Dublin: ‘Lesbians Organizing Together’ drop-in centre where gay people can report homophobic crimes
5 Capel St (Mon-Thurs 10am-6pm, Fri 10am-4pm; tel 872 7770)
Firms in North face new gay discrimination laws
Businesses in the North will be breaking the law from today if they refuse services to gays, lesbians and bisexuals. New laws outlawing the denial of goods and services to people on grounds of sexual orientation came into effect in the North ahead of other parts of the UK. While the move was welcomed by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission, a Democratic Unionist MP attacked it for potentially criminalising business people with deeply held Christian views.
"I am deeply disappointed the Government has decided to press ahead with this legislation in the face of strong opposition from Christian churches throughout Northern Ireland, including the four main denominations," said Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson. "I believe the Government should have taken note of that opposition and withdrawn the regulations to allow the Assembly the opportunity to discuss and debate these issues in more detail and to amend the regulations so as to protect the rights of Christians. There is an ongoing judicial review being taken by a number of Christian groups and we will await the outcome of that. I believe the Government is wrong and this will create major problems for Christians who may face charges of discrimination simply because they are following their consciences and deeply held religious beliefs."
Supporters of the legislation argue discrimination on any grounds is wrong and must be challenged. However, opponents have accused the Government of rushing the legislation through and not giving people in the North enough time to consider it. They have also claimed the new law would unfairly penalise people running adoption agencies, care homes, bookstores or bed and breakfasts whose Christian beliefs lead them to refuse services to gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people. Bob Collins, the chief commissioner of the North’s Equality Commission which will promote and enforce the new law said the regulations would afford gays, lesbians and bisexuals the same protections offered to all ethnic minorities, men and women, people with disabilities and those with religious beliefs.
"Although attitudes have been changing, we have to confront the reality that many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people face unacceptable prejudice in their everyday lives," he said. "The Equality Commission has been supporting cases brought to the Industrial Tribunal which have highlighted instances of homophobic harassment at work. People have already brought to our attention instances where they have been turned away from hotels, bars and clubs, or denied access to transport, simply because of their sexual orientation. From January 1 experiences like these may well be covered by the new regulations and the commission can advise and assist people who find themselves in such situations.
"The case for these regulations is the same as that for all equality law. We cannot claim to respect people’s dignity while tolerating discrimination against them. We cannot call ourselves an inclusive society unless we give equality of opportunity to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. We have to confront discrimination, challenge stereotypes and change attitudes, on this issue as on others, if we are to achieve a fully just and equal society."
10 January 2007
Gay groups welcome Lords decision
by Tony Grew
Gay and lesbian groups have welcomed the vote in the House of Lords last night which confirmed the introduction of the Sexual Orientation Regulations in Northern Ireland. The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association expressed their pleasure that a campaign of campaign of "distortion and exaggeration" had been defeated. The House of Lords debate coincided with a protest of around 1,000 evangelical Christians and Muslims, who claimed the new regulations would force them to promote homosexuality.
GALHA’s secretary George Broadhead, in a statement to PinkNews.co.uk, said, "While we are very pleased that the Lords sent the Christian agitators packing on this occasion, they haven’t gone away. "We should not forget that the Church of England and the Catholics have both opposed these regulations and continue to do so.
"The Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, has even tried to blackmail the government into dropping the regulations by threatening to withdraw welfare services operated by Church. The Church of England has made similar threats. It is these powerful institutions that will be exerting pressure on Ruth Kelly – but in the light of the big majority in the Lords, we hope that she will resist any further exemptions."
The Lords voted 199 to 68 to uphold the Sexual Orientation Regulations, introduced in Northern Ireland on January 1. They make it unlawful to discriminate against lesbian and gay people in the provision of services ranging from healthcare to hotel rooms. Gay rights organisation Stonewall said they were delighted with the decision. "This is the largest majority we’ve ever secured in the House of Lords and we’re delighted. "The highly inflammatory and well-funded campaign to oppose these much-needed protections reached depths of unpleasantness which we haven’t seen for some years," said chief executive Ben Summerskill. "It has been a stark reminder of how much prejudice still exists in Britain."
Tony Fenwick, of Schools OUT said, "What we have here is a growing war of attrition and we owe it to LGBT Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and the rest to keep the doors of debate open – rather than slamming them in each other’s faces. "I have Muslim friends who have said to me that Allah preaches love and peace; and many – indeed most – Christians say the same of their God. "It was reassuring to say the least that there was a Conference of Gay and Lesbian Muslims a few weekends ago; and it is equally reassuring that there is an LGBT Christians Conference in February next year." The Christian objectors to the Sexual Orientation Regulations in Northern Ireland will now concentrate their energies on a judicial review of the regulations that pressure group the Christian Institute have secured. It will be heard in the High Court in Belfast in March
14 February 2007
Transgender summit a first for Ireland
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
An event being held in Belfast today aims to increase awareness of the existence of transgender and transsexual people in Ireland. The Transgender Symmetry conference is the first time such a gathering has been seen on either side of the Irish border. Richard O’Brien, presenter of TV show The Crystal Maze and star and writer of musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is attending the event. The conference was organised by the Belfast Butterfly Club, a support network for transgendered people and their families.
The group, founded in 1991, holds meetings in towns across the province and runs a telephone helpline. In September 2004 they received a lottery grant of £31,370 to run a three year project for transgendered people. "Here is an opportunity to challenge ignorance and fear and create awareness, understanding and acceptance of diversity," Linda Marshall, president of the club, told the BBC.
An invited audience of community representatives, police, trades unionists and others will hear seminars on trans issues in the workplace and how young transgender people and families can be given greater support. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commissioner said the conference was an indication of progress in society. "For those in gender transition from male to female or female to male, or for those who are permanently stuck between genders in this society, that dignity and respect sometimes seems like a distant dream," Monica McWilliams told the BBC.
"This conference is about starting to change that, changing attitudes and opening up a new vision where equality, dignity and respect are the norm."
22 February 2007
Ireland delays gay partnership bill
by Tony Grew
Legislation to legalise same sex unions in the Republic of Ireland was defeated in the country’s parliament yesterday. The Irish government said that the bill proposed by the Labour party would not comply with the constitution, but said that they would introduce their own legislation later this year. Justice Minister Michael McDowell told Irish MPs (called TDs) that the state is constitutionally required to uphold the institution of marriage. Article 41 of the Irish constitution says the institution of marriage is to be protected, but does not define what marriage is. A national referendum to change the constitution would, "be highly unlikely to succeed and could, if attempted, be very counterproductive in terms of achieving social consensus on this issue," he told the Irish parliament, the Dail. Mr McDowell promised that the government would be bringing forward legislation to protect the rights of all unmarried couples, gay or straight.
They asked for opposition parties to give them six months to devise their own proposals. The Labour TD who introduced the bill, Brendan Howlin, called the government’s actions shameful and some members of the government party were also critical. Labour leader Pat Rabbitte called Mr McDowell’s speech: "a shameful, shallow, rowdy, incoherent, arrogant and bombastic farce," according to the Evening Echo.
"Given that you have to accept that he’s not a stupid man, one could only be driven to the conclusion that his performance was deliberately deceitful," he added. During his speech, Mr McDowell, a member of the ruling Fianna Fail party, talked about the past prejudice LGBT people faced in Ireland. "From the very dark days of prejudice, a new tolerance has emerged based on our appreciation of the fact that homosexual people are in every respect entitled to be equally valued as members of society and not to be relegated to an inferior status," he told TDs, according to cwnews.com.
