In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message.
For this post, I’m delighted to share something from Izzy Kamikaze. In Izzy’s own words:
I’m 52 years old & have been involved in LGBT rights struggles & feminism since I was 19. I used to live in Dublin, where I was a founder member of Dublin Pride & I now live in the rural North West with my partner, the poet & activist Hayley Fox-Roberts and a variety of animals.
This was originally posted on Izzy’s tumblr, though you can mostly find them on Twitter.
There is a lot of focus in Ireland right now on “the family” and the family life of LGBT people is under the microscope. I’d like to say what family means to one person, the only one I can speak for. I want to say what family means to me.
In some countries, the individual citizen is regarded as the stuff that society is made of. Not in Ireland. Article 41 of our Constitution says the family is “the fundamental unit group of society” and this family,” THE family” is based on marriage. Clearly Irish society was intended to be something with a moat and a drawbridge. If you’re not part of a family, or if your family isn’t THE family, you are NOT PART OF SOCIETY. “Society” can get along just fine, without the likes of YOU!
A hundred thousand kids were taken from their mothers and adopted because their families were not THE family. A right to a mother and father? They don’t even have a right to a goddamn birth cert!
LGBT people have been “outside society” since forever, but here we are still knocking at the door. How did we survive? Well, if the families we came from rejected us (as they often did and still do) we found people who could love us and, in time, approved or not, those people became our families. Because our constitution actually does have a point when it comes to families being the building blocks of society. No man or woman is an island. Nobody does very well all on their own.
We made friends and those friends became family. Some of them were straight people who hadn’t got the memo that we weren’t even part of society. We became part of their families, they became part of ours. Sometimes we were lucky. We found someone who loved us, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Sometimes death parted us. Often we just had the same lousy luck that a lot of our straight friends had. We had lives, we had loves, sometimes we had children. Sometimes we also had the great good fortune of caring for children who had also been cast out by the society with the moat and the drawbridge. We made, friends, we made families, we made communities. We made hay when the sun shone. We made tea and sympathy when times were tough – and when life gave us lemons, we made goddamn lemonade.
We made do.
I was 19 years old when I first marched for Gay Pride in an Ireland which could not have been more hostile, where it was just “natural” that we were outside of society, where that was how it was “supposed” to be. Now, every year, myself and my family, my beautiful, created, extended family, parade with our friends through the streets of Sligo. Sligo is a town of maybe 20,000 people, with no gay bar, no LGBT community centre, no pink pound or rainbow euro. Some people say it’s the smallest city in the WORLD to have an LGBT Pride Parade. Our straight friends have been with us from the start, marching under a banner that says “Straight But Not Narrow.” (I love you guyz!)
Our kids are there, THEIR kids are there, our mums, brothers, aunties are there. Weary gay activists come from other parts of the country to join us for “the craic,” the sense of community and togetherness, the solidarity, the buzz of each other’s company!
Even in the Celtic Tiger era, we never had the money to put together a programme. Now we have less than nothing, but somehow people always offered us what we needed. The late Christopher Robson, a hero of the LGBT rights struggle in Ireland, came at his own expense to show his slides of 30 years of our struggles and our joy. Another hero, Tonie Walsh of the Irish Queer Archives made time for us too.
Musicians, drag queens, dancers, DJs, travelled the length of the country to entertain us for free. The then Mayor of Sligo, Declan Bree, rolled up his sleeves, still in his Mayoral chain and carried boxes for us. Students and kids on the dole made breakfasts for volunteers and knelt on the floor making banners at two in the morning. Acts of love were everywhere to be seen. Remember the happy, smiling, LOVING faces you saw recently on #FamilyMatters (the Twitter riposte to the contemptible Mothers and Fathers Matter)? – They’re the kind of faces you’ll see at Northwest Pride. That’s the love we surround ourselves with every August, no matter what the rest of the year has done to us.
Right now, those happy, smiling, loving people are knocking on doors all over the country, pleading for our right to have what others take for granted. They are getting lots of support, but they are also looking into the cold, dead eyes of those who have always hated us and it is making them tired and sad and angry. The haters are riding higher on the hog now than they have for decades. Their smoother, glibber allies are soft-selling their smears all over 50% of the airwaves – and this new “respectability” for their views is giving great comfort to the people who still spit in our faces and break our noses, whenever they can get away with it.
They mock our families and our lives from every second lamppost – and the families of EVERYONE whose life deviates in any way from their so-called “ideal.” They want the “right” to shun us in their businesses and in the schools we support with our taxes. They debate whether we are fit to do the jobs we had to fight damn hard to get. Our elderly parents, who travelled a hard road to learn to accept us, are sitting in the same churches that protected rapists of children and they are being told that WE are a danger to our kids and all kids and “THE family” and the society with the moat and the drawbridge. And – surprise, surprise, they are succeeding in poisoning some minds.
It has ALWAYS been easy to tell lies about gay people and have them believed.
And the smiling, decent people with the Yes Equality badges? They keep on knocking on doors and fighting this shit. They are my extended family and the extended families of all the out LGBT people in the country (which is still, when all is said and done, a tiny minority.) They are full of the thing that family is supposed to be all about. They are full of love.
That’s the vision of family I want my country to care about. They are the people I want us to honour. And next Friday you get to decide if we, and they, are “part of society.” Our struggle has NEVER been easy and our enemies have always been unscrupulous. They will tell ANY lie, cheat in any way possible. Confused elderly people will be taken from nursing homes to vote against our love and our families. Shock stories will be dredged up or invented to discredit us. The next few days are going to be a nightmare for isolated LGBT people – kids in schools, rural dwellers, fragile people – as the haters crow from every rock.
But I believe those smiling people with the inclusive vision of family will win. It will not be as easy as some of them thought, but WE will win. And when we’re done with that, I hope you book some time off in August to come and party with us at what will most likely be the LAST EVER North West Pride this August.
This is our tenth North West Pride. Ten years of this tiny miracle is, in itself, something to celebrate. Poverty, emigration and austerity are quietly ripping us apart here in the rural fringe. And sadly, the young LGBT people are still usually the first to be driven out. The people who kept on making it happen anyway just can’t do it any more.
Maybe after next week, a new, more equal Ireland will supply the energy to reboot it. Maybe it won’t. But me and my extended family and all our lovely extended families who are wearing themselves out knocking on doors? We will ALWAYS be bursting with Pride!
Vote Yes, folks. Because THESE families matter. xxx