20 years after homosexuality was decriminalised, how far have we come?

Is Ireland now a good place to be gay?

Is Ireland now a good place to be gay?

You could argue that gay people in Ireland have never had it so sweet. Recent polls suggest that over 70% of people are in favour of gay marriage. Civil partnerships were introduced in 2011. A number of prominent figures in Irish life have come out as gay: Cork politician Jerry Buttimer and former Cork hurler Donál Óg Cusack are two prominent gay men in very traditional Irish organisations.

Even your stereotypical old eucharistic adorer granny has probably seen a gay person, even if it’s just on Coronation Street. By and large, Irish society has proven itself tolerant and welcoming of those different from the ‘norm’.

Of course, the gulf between ‘official Ireland’ and the grassroots of Irish society has always been wide. Until 1993, it was illegal to be gay in the Republic of Ireland, under archaic British laws. The Criminal Law Amendment Act also raised the age of consent to 13, and the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 made “buggery” illegal. It was under this law that Oscar Wilde was sent to Reading Gaol. Lesbianism was not mentioned. Perhaps, like Queen Victoria was rumoured to, the lawmakers simply did not believe that lesbians existed.

Ireland, in decades past, was not a nice place to be gay. As Declan Cashin recalls in his article detailing the history of Gay Pride in Ireland, it was perfectly OK for an agony aunt in a national newspaper to tell a young man struggling with his sexuality that he might pop along to the Legion of Mary for a ‘cure’, and if that didn’t work, he might consider staying celibate for life. Church influence and misinformation painted gay people as aberrations, in thrall to baser instincts.

In the 1980s, two high profile murders of gay men, RTE employee Charles Self and Aer Rianta worker Declan Flynn, mobilised the gay community. The latter killing, which saw Mr Flynn beaten to death by five anti-gay vigilantes, was especially galling. The five, the youngest of whom was 14, received cursory sentences and went onto celebrate their release with a ‘victory march’ in Fairview Park, the same place where Mr Flynn was kicked to death. They’d also stolen IR£4 and his watch.

Although these horrible events happened just thirty years ago, the attitude of the judiciary and the gardai was archaic in the extreme. It was widely claiming that victims of gay-bashing attacks received little or no help from the gardai; judges routinely “pathologised, represented as immature, recommended for medical treatment and publicly humiliated” those men who came before them charged with ‘public indecency’, according to Nell McCafferty.

Dublin had hosted a gay pride parade since 1979, but the one in 1983 was much bigger and angrier. The sense was that gays in Ireland were marching for their very survival.

A decade later, Ireland finally decriminalised homosexuality. The campaign to scrap the antiquated law had been begun by David Norris in 1977. First defeated by the Supreme Court, Norris’ case that the 1861 law violated Irish citizens’ privacy was upheld the European Court of Human Rights in 1988. After decades of sitting on their hands like only successive Irish governments can, the law was repealed and replaced by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993.

Hard to believe that the progressive society we seem to have embraced today was so slow to change. Yet, if we look beyond the surface, things aren’t perfect. Ireland is planning to hold a referendum on gay marriage in 2014, but already conservative elements are sharpening their teeth against it. Drag artist Panti recently appeared on TV3’s Midday and condemned Catholic think-tank the Iona Institute for its anti-gay marriage stance, saying that “they think they’re saying this into a vacuum and it has no effect, but that isn’t true.

“When people make those arguments, you know, to treat gay people differently, that seeps in.”

Homophobia, like sexism and racism, is still with us. Thankfully, it’s taken more seriously by the authorities in Ireland. Attacks on the LGBTQ community, whether verbal or physical, still occur, as the below shows:

via Facebook

via Facebook

Worryingly, homophobic bullying is still prevalent in schools, with over 50% of gay students reporting it in Irish schools. And it’s not just schools, with fast-food chain Eddie Rockett’s recently ordered to compensate two lesbian workers who faced appalling verbal abuse during the course of their work.

When the majority of Irish children are educated by an institution that condemns homosexuality, are these stats that surprising? Tolerance is generally learned from parents, and sadly it seems that many are not as tolerant as we would hope. While we can’t go back to bad old days of consenting gay adults appearing before the courts, we do need to make sure that hard-worn liberties are not lost through complacency.

*Lead image via Wikimedia Commons

It’s twenty years today since homosexuality was decriminalised, but has Irish society achieved full equality for the gay community, asks The Daily Shift’s Roisin Peddle… 

You could argue that gay people in Ireland have never had it so sweet. Recent polls suggest that over 70% of people are in favour of gay marriage. Civil partnerships were introduced in 2011. A number of prominent figures in Irish life have come out as gay: Cork politician Jerry Buttimer and former Cork hurler Donál Óg Cusack are two prominent gay men in very traditional Irish organisations.

Even your stereotypical old eucharistic adorer granny has probably seen a gay person, even if it’s just on Coronation Street. By and large, Irish society has proven itself tolerant and welcoming of those different from the ‘norm’.

Of course, the gulf between ‘official Ireland’ and the grassroots of Irish society has always been wide. Until…

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