The defeated bill would have granted all of the same rights for same-sex couples as married couples currently enjoy. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland in 1993, but since then the country has embraced gay rights. Both discrimination and incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation are illegal. A recent opinion poll found 84% in favour of some sort of recognition for lesbian and gay couples.
Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, has had same-sex civil partnerships since December 2005. Earlier in the week remarks by the President of Poland about homosexuality during a state visit to Ireland outraged politicians. Speaking to an audience at Dublin Castle, Lech Kaczynski said that the promotion of homosexuality would lead to the eventual destruction of the human race. Politicians across the political spectrum in Ireland lined up to pour scorn on the Pole’s comments. Kaczynski was challenged over his homophobic views, and his decision to ban a gay rights march in Warsaw in 2004. He replied: "If that kind of approach to sexual life were to be promoted on a grand scale, the human race would disappear. Imagine what grand changes would occur in mores if the traditional links between men and women were set aside."
March 17, 2007
Dublin Throws Diverse St. Patrick Parade
by Shawn Pogatchnik, Associated Press Writer
Dublin, Ireland (AP) – Lithuanian musicians, drum-beating Punjabis and West African dancers used Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday to celebrate their place in a booming Ireland that has become a land of immigrants. One man dressed as St. Patrick in papal hat and sunglasses did the samba, while another float nearby featured "Miss Panty," Dublin’s premier drag queen.
Dublin’s freewheeling parade drew a half-million spectators and included Christine Quinn, the first openly gay leader of the New York City Council. Quinn is boycotting the more conservative New York parade because the organizers refuse to let gay and lesbian groups march. This year, she accepted an Irish government invitation to be part of the Dublin City Council contingent.
"The fact I’m here in Dublin and able to march and participate in inclusive events should send a message of how backwards the New York parade is," said Quinn. The Irish economy has been booming for the past 13 years, drawing immigrants from around the world to the country — and its festivities. "Nowadays there’s far more color in the parade. It’s great to see all our new Irish from across the world dressed up in green," said Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who normally spends St. Patrick’s Day in the United States but returned overnight after visiting President Bush in the White House.
The parade also featured about a dozen U.S. high school and college bands. The leader of Ireland’s 4 million Roman Catholics, Archbishop Sean Brady, appealed to Ireland to remember the religious roots of the holiday in this rapidly secularizing, heavy-drinking land. "The challenge for all of us is to be consistent and coherent, not just in honoring Patrick with our lips and our parades, but with our hearts and lives — to honor what he really represents by earnestly trying to embody it in our own lives," Brady said.
More than 1,000 police were on duty to deal with expected alcohol-fueled trouble in the evening, following widespread drunkenness that led to 700 arrests in 2005 and lesser trouble last year. Dublin liquor stores were ordered closed until 4 p.m. to deter public drinking until well after the parade concluded. This was the first St. Patrick’s Day period when police have been empowered to breathalyze drivers randomly on road checkpoints — a new law that resulted in 60 arrests in the hours before the parade.
Smoking ban comes into force
30th April 2007
by Tony Grew
Belfast’s gay bars will become the latest to go smoke-free today, as Northern Ireland becomes the second part of the UK to enforce a smoking ban. Bans are already in place in the Republic of Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Only England remains, where LGBT people only have until the end of June to continue to smoke in enclosed public places like bars and clubs. A study carried out amongst gay and bisexual men for the NHS Smoking Helpline found that 41% of gay and bisexual men are smokers, rising to 60%for 25 to 34 year olds, well in excess of the national average of 25%. While health risk messages seem to be getting through loud and clear – 91% of respondents know that quitting will improve their health – nearly a third have never tried to give up, the research found.
It also seems that the vast majority don’t actually enjoy their habit, overwhelmingly confirming that they "dislike stale tobacco breath" (77%) and "dislike the smell of tobacco on clothes" (74%). When it comes to choosing a partner, smoking also proves to be a big turn off – even for other smokers. Nearly two thirds confirm that smoking makes people look less attractive, with nearly half actually preferring not to kiss a smoker. The NHS estimate that 12,000 gay men die from smoking related diseases every year, vastly more than die from HIV/AIDS.
To help gay smokers in England and Wales kick the habit in time for the June 30th ban, Ben and Ian from NiQuitin have provided these Top 10 tips to quitting smoking.
1. Take one day at a time.
How long do you think you’ll last without a cigarette? Forget about tomorrow and the next day. Keep it immediate – no fags TODAY, that’s it. Your expectations won’t be too high and you’ll be WELL chuffed at the end of each and every day.
2. Increased lung capacity.
Seriously underrated that fresh air stuff, we found. Every single smoke free day, your lungs are saying cheers. The difference is amazing even after a couple of weeks, your lungs have started to clear.
You’ll notice the difference as soon as you run for a bus or to the bar. Give your body time to clear itself out – it’s the coolest thing in the world that it does.
3. More loose change!
Kerching! Put aside the money you would have spent on cigarettes. Watch it mount up and your smile grow. Then spend it on something that’s a real treat.
The thought that treat came from money you would normally have spent on shortening your life-span should make you smile wider than front row seats at a Kylie concert. We spent it on new cars. OK, so we didn’t save THAT much THAT quickly, but we were thinking of the future…
4. Peer pleasure (or more like friendly support).
Tell your friends you’re quitting and make sure they are on your side – especially the ones that still smoke. They will be there for you. They’ll enjoy some of the funniest ("Oh you ARE a comic genius") jokes known to man at your expense first, but they will get there, some of them might even join you in quitting (one of ours did).
Here’s some tips for the little loves:
– Don’t offer them any fags!
– Understand why they’ve quit. If temptation gets in their way, remind them why they decided to quit
– Take your mate shopping after a week or two. They can buy something nice with the money saved by not smoking. No, not for you…
– Join them in their quit. If not then try not to smoke as much as you would around them
– Answer the phone calls whatever time, they might just need to hear that smoking is NOT the next best thing…
Obviously, your loved ones should be helping here. Ian’s wife didn’t smoke anyway, so that was a good start. The fact that she mentioned that she was inclined to kiss him more often as he no longer tasted like an ashtray, swayed opinion somewhat.
Tell your parents, relatives, girlfriends, boyfriends, the postman and the strange guy at the bus stop. People WILL be there to help you.
6. Friendship – It takes two.
Quitting with a friend is a top of the class idea. The fact that we work together as well as drink and smoke(d) together was a big plus.
It meant that we were there for each other to moan at / shout at / hit at most times – coffee break cigarette, after lunch cigarette, end of the day cigarette, down the pub cigarettes, hanging from the chandelier cigarettes.
On more than one occasion, we phoned or texted each other at stupid hours to offload about our cravings.
7. Throwing ourselves in the deep end?
We threw ourselves in at the deep end. Ian’s main time for smoking was the pub. Any pub. Didn’t matter. Ben wasn’t exactly nonchalant about having a fag down the pub either. The thought of taking away cigarettes was bad.
The thought of taking away the other thing we loved in life was frankly down-right tragic. So on our quit day, we went to the pub after work. We’d read all about the fact that for the first week or so of a quit attempt you should stay away from smoky places.
