Never Stop Holding Hands: how love took on a monster, and won.

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Panti said that she got through an entire day without checking herself, and that she does not feel oppressed.

A couple of friends of mine walked to the local shop together. A man approached them shook their hands, and told them to never stop holding hands.

Another friend talked about all the same-sex couples she saw holding hands, embracing, being unapologetically together on our streets and in our parks.

And I walk down the street alone with a Yes badge on my shirt- I can’t bear to take it off yet. It’s met on every street with infectious, unstoppable smiles. Moments of overjoyed connection with strangers- and not just the strangers we’ve been led to expect. The buttoned-up, the middle-aged, the most conservative appearing of us can’t help but break into grins when we see each other.

This is about marriage, but this is about so much more. This was about changing a society, and it was about letting everyone in that society know how it had changed.

This campaign was hard. It was cruel at times. The helpless frustration of seeing signs on every street telling you that you are unfit, inadequate, should be happy to put up with less. Hearing unashamed bigotry dressed up as genuine concerns in a cowardly media. Feeling the weight of money and influence wielded by people who hate us so much that they threw everything they had into keeping us down. Hearing stories of kids of same sex couples, of adopted kids, of kids of single parents seeing those same posters telling them that their families weren’t enough, and feeling helpless to do anything about it.

The campaign was cruel, and it was an unnecessary cruelty.

But- and here is the beautiful thing- the campaign was also kind. We didn’t just fight. We cared for each other. We knew that we could only win by sharing some of the most vulnerable parts of ourselves with strangers, and by being judged for those. So we did. On doorsteps and streets and online and in newspapers and even on TV we shared our stories, our families, our lives and our fears, in the hope that they would find a spark or humanity and empathy in people who had never met us. And it did.

And sometimes it didn’t. So we came together. We supported each other. We were kind to each other through our anger, our frustration, and through our tears. We made allowances for each other- exhaustion doesn’t bring out any of our best, we said.

And here’s the beautiful thing: we came together as a queer community to do what we do best- to hold each other up when the world wants to break us. And gradually, we discovered that we were not alone.

We heard the outrage in our straight friends and families’ voices. We saw their disbelief at the attacks on us turn to determination. We felt their kindness to us- listening to our hurt, letting us cry or rant, asking us if we’re doing okay and really hearing what we had to say. And then we heard them speak out. We heard them talk to their friends and their families, to have conversations that we were to exhausted to have. We saw them join our campaigns, pound our streets and knock on doors. And we saw them on every street with their Yes badges, proclaiming to every person that they passed where they stood.

I don’t like the term ‘ally’- for me it should be a verb, not a noun- but this spring we discovered tens, hundreds of thousands of people willing to do the work, to put themselves out there, to stand as a buffer when needed and to amplify our voices every moment they could.

This campaign redefined what it means to be ‘us’. It opened doors we hadn’t even realised we’d sealed shut. It showed our straight friends the worst side of what they had never even realised that we had to put up with. And in their response, countless among them earned the title of ally.

This campaign has changed Ireland. It is about marriage, yes- and I can’t wait to join my friends in celebrating the lives they build with each other. But this campaign and this referendum became about so much more than that.

This campaign was a fight between two Irelands. There’s the Ireland that the world thinks we are. Parochial, old-fashioned, under the thumb of the Vatican, resistant to change and too complacent to stand up for itself. And then there’s the other Ireland- the one I always want to be part of. The Ireland that is the best that we can be. The Ireland of inclusion, of community, of generosity. The Ireland that never met an underdog it wouldn’t stand up for.

I am proud of my LGBTQ community for being that Ireland, and I’m proud that our friends took up our invitation to join us there.

This referendum should never have been necessary. It is a disgrace that we were forced to beg our country for the right to be treated equally under the law. But we took that disgraceful necessity and we used it to create faster and more beautiful change in our society than I have seen in my life. We used it to come together. To listen to each other, and to understand. To be patient and kind.

For all of us who never check ourselves again. For all of us who fearlessly, thoughtlessly take the hand of the person they love, and never have to let go. For the indescribable bravery of every person who took off years of armour and bared our vulnerability to the world. For every person who never knew us, who was scared of us, and whose heart was softened by that humanity and vulnerability. For the people who held us when we cried, and who heard our anger and our outrage when we were finally somewhere safe to express it.

And for all of us who learned this spring that change is possible. Who learned that it takes more than we ever thought we could give- but that if we hold each other up, there is more in us than we ever thought possible. For all of us who feel a spark of the changes yet to come, and hope that at the other side of our battles are days like today.

Who learned, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, that monsters can be beaten.

For all of us. We’ve done something spectacular. I have never- never- felt this kind of pride. And in a very real way, I love you all.

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Never Stop Holding Hands: how love took on a monster, and won.
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