Jon Hanna was born in County Down, but has lived in the Republic for all of his adult life, and Dublin for all but a few months of that. He once swore off activism on the basis that he doesn’t think he’s very good at it, but does still occasionally write things like this.
The strong sisters told the brothers that there were two important things to remember about the coming revolutions. The first is that we will get our asses kicked. The second is that we will win.
25 years ago, those words were part of the Queer Nation Manifesto handed out by the Act Up contingent at the Pride parade in New York.
At a time closer to the Stonewall Riots the parades commemorate than to today,
at a time when here in Ireland the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, and the 1885 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act made sexual acts between two consenting men illegal,
at a time when one of the ways you could identify someone on television as gay was visible Kaposi’s sarcoma,
at a time when people ganging up with the clear and premeditated intent to kill a gay man, because he was a gay man, and doing so, could expect to be given a suspended sentence,
at a time not long after that had happened,
I began to realise I liked boys as well as girls.
The right to same-sex marriage isn’t a right I hope to exercise, because I still liked girls as well as boys, and the person I since met, that I want to spend the rest of my life with, is a woman. And we got to celebrate our love and our wish to be together recently, in a beautiful wedding.
But you are who you are. And I am who I am. And when as a schoolboy I came out a little over 20 years ago, I was lucky to have that received well by good people. And I’ve mostly been lucky to have other such good people around me throughout my life, whether I was married, single, dating a woman, or dating a man. That my life never ended up such that I ever wanted to marry a man, is far from the point, and that is the same for many others who are LGBT (and let us not for a minute forget the T, or anyone else that doesn’t fit the cis, hetero pattern that we’ve for so long been told is “normal”).
Not everybody has been lucky in that way. And nobody should have to be lucky that way. People need protected rights, protected not just by a few good people they are lucky to have around them, but by the people; that “we the people” don’t hand out moments of decency, but insist that all of us the people are treated with respect.
And those who are gay need to have their gay lives, and their gay loves or lack of them as those gay lives unfold, treated with respect.
And those who are trans* and those who are ace need to not have their lives forced into the mould of another’s.
And those of us who are bi need to have our lives treated with respect, with the loves that may come to us as our lives unfold neither allowed because they are straight enough to fit the norm, or allowed because they are gay enough to distance us firmly from the norm, but accepted because they are our loves and they are our lives, and we are all of cherished as citizens by all of us.
And we the people should have been able to legislate for same-sex marriage through our representatives. But when some in the Dáil insisted it wasn’t constitutionally possible without a referendum, that was what we the people had. And, on the day that would have been Harvey Milk’s 85th birthday, a million Irish people said that they think all of our loves and all of our lives should be given the same respect. And that brought with it something that no constitution can give the Dáil the power to deliver, something that goes further than the right to marry the person you love, or even the equality it still brings to those with no intention of such a marriage; it brought a genuine sense that we belong in this country, that we the queer people are indeed seen as part of we the people.
And in a moment of fear that we would lose, and that the loss would push us back grievously, I thought of the few rare optimistic words in the Queer Manifesto; “The second is that we will win.”
The strong sisters could tell the brothers that, because the sisters had been in other fights before, and they knew that we would win, just as they knew that we would get our asses kicked.
They were right on both counts.
And if it’s tempting now to think that we are near the beginning of the end, we need only look at the sisters’ fights to know that this isn’t the case (Repeal the 8th!). There will still be fights, and we will get our asses kicked, and we will win. As will the sisters. It’s not the end, but an Ireland where a million people vote to allow marriage to be lawful “without distinction as to their sex” — an Ireland where people will not only travel to their polling station to do so, but thousands will fly or sail into the country to do so — can be one where we might be near the end of the beginning.