However, our theory was that we might as well find out early if our willpower was strong enough to take kicking cigarettes. It was. It was one of the hardest nights we’d had. But we egged each other on and talked about the first, second and third things that came into our minds – ANYTHING.
Once we’d got through that, we knew that anything else was going to be a walk in the park. A walk littered with big holes and large obstacles, but nonetheless…
8. Online quitting support with Click2Quit.com.
We followed the 10 week Click2Quit support plan program that was tailored for us and provided us with another outlet of support.
The plan is also clinically proven to increase a smokers chances of stopping smoking* – that’s gotta be alright! Although we had each other to nag, it was great to talk to others about their quitting experiences and good to see we weren’t the only ones who felt like we’d lost a best mate.
The site was full of hints and tips that were invaluable and simply added to what we’re finding out ourselves.
9. Healthy eating.
Fairly tempting to buy the contents of your newsagent’s choccy shelf when you’ve knocked the fags on the head we can tell you. It took a bit of getting used to, but we started by chopping up pieces of carrot and celery every morning and munching our way through them whenever a craving arose.
We swiftly cleared out the supermarket in the surrounding area. Handy really all that veg, because now we can see in the dark and are completely rehydrated…
10. Office support.
There’s a lot to be said for anger management. It’s pretty important that you tell your work colleagues you’re quitting smoking as you MIGHT get a bit of leeway after telling them to stuff their Excel spreadsheet where the sun doesn’t shine around about the mid-morning fag break time. We left NiQuitin Lozenges everywhere. Our desks, Phil’s desk, Al’s desk, Nicky’s desk. Everywhere. Members of the team even started carrying Lozenges FOR us lest we forget them – unlikely, as there were even Lozenges in the toilet at one point. But, if you’re using NiQuitin Lozenges store them EVERYWHERE you are likely to need them (all coats, jeans, bags…) And if you don’t get asked to lunch anymore it might be time to stop screaming at people.
NiQuitin Lozenges are a stop smoking aid. Contains nicotine. Requires willpower. Always read the label.
24th May 2007
Irish election could bring same-sex partnerships
by Tony Grew
The people of the Republic of Ireland are voting today in the country’s general election. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern asked the President to dissolve Parliament at the end of April. The result of today’s poll is expected to be very close. Mr Ahern’s Fianna Fail party has been in coalition government with the Progressive Democrats for ten years, but was expectd to lose to a Fianna Gael/Labour coalition. However, the Prime Minister has seen a late surge in support and may be re-elected for a third term in office.
Gay marriage has been an issue in the elections for the 166-seat Dáil Éireann. Earlier this year an attempt by the opposition Labour party to bring forward legislation was blocked by the government. A Bill was debated in the Dáil in February and was well received by all political parties. The government argued that the proposed Bill was vulnerable to constitutional challenge and that it should be postponed pending the outcome of an appeal to the Supreme Court. The government promised to bring forward legislation to protect the rights of all unmarried couples, gay or straight, after the election. In April 2006 Mr Ahern insisted his government was committed to legislation by the next election, echoing a previous statement made to the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN).
He told the Gay Community News magazine: "Ireland needs to legislate to provide a stable and supportive legal framework for same sex couples. That is the path this Government is now embarked upon. It is our aim to make as much progress as possible on legislation to be enacted before the election next year."
Homosexuality was only decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland in 1993, but since then the country has embraced gay rights. Both discrimination and incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation are illegal. A recent opinion poll found 84% in favour of some sort of recognition for lesbian and gay couples. The survey of nearly 1,200 gay and lesbian people’s voting intentions was carried out last year for scene magazine GCN. 20% of respondents said they would vote for the Labour party, and 16% for the Greens.
Ireland’s complex PR voting system means it could be several days before the result is clear, and that will be followed by weeks of negotiations between the parties before a government is formed.
14th June 2007
Ireland’s HIV infection rate up 45%
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
80 men who have sex with men were diagnosed as HIV positive in 2006, figures from Ireland’s Gay Men’s Health Project have revealed. The group are meeting today in Dublin Castle to consider strategies, to discuss best practice and to get advice from international experts. Junior health minister Sean Power opened proceedings. The 2006 figure represents a increase of 45% on 2005 infections. Three-quarters of new cases are over 30 years old.
"Overall, these results highlight the consistent demand for the vital services we offer as well as the need for the continuation of our on-going health and education programmes," Mick Quinlan, the project co-ordinator, told the Evening Echo. The Gay Men’s Health Project is funded by the Irish Health Service. It has been providing outreach services since 1992, the year before homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland. The project is involved in outreach and counselling as well as clinical services.
18th June 2007
The affluent tastes of Ireland’s gay community
by Seth Ewin
A survey of 1,900 LGBT Irish people found they earned on average €13,000 more than the average Irish wage but only half were out to everyone in their workplace. The large-scale poll, commissioned by Dublin-based gay magazine Gay Community News, sheds light on a community previously ignored in statistical terms. Editor of GCN Brian Finnegan said the survey revealed a "two-tier world" in which, on the one hand, gay people are highly educated, professional, earning good money and leading fulfilled lives.
"But there is another world where this group are faced with inequality in society in terms of the law which leads to the situation where 50 per cent are not comfortable being out in the workplace. It is only when the law changes that they will begin to have the confidence to be out and feel comfortable in all parts of society." he said.
Ian Johnson of Out Now, the international consultants which carried out the survey, agrees. "Think of all that energy being wasted keeping your sexuality a secret from your employer or your colleagues, energy that could be devoted to your job. We should be alarmed." The survey also covered what earnings were spent on, relationship and family status and whether they would legally formalise their relationships given the chance. GCN commissioned the survey to show advertisers the value of the pink euro and results show the estimated earnings of the gay community in Ireland comes to €8.75 billion before tax each year.
"Money really does talk," said Finnegan. "Gay liberation only grounded itself when the ‘pink pound’ emerged and the sector began to be identified as a marketing niche. It advanced our community in a way that grassroots political education could never have done."
A significant amount of earnings is spent on grooming and clothes but the average spending on alcohol is more than both combined. Though only 50% were out to everyone in the workplace, 60% were out to family and nearly 80% to friends. If the law changed 90% would be keen to legally formalise their relationships and as many as 10% of respondents have children. The survey’s findings were mostly very positive for a country that only decriminalised homosexuality 14 years ago.
In those 14 years the Irish gay scene has evolved remarkably fast with Pride marches up and down the country and next year the gay rugby world championships being held in Dublin.
19th June 2007
Churches try to overturn gay discrimination laws
The High Court in Belfast has reserved judgement on a legal challenge to new laws protecting gay people from discrimination. A coalition of Christian groups had been granted permission to seek a judicial review regarding new gay equality laws in Northern Ireland. After six days, Mr Justice Weatherup said it would take him ‘some time’ to come to a judgement. The Christian Institute has led calls to rescind the Sexual Orientation Regulations, claiming they were rushed through and constitute an attack on freedom of conscience.
