isn’t there a rush to remove what the UN has referred to as torture?

In August of 2021, the Irish Times published an article that was widely received to be transphobic in nature. The contents of the article focused on conversion therapy but contained several swipes at the trans community. There was particular outrage at the comments Jennifer Langan made about “the tendency of some trans-identifying men, specifically porn-addled autogynephiles, to belligerently out themselves as violent misogynists.” This article has caused student unions across the country, including the USI to boycott the paper due to its content.

Trans healthcare in Ireland is already nearly non-existent, and the services that do exist are significantly oversubscribed. According to the lead clinician of Ireland’s only gender clinic, they do “not have the capacity” to see the 300 trans people who are being referred to it each year. Without sufficient staff, trans people are left alone, unable to seek specialised counselling and instead need to find their own LGBTQ+ friendly therapists. The neglect of essential services only highlights the position the LGBTQ+ community has in the eyes of the Government.

We have also seen recently, a huge increase in discourse around trans rights, especially in the UK. Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFS), have continuously attempted to export their ideas to Ireland, and I am terrified of those ideas becoming a norm. We have already seen the discourse around the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill in Florida and an arson attack on a gay bar in New York.

Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetorics pave the way to violence. That can’t be denied.

Homophobia has deep roots in Irish society. We can’t pretend that it left once marriage equality was achieved in 2015 – and let’s not pretend like there wasn’t a vocal opposition to it either.

From equal adoption rights to banning conversion therapy, the community needs allyship more than ever, not just during Pride Month.

Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community have been calling for help for years. Listening to what the community needs, whether it is dedicated safe spaces to effective RSE education, we need to act now.

List of Vigils for Michael Snee and Aidan Moffitt

FRIDAY

Galway: 17:00 at The Long Point 

Wicklow: 17:00 at the bandstand in Bray

Sligo: 18:00 outside the Town Hall 

Dublin: 18:00 at Dáil Éireann 

Louth: 18:00 at Dundalk Town Square 

Louth: 18:00 at the Tholsel 

Louth: 18:00 at Ardee Civic Offices

Waterford: 18:00 at St John Roberts Square

Waterford: 18:00 at Walton Park, Abbeyside, Dungarvan 

Carlow: 18:00 at the fountain, Liberty Tree, Haddens Car Park

Westmeath: 18:00 in Mullingar Town Park 

Kildare: 18:00 at the bandstand in Liffey Linear Park, Newbridge

Donegal: 18:00 at the crossroads in Falcarragh 

Belfast: 18:00 at City Hall

Derry: 18:00 at Guildhall Square

Laois: 18:00 at County Hall Plaza, Portlaoise

Offaly: 18:00 at O’Connor Square, Tullamore

Meath: 18:00 at Navan Town Hall

Meath: 18:00 at the Fairgreen, Kells

Cavan: 18:00 at Market Square, Cavan Town

Monaghan: 18:00 at The Lace Gallery, Carrickmacross

Kilkenny: 18:30 at the Town Hall, High Street

Wexford: 19:00 on Wexford Quay 

Tyrone: 19:00 at Omagh Courthouse

Tipperary: 19:30 at the Main Guard, O’Connell Street, Clonmel

SATURDAY 

Donegal: 14:00 at the Amazing Grace Memorial, Buncrana 

Wicklow: 18:00 in the square, Blessington 

Kildare: 18:00 at the Square, Maynooth

Galway: 19:00 in Eyre Square 

A book of condolences for both the families of Michael Snee and Aidan Moffitt is available at Panti Bar on Dublin.

Elsewhere on District: Ireland’s mental health services won’t be able to cope for much longer