Colin Hart, Director of the Christian Institute, said when the judicial review was granted: "The Regulations bear all the hallmarks of a rushed time-scale. They almost appear to establish a right for homosexuals not to be disagreed with. They would cover a conversation in a Christian bookshop or a pastoral conversation with a church minister. The homosexual harassment provision is so broadly drafted that it nullifies what partial exemptions churches are given. A minister can say to a practising homosexual (as he would an adulterer), ‘I’m sorry, you can’t be a member of my church until you repent and turn to Christ,’ but his explanation could be the subject of a harassment claim if the individual is offended. A teacher who says that sex is only for marriage could be accused of harassment by a pupil sympathetic to gay rights – and this would also apply to denominational schools.”
It follows opposition from within the Democratic Unionist Party to the law. Junior minister Ian Paisley Jnr has faced calls for his resignation after he told a magazine he finds gay people repulsive. In January DUP peer Lord Morrow tried, and failed, to block the regulations in the House of Lords. The churches and Christian charities taking the legal action are, The Christian Institute; The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland; The Congregational Union of Ireland; The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ireland; The Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland; The Fellowship of Independent Methodist Churches; and Christian Camping International (a Christian charity specialising in camping and conferences).
The Roman Catholic Church has also supported the legal challenge, fearful of the effect of the regulations on their schools. The new regulations outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods, services and education on the grounds of sexual orientation. Fines range between £500 and £15,000 but up to £25,000 for repeated breaches
22nd June 2007
Nationwide project for Irish gay youth
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
The Irish government is working with gay community workers to establish a network of LGBT youth groups across the country. The Health Service Executive (HSE) is developing the programme with Belong To, a Dublin project that has been running for the past four years. The project’s national co-ordinator said that numbers of young gay people between 14 and 23 attending the group has doubled every year. Belong To, with the support of the Departments of Education and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, now plan to open youth groups across Ireland.
"We have seen the numbers of young people attending our groups in Dublin more than double each year, with many young people travelling from various parts of the country every week," Michael Barron, Belong To’s national co-ordinator, told the Irish Times. "This is an amazing testament to the bravery and confidence of LGBT young people in Ireland, but it has also highlighted the urgent need for more services, especially outside Dublin. As seen through the work and growth of the project, LGBT young people are increasingly able to come out to their families and friends, they are more aware of their rights and are more confident in their identities. It has been a great pleasure for us to witness this, which I feel reflects a greater openness in Irish society more generally."
Irish society’s attitude to homosexuality has been transformed since decriminalisation in 1993. All the leading political parties support some form of civil partnership. The country’s Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, welcomed the scheme:
"It is really important that all young people have access to the supports and services that they need," she told the Irish Times. "Belong To has done a wonderful job providing some of these supports and services to LGBT young people through their Dublin office, and I am pleased that this will be enhanced through their new regional presence."
9 July 2007
When your child tells you ‘Mum, I’m gay’
Plenty of celebs are glad to be gay, but it still isn’t easy ‘coming out’ to your family, especially in Northern Ireland. Yet attitudes, even among the churches, are beginning to change. Jane Hardy finds out more Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (FFLAG) is a UK-wide organisation, yet its volunteer-run branch in Belfast numbers only a handful of parents of gay men and women, far fewer than you’d expect statistically. The situation in the province has a long way to go before acceptance of homosexuality is reached and total tolerance practised. Yet there are some hopeful signs of change, including a report brought out by the Presbyterian Church last month at its General Assembly which recommended that the Church, known for its strict moral line, should create what it calls a ‘safe space’ for people struggling with their sexuality. This might even translate into some sort of helpline. A spokeswoman and mother of a gay son – who belongs to the church and with worked on the report with facilitators Lindsay Conway and Bobby Liddle – says: "It’s different in Northern Ireland from the mainland; the prejudice here is horrendous".
So much so that this interviewee declined to be named. "I need to protect my family from homophobia" she says, which rather gives the lie to the new liberalisation. Evidently, then, coming out to your parents in the province requires special courage. Lindsay Conway notes: "What we’re saying is from a pastoral point of view, we had to approach things differently, change the language and get alongside the gay community. We’re not about counselling people into changing orientation. It takes courage for the individual to come out, and even more to come out to clergy."
There is a sense in which parents of gay adults have to come out, too, after their children’s announcement – to their own friends, family and society. The woman who asked not to be named adds that she has only just told her elder sister about her son’s sexual orientation, even though she has known about it herself for a decade. "There is a real reluctance – to be honest, an awful lot of gay people here haven’t yet told their parents. You’re up against a lot of ignorance, and I had to do a lot of research on the subject myself." She adds the professionals haven’t been well-informed either: "Producing the church report is progress on a small scale, but – and this is a big but- people still end up keeping gayness in the family to themselves, sometimes ending up on medication. It’s a difficult issue."
She admits that she never thought she would be in this position: "When the Victorians criminalised (homosexuality), we were all criminalised." Yet the Presbyterian Church report has let in a chink of light: "We couldn’t have produced the report five years ago". Lindsay Conway says that the Presbyterian Church is prepared to repent of any homophobic attitudes in the past. "We need the gospel of reconciliation." Myths still need exploding, of course, prejudices banishing. The mother adds: "I wouldn’t say the Bible as a book is negative, but the way it’s being relayed is negative. At the Church Assembly meeting when the report was debated, there was quite a lot of opposition but it has now gone through.
"It’s going to be very slow over here, as people are stuck in their ideas, they think you’re making up the prejudice. But they need to find out what’s going on – unfortunately, there was no one out there for me. So the more people read about the subject, the better."
FFLAG is contactable via www.fflag.org.uk
‘I felt everything had crashed down around me’
Cathy Falconer (49) mother of two sons, Kevin (29) and Barry (25), who is gay, is author of Good As You: Explanatory Study of Mothers’ Reaction To Gay Sons. She lives in Londonderry. She says: Barry came out to me almost eight years ago – I remember it all very well. He’d come out to his father the night before but it wasn’t a planned thing. They were out with some people: I don’t know the exact way of it but the conversation got round to homosexuality. A person asked Barry: ‘Are you gay?’ and he said: ‘Yes.’
When these friends left for home, my husband said, ‘We’d better tell your mother’. Eugene then told me, and I felt as if everything had crashed down around me. It was a big shock, although I had suspected something for about six months, when none of Barry’s friends were coming round, and he was withdrawn. He wasn’t himself, and I was worried he might be breaking up with his girlfriend. He always had girlfriends, funnily enough. I was thinking, ‘It’s not this, it’s not that, he wouldn’t be gay, would he?’ Of my two sons, Barry was always breaking the girls’ hearts from the age of 14 to 16. His friends all kind of knew, before me. Barry broke up with this girl but hung around with the same wee group.
The biggest thing for me was what society in general was going to say or do. And then you, the family, come out, too, it’s definitely a similar process. You have to decide who you can tell and who first – there’s a pecking order. Can you tell your sister, brother, best friend? No … we’ll leave my mother for a few weeks. My other son Kevin was at Queen’s University, Belfast, at the time. He was shocked, big time, having a gay little brother. My whole family was great, though. They said: ‘We love him, it’ll never change our view of him.’ I was the one crying about it and reacting emotionally. They were all trying to protect me, and I was lucky to get that support. Some people who discover they have a gay son are afraid to tell anyone, and say: ‘We’ll keep it within these four walls as a private matter.’ There’s a lot of fear and a sense of loss, too, regarding grandchildren.
I have had experience of homophobia – at the start, I used to hear people making some derogatory remark, which made me feel as if someone had put a knife in my stomach and twisted it. Now, I’d feel able to say: ‘That’s not right.’ People might come out with: ‘No son or daughter of mine is gay.’ And I’d think: ‘You just don’t know.’ I still fear society’s – other people’s – reaction and will until the day I die. It is ignorance, really. A lot of people hold on to the old myths, that homosexuals are perverts or evil, and that’s one of the reasons I wrote the book. Everybody thinks: ‘How could this happen, how did my son turn out to be gay?’ And there are no answers out there. I was doing a master’s degree at the University of Ulster, and needed a thesis topic, so I decided to study how other people felt when their children came out as gay.
I narrowed it down to mothers’ reactions, as I’d never have got the fathers to talk to me. I interviewed 11 mothers from Belfast, Derry and Donegal, and all were saying exactly what I felt. The main worry tends to be: ‘Is it my fault? I must have done something to make him gay. Why couldn’t he be straight?’ I wasn’t the only one to feel this, which was a comfort. And, of course, Aids has been another big worry. I could write the script for a parent of a gay child. What’s the best time to come out? There is no best time, but young men often do it during the first year at university. They need to feel comfortable in the situation, and will often work out that mum’s likely to be ok, dad not, and tell her first.
My son’s coming out wasn’t planned, as I’ve explained, but he was relieved when it was over. Barry now has a partner, Gary, and at the start that was another issue. He is mad about him and I’d certainly rather he was in a relationship. Gary’s lovely and they’re very happy. They’ve got what every parent wants for their child – the chance to find love and happiness."
‘My dad was ok but my mother was all tears’
Barry Falconer (25), son of Cathy and Eugene, partner of Gary, works as a hairdresser and lives in Londonderry. He says: It happened in the house, actually, not in the pub as my mother describes it. My father and I had been out having a wee drink with some friends. I do indeed remember coming out to him – it was spontaneous, I hadn’t planned it at all. I always thought my parents would be ok with it. Then, suddenly, I am not sure how, we came on to a gay conversation, and I said: ‘I’m gay.’ He was fine, really fine, saying: ‘You’re my son and I love you, and as long as you’re happy, that’s all that’s important.’
No, my mother wasn’t ok. She was all tears and snotters, as they say. I wasn’t expecting that at all. After that, she hid her feelings from me and kept it to herself. I never knew she was so affected, but she was right out of her comfort zone for a long time, with a breaking heart. I had always had girlfriends, friends and maybe something more, a bit of both really, but from 15 they were just friends who were girls. It’s not so difficult now for people at school, but definitely back then, if you were 14 or 15 you didn’t talk about being gay. You just didn’t have that option. My girlfriends weren’t a smokescreen – I was just doing what everybody else was doing, going along with the crowd. I told a close friend first, then a few days later, told them all. I don’t think the scene in London is necessarily better, although Northern Ireland is very into itself – everyone just knows everyone else and there’s not the anonymity of London.
I live with my partner Gary. We have been together seven years this July. We’ve talked about getting married and having a civil ceremony, but we’ll see. Gary is a student placement officer at a language school, and we met when we both lived in the same block of apartments. Coming out produced a great sense of relief. Nobody, gay or straight, discusses their sex life with their parents, but it made it easier to talk about what I did socially. Even my grandparents were pretty cool about it. My father’s parents are a bit older, a different generation, but they sussed it out. I have encountered homophobia, verbal abuse, but you just have to ignore it. There is no point in getting into it, and, after all, it is their problem. I don’t know if life would have been easier if I’d been straight. But being gay is part of me, like the colour of my hair."
17th July 2007
Ireland to get civil partnerships
by Tony Grew
The Irish Prime Minister yesterday pledged to bring in new laws to legalise civil partnerships for gay and lesbian couples. Bertie Ahern, opening a gay community centre in Dublin, said that he wanted to move as quickly as possible on the issue. He told the assembled crowd: "This Government is committed to providing a more supportive and secure legal environment for same-sex couples.
"Taking into account the Options Paper prepared by the Colley Group, and the pending Supreme Court case, we will legislate for Civil Partnerships at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of this Government," he said. The court case refers to a lesbian couple, Drs Katherine Zappone and Anne Louise Gilligan, who have lodged an appeal with the country’s Supreme Court, challenging the High Court’s decision that their Canadian marriage is not valid. In February an attempt to legalise same sex unions in the Republic of Ireland was defeated.
Homosexuality was only decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland in 1993, but since then the country has embraced gay rights. Both discrimination and incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation are illegal. A recent opinion poll found 84% in favour of some sort of recognition for lesbian and gay couples. Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, has had same-sex civil partnerships since December 2005. Last year Mr Ahern explained his views on homosexuality and said he wanted to attract more gay candidates to his Fianna Fail party.
"Our sexual orientation is not an incidental attribute. It is an essential part of who we are. All citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, stand equal in the eyes of our laws," he said. "Sexual orientation cannot, and must not, be the basis of a second-class citizenship. Our laws have changed, and will continue to change, to reflect this principle." Bertie Ahern was once again sworn in as Taoiseach, or Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, on June 14th, after the Green party agreed to join a coalition government under his leadership.
He has held the position since 1997. The formation of a new administration followed weeks of negotiations among the country’s political parties. It is the first time the Greens form part of the government Mr Ahern has a majority of just one in the newly-elected Dail.
July 19, 2007
O’Halloran to open Dublin gay film fest
Acclaimed gay writer and actor Mark O’Halloran will officially open GAZE: The 15th Dublin International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, on Thursday 2 August. This five-day cinema programme, with premieres, new independent features, documentaries, shorts, award winners and experimental films, will take place from 2 to 6 August in the Irish Film Institute, Dublin 2. An actor, director and screenwriter, O’Halloran wrote and starred in award-winning film ‘Adam and Paul’. His highly anticipated new feature, ‘Garage’, was recently lauded in Cannes.
AdvertisementOther guests that have been confirmed include director Rahman Milani (‘Seahorses’); director Lisa Gornick (‘Tick Tock Lullaby’); Louis Biedak, the star of ‘Lulu Gets a Facelift’; directors Alan Grossman and çine O’Brien with star Fidel Taguinod (‘Here to Stay’); director Tom Maguire (‘Queering the Pitch’); and Gal Uchovsky, the producer of closing film, ‘The Bubble’. More information on the festival is available online at www.gaze.ie and tickets can be booked via www.ifibooking.ie
RTÉ is not responsible for the content of external websites.
7 August 2007
First peace, now a breakthrough in gay rights
by David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent
The streets of Londonderry’s Bogside, the scene of so many often deadly confrontations during the Troubles, yesterday witnessed a sight few would have expected, even in a more tolerant Northern Ireland. For the message was proudly proclaimed that the new society will accommodate not just loyalists and republicans, but also gay people. And the word was conveyed by Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, who signalled a new phase for community relations when he launched Gay Pride week in his home city. Appearing as Deputy First Minister in the recently formed devolved government, he declared the administration was committed to ensuring equality of opportunity for all.
He was speaking after the city’s iconic wall, which declares "You are now entering Free Derry" had been painted bright pink in support of the week-long festival. His highly public endorsement of the Gay Pride week is seen as symbolic at a number of levels, not least because the wall’s original significance was as a statement of republican defiance of authority. Mr McGuinness, who was once an IRA commander in the city, yesterday spoke as Northern Ireland’s second most senior politician. Another significant element lies in the fact that his political boss, the Rev Ian Paisley, is devoutly opposed to homosexuality, regarding it as a sin. He once spearheaded a "Save Ulster from Sodomy" campaign. Several months ago Mr Paisley’s son Ian, who is also a member of the government, caused a stir when he said in an interview: "I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong."
On that occasion, however, his father did not endorse his comments, thus avoiding potential disruption within the fledgling executive. Both Sinn Fein and Mr Paisley’s party have striven mightily in recent months to smooth over potential divisions. Sinn Fein is probably Northern Ireland’s most liberal major grouping in its support for gay rights and women’s issues. It reserves a third of seats on its party executive for women and has gay men and lesbians among its members though it has no openly gay figures in its senior ranks. Mr McGuinness said yesterday: "Given the role that the city of Derry played in the struggle for civil and human rights, it is a massive step forward that the contribution that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is making is being celebrated." David McCartney, project co- ordinator with the gay rights group The Rainbow Project, welcomed the painting of the wall, proclaiming it "a powerful symbol of civil liberties".
The Gay Pride week was not without its problems, however. Graffiti was sprayed on the pink wall at the weekend, necessitating a quick re-paint before the celebration began.
April 19, 2007
International Study Shows Widespread Dislike For Gay Neighbors
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
New York City – An international study of attitudes towards gays shows large number of people still do not want gay neighbors. People in Northern Ireland showed the most distain for having a gay neighbor. Thirty-six percent of those questioned said they did not want a gay or lesbian living next door. The study, "Love Thy Neighbor: How Much Bigotry is there is Western Countries", was co-authored by Prof. Vani Borooah of the University of Ulster and Prof. John Mangan, a professor of economics at the University of Queensland in Australia. It was based on statistics from the Human Beliefs and Values Survey, conducted in 24 Western countries between 1999 and 2002.
In Italy opposition to gay neighbors stood at nearly 29 percent, despite a recent separate poll that showed a majority of Italians believe same-sex couples should have domestic partner benefits. The disparity between the two sets of numbers shows that people tend to support gay rights in the abstract but not are not as supportive when confronted in their own neighborhoods. The research focused primarily on Europe and Australia. In the Republic of Ireland, 27 percent said they did not want a gay neighbor. In Austria and Greece it was 26 percent. Nearly 25 percent of Australians do not want want gays living next door. Overall the most welcoming country was Sweden where six per cent said they would object to having gay neighbors.
August 31, 2007
Plea over persecution of gay people
President Mary McAleese has called for a national change in attitudes to end the bullying of gay people. Addressing world experts at the International Association of Suicide Prevention conference in Killarney, the President said the link between sexual identity and suicide had to be addressed. And she warned gay people encounter a hurtful undercurrent of bias and hostility.
The President also said the Republic’s alarming suicide rate of 500 a year could be reduced by decommissioning the culture of binge drinking and the tolerance of alcohol and drug abuse.
11th September 2007
Judge strikes down Sexual Orientation Regulations provision
by Tony Grew
The High Court in Northern Ireland has ruled that parts of the Sexual Orientation Regulations must be removed. In a victory for Evangelical Christian activists, Mr Justice Weatherup said that a provision that protects LGB people from harassment when accessing goods and services should be set aside. He upheld the rest of the regulations. Christians who provide goods and services will not be prosectuted for saying they are unwilling to provide them to LGB people.
The removal of harassment protections also applies to schools in Northern Ireland, many of them run by Christian churches.
"The applicants contend that the regulations treat evangelical Christians less favourably than other persons to the extent that they are subject to civil liability for manifesting the orthodox belief in relation to homosexuality," the judge wrote in his 42-page judgment. "I am satisfied that the regulations do not treat evangelical Christians less favourably than others." The judge ruled that as not a long enough period had been set aside for public consultation on the regulations, the harassment provision should be set aside.
Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, told the BBC: "It means that freedom of speech is preserved."
A coalition of Christian groups had been granted permission to seek a judicial review regarding new gay equality laws in Northern Ireland. The Christian Institute has led calls to rescind the Sexual Orientation Regulations, claiming they were rushed through and constitute an attack on freedom of conscience. The churches and Christian charities who took the legal action are, The Christian Institute; The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland; The Congregational Union of Ireland; The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ireland; The Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland; The Fellowship of Independent Methodist Churches; and Christian Camping International (a Christian charity specialising in camping and conferences). The Roman Catholic Church has also supported the legal challenge, fearful of the effect of the regulations on their schools. Gay rights group the Coalition on Sexual Orientation and statutory bodies the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission also made submissions to the court in defence of the SORs.
The new regulations outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods, services and education on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Callum Webster, the Christian Institute’s NI officer, told the BBC: "We are encouraged by the judge’s narrowing of the interpretation of the regulations because he said they will not apply to the school curriculum."
Colin Hart, Director of the Christian Institute, said when the judicial review was granted: "The Regulations bear all the hallmarks of a rushed time-scale. They almost appear to establish a right for homosexuals not to be disagreed with. They would cover a conversation in a Christian bookshop or a pastoral conversation with a church minister. The homosexual harassment provision is so broadly drafted that it nullifies what partial exemptions churches are given. A minister can say to a practising homosexual (as he would an adulterer), ‘I’m sorry, you can’t be a member of my church until you repent and turn to Christ,’ but his explanation could be the subject of a harassment claim if the individual is offended. A teacher who says that sex is only for marriage could be accused of harassment by a pupil sympathetic to gay rights – and this would also apply to denominational schools."
The SORs have proved controversial in Northern Ireland. They were imposed by then-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Hain before self-government resumed. In January a member of First Minister Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party tried to block them in the House of Lords. Mr Paisley himself joined protesters outside the Lords, saying: "Are we really Christians and will we stand up for Jesus? We’re here to say that we’re on the Lord’s side." In the 1970s the First Minister spearheaded a campaign against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland, "Save Ulster From Sodomy," and as recently as 2005 he led opposition to civil partnerships. Since taking office in a joint administration with nationalist party Sinn Fein in May the DUP has muted their stance on gay rights. Unionist MEP Jim Allister, who resigned from the DUP in protest at the decision to go into government with Sinn Fein, has challenged Mr Paisley to state publicly that he will move to rescind the SORs.
22nd October 2007
Irish court makes landmark ruling in trans case
by Tony Grew
A ruling by Ireland’s highest court may lead to a change in the law with regards to the rights of trans people to have a new birth certificate issued. At the High Court in Dublin Mr Justice Liam McKechnie ruled that the failure of the Irish government to provide proper recognition of the female identity of Dr Lydia Foy is a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights. He said that the system of birth registration in Ireland is incompatible with the convention as it prevents Dr Foy’s registration as female at birth. The government will now have to outline how it intends to comply with Article 8 of the convention, respect for private life.
The test case concerned Dr Lydia Foy, a dentist from Athy, Co. Kildare. Dr Foy changed her name to Lydia in 1993 and has previously been issued with an Irish passport and driving licence in which she is identified as female. She also obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate in the UK, but the High Court in Dublin questioned the relevance of the document in the Republic of Ireland. When obtaining the certificate, Dr Foy stated that she was unmarried, despite the fact that she married in 1977 and fathered two daughters. In 2002, Dr Foy was refused a direction by the courts to the Registrar of Births to describe her as female on her birth certificate.
Just days after that High Court decision the European Court of Human Rights ruled on a landmark case. The UK’s refusal to give transgender people new birth certificates breached their rights to marry and to respect for privacy under the Convention, the European court ruled. At that time the High Court in Dublin urged the Irish government to take action, but nothing has been done in the intervening five years, so Dr Foy has returned to court. In his 70-page judgment, released on Friday, Mr Justice McKechnie criticised the government for not bring forward legislation when the case arose in 2002.
In April counsel for Mrs Foy argued that ruling in Dr Foy’s favour could "enormous uncertainty" and put in a unique position, as the Irish state only recognises a marriage between people of the opposite sex. Dr Foy will now be able to claim compensation.
09 November 2007
Gays Protest Lack of Equailty Outside Irish Parliament
Over 200 people turned up at a candlit vigil last night outside the Irish Dáil to protest at the lack of equality for same sex couples in this country. The event was organised by the LGBT section of the Labour Party, who re-introduced a Civil Unions Bill in the Dáil last week. The Labour Bill, which sought to introduce a form of civil partnership for same sex couples that provided equal rights and responsibilities to married couples, was voted down by 66 votes to 59 followiing an argument that it was unconstitutional. Instead the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Brian Lenehan set a deadline of March 31st for the heads of the Government’s own Bill to be introduced.
Green Party justice spokesman Ciarán Cuffe said the Government proposal would give cohabiting gay and lesbian couples, who register their relationship with a new agency, the same rights under the law as heterosexual couples. "This is a major step forward in Irish equality legislation," he said. It was the Labour Civil Unions Bill’s second time to be voted down in the Dáil. Last February it was deferred by the Government and later fell with the dissolution of the 29th Dáil. Speaking at the vigil, the leader of the Labour Party, Eamon Gilmore called the voting down of the Labour Bill a “u-turn” in the government’s commitment to equality.
“The Government have promised to introduced a heads for a new Bill, which means that equality has been further deferred. There are heads of Bills languishing since 2002, which have not yet been acted upon.”
“This is a fight we are going to win,” he said. “It may take some time, but we will get equality for same sex couples.”
Also in attendance, Senator Ivana Bacik called the vote against Labour’s Civil Unions Bill “a disgrace”.
10th December 2007
NI equality commission explores LGB concerns
by Maryam Omidi
A report has been published by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland to help enable lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals to access their rights under equality law. The purpose of the report was to explore the obstacles facing both LGB individuals and equality bodies when it came to the realisation of LGB rights. Its findings showed that many LGB people are cautious about disclosing their sexuality in order to avoid adverse consequences that may arise in a homophobic environment. Hetrosexism, the assumption that everyone is heterosexual, further exacerbates the problem of LGB invisibility.
Many individuals are also unsure whether they are being discriminated against or not. According to the report, the first step on the path of redress involves the identification of a harmful experience. But fear of victimisation, anxiety about the impact of litigation on interpersonal relationships and the potential threat to one’s career given the risk of being ‘outed’ all stand in the way of individuals seeking redress.
The second stage involves the transformation of the experience into a grievance, a step known as ‘rights realisation.’ Awareness of applicable laws and policies is crucial to enable individuals to translate the perceived harm into one that is understood as legally prohibited.
The third stage is that of redress. Although all potential claimants, gay or straight, face barriers during the identification and pursuit of complaints, these tend to be heightened for LGB people. Many LGB people admitted tolerating homophobic practices in order to ‘get by.’
One of the problems highlighted in seeking redress is that anonymity cannot be guaranteed in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. This rules out the possibility of litigation for those who are not ‘out’ in all areas of their lives. Certain LGB populations, most notably the young and those living in rural settings, are particularly vulnerable and for such groups the prospect of taking a case is remote. The report stressed that it was crucial for equality bodies to help LGB people identify discriminatory practices and help them take action against them.
Equally important is to develop a positive culture of respect in order to counter the invisibility of minority sexual orientations. Access to appropriate legal advice and personal support should also be enhance and awareness campaigns should be launched, information provided and training given on equality rights. One suggestion involved LGB NGOs implementing an ‘E-quality mark’ designed to acknowledge best practice amongst employers and service providers.
10th December 2007
Irish gay emigrants reluctant to return home
by Maryam Omidi
An increasing number of gay Irish emigrants are choosing not to return to Ireland because they can’t take their partners with them. The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) said that the issue is a huge problem for Irish nationals whose partners cannot live or work in Ireland. Calls to GLEN about the issue have doubled in the past two years. According to the Irish Independent, Eoin Collins, a spokesman for the organisation said: "Irish people who have a partner from outside the EU, such as Canada or the US, are having huge problems.
"We are working with somebody at the moment who is employed as a software engineer in Canada. He has been with his partner for 10 years and they’re married. The Irish man wants to return to Ireland, but if he does, his partner can only work if he gets a work permit and the employer can only get him one if he proves that he offered the job to almost everyone in Europe."
The situation is also difficult for Irish people living in Ireland who are in a relationship with a foreign national, as their partners often cannot remain in the country. Mr Collins gave an example of an Irish man whose Israeli partner of seven years is a qualified architect but can’t get permission to stay in Ireland. "It’s definitely turning people off returning to Ireland," he said.
They fear, he added, that their partners’ status "will cause tension in the relationship" because they will become frustrated if they are not allowed to pursue their careers or have to do menial work instead. Last week the Irish government confirmed it will not legalise gay marriage. Sean Power, the minister of state for equality, said that marriage could not be redefined in the Constitution to include same-sex unions. The government will however be introducing a Bill on civil partnerships for same sex couples next year.
June 13, 2008
Dublin shows its Pride at 25 years of progress
by Sophie Picheta
Dublin’s 25th Gay Pride festival opens tonight with a launch party to mark the beginning of the ten day festival taking place in the George on South Great George’s street. The party is 80s themed, and intends to be a celebration of the changes which have taken place for the Irish LGBT community in the past 25 years. This year’s Pride festivities include the Parade on June 21st, which will mark the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. There will also be a Pride ceilidh, a family sports day and many parties over the ten days. 10,000 people are expected to attend the parade.
Amy O’Keeffe, a Dublin Pride spokeswoman, said: "These ten days are not restricted to the gay community but are a celebration for the entire city. Pride is an opportunity to raise awareness on outstanding gay issues but it is also a time to be proud of our city’s positive attitude and ongoing progress."
Dublin Pride aims to celebrate diversity, inclusiveness and increased visibility. The theme of this year’s festival, ‘Always the Bridesmaid and Never the Bride’, aims to highlight the lack of marriage rights for LGBT people in Ireland. Paddy Bourke, the mayor of Dublin, said he is looking forward to this year’s festival. "Every year our Pride festival infuses Dublin with colour and atmosphere unique to our gay community," he told ireland.com. "I’m sure Pride 08 will be one to remember."
June 13, 2008
Northern Ireland gay groups to be honoured at Stormont reception
by Tony Grew
A Sinn Fein member of the Northern Ireland Assembly is to host a reception for gay rights groups at Parliament Buildings. The Coalition on Sexual Orientation and the Rainbow Project will be the guests of honour at the event. Martina Anderson, an MLA for Foyle, told PinkNews.co.uk that the invitations to the reception will be co-signed by Progessive Unionist Party MLA Dawn Purvis, in a sign of cross-community support for gay rights. A reception was planned for September, but Ms Anderson said she decided to bring it forward to June 24th in the light of the controversy surrounding her Assembly colleague Iris Robinson. Mrs Robinson, who is also a DUP MP and the wife of the First Minister, said on Radio Ulster last week that homosexuality is disgusting, loathsome, nauseating, wicked and vile and claimed gay people can be "cured."
"I wanted to ensure that wider society knew that the nonsense that came out of Iris is not reflective of the vast majority of politicians or citizens," Ms Anderson told PinkNews.co.uk. "Her Cruella de Vil outburst caused wide offence and hurt to those of us that want to create an equal society. As (Sinn Fein) spokesperson on equality and human rights I felt offended and enraged. Coming out of 40 years of conflict, we will not tolerate targeting of any group."
Sinn Fein are in coalition government with Mrs Robinson’s Democratic Unionist Party. Ms Anderson said that all 108 MLAs would be invited to the reception and Mrs Robinson and her DUP colleagues should attend. "They have a lot to learn and people learn by listening and reflecting. I am hoping they will attend the event and even hope that Iris will."
A spokesman for the First Minister failed to respond to a specific query from PinkNews.co.uk earlier this week about whether Mr Robinson will meet with gay groups. "I refer you to the First Minister’s statement in the Assembly on Monday past," the spokesman wrote in an email.
Speaking at Assembly Question Time, Mr Robinson said: "There is a legal obligation to ensure that no-one in our society is discriminated against. I have to say that even if there was no legal obligation I would be at the forefront defending anyone who was being discriminated against. And I know my colleague the member for Strangford (Mrs Robinson) would be alongside me in that."
The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is tasked with ensuring equality for gay people in Northern Ireland. Mrs Robinson has refused to apologise for her comments. Sinn Fein has called on her to stand down as chair of the Assembly health committee. "I am defending the word of God," she told the BBC. "I think at the moment there is a witch hunt to kerb or actually stop or prevent Christians speaking out and I make no apology for what I said because it’s the word of God." Mrs Robinson repeated that she condemns the "sin" of homosexuality but not the sinner. "Just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ so can a homosexual."
June 16, 2008
Irish Queer Archive donates ‘massive collection’ to the National Library of Ireland
by Jane Rochstad Lim
The National Lesbian and Gay Federation (NLGF) has today formally handed over the Irish Queer Archive (IQA) to the National Library of Ireland (NLI). "The NLGF is delighted to donate the archive to the State", said Ailbhe Smyth, chair of the NLGF.
"We pay immense tribute to the foresight of the NLI in understanding the importance of the Irish Queer Archive and its critical relevance to Irish social, political and personal histories, and in their commitment to preserve and catalog it for future generations"
"The IQA bears witness to the transformation of Irish society from the criminalisation of gay people to the cusp of state recognition of our relationships. It is entirely appropriate that this extensive collection joins the other NLI collections documenting these critical movements in Ireland’s progress" continued Smyth. The massive collection contains 250,000 press cuttings, clippings from gay magazines dating back as far as 1950s, collection of Irish lesbian and gay films, and an extensive photo collection.
But what is more priceless are the letters, dating from 1970s onwards, from individuals all across the country to support organisations. There are also letters from the queer community who wrote about the difficulties and hardship they faced. Writing these letters are the only support they had at that time. However, the IQA does not only document the bad times, It has also shown that the situation for gay people is improving gradually. "Thankfully too, the IQA documents comprehensively the journey from isolation to a visibility exemplified by the expected 10,000 people who will be on O’Connell street next Saturday for the Gay Pride Parade", said Ailbhe Smyth. Smyth hopes that the donation will not only educate people about the gay community’s past, but also celebrate the successful acceptance of the gay people by the public.
"Through this donation to the NLI, researchers, historians and the public will have access to material showing the incredible resilience of lesbian and gay people in seeking justice and equality in the face of silence and opposition, and the contribution of Ireland’s lesbian and gay population to the huge transformation of Irish society over the last few decades", said Smyth.
A reception to mark the handover will be held at the Library at 6pm this (Monday) evening, with Colm Toibin as the guest speaker
25 July 2008
Why we’re glad to be gay
After Iris Robinson’s controversial comments about homosexuality, what is it really like being gay in Northern Ireland? Ahead of Gay Pride week, which starts tomorrow, Jane Hardy and Kerry McKittrick talk to some of the people who are out and about ‘That poor lady, Iris Robinson, has a view. We have our lives’ Robert McCready (36) is better known in Belfast as the notorious drag queen Titti Von Tramp, hostess of various gay club nights throughout the city. He says: Pride is a celebration for me. It’s a time for the gay community to unite and celebrate their sexuality in such a way that they don’t have to be afraid. I’m really looking forward to the Pride march. It’s such a carnival atmosphere, the biggest parade in Northern Ireland outside of the Twelfth of July marches, and we get support from so many people.
You can definitely see how times have changed and how tolerance has increased. I went to my first Pride when I was 17, it was on an open-topped double decker bus as we were too scared to actually march. Nowadays literally thousands show up. What I hope is that this year’s march doesn’t get too politicised. That poor lady (Iris Robinson) has her views and we have our lives. Pride is about us, it shouldn’t be about her. The scene in Belfast has got so much better over the years. There are more pubs and clubs, more sexual health organisations. There’s help for young people in the country who don’t live in Belfast and don’t get to be with lots of like-minded people. The real issues now are human rights issues. As the world gets smaller, we can see the struggles that gay people in other countries have, and we should be focusing on those, not battling with people like Iris Robinson over here.
I spent seven years in England and moved back here eight years ago. Back then, the differences in the two places were huge, but now Northern Ireland has caught up with England. The scene over here hasn’t become overly commercial yet — big companies aren’t chasing the pink pound. There’s a real sense of community and organisations really work with each other. Over the next week my life is just going to be an explosion of gayness. One of the things I’m looking forward to is a documentary that’s being shown in the Black Box on the night of the launch. It goes behind the scenes of Belfast Pride, and I’m really looking forward to the unsung heroes getting a bit of acknowledgement. Everyone knows about me and the other drag queens, but for the volunteers and organisers, it’s good to put faces to names.”
‘It’s tough growing up gay in a small town’
Sean Maxwell (27) plays in the second row of the Ulster Titans, Belfast’s gay-friendly rugby team, and lives in the city. He says: "The Titans have two straight members — the rest are gay or sexuality not disclosed. We’re going to be at the parade on Saturday in full kit, with supporters. Interest has grown since we started last year, and when we won the Bingham Shield in June — the gay rugby teams’ international world cup — it exploded." To me personally, Gay Pride means celebrating the diversity of our community, with gay people not put down as behaving in a certain way. We all have the same goals, we’re just the same. I have been involved with Pride since 2005. Before, I just didn’t realise the need and the first time I was amazed at how much it meant to the people there. So every year I’m there, lending support. It was difficult being gay in Armagh, the country town where I grew up. It wasn’t the norm. I realised I was gay when I was 19, but didn’t come out until I was 21. I’d been seeing a bloke for two years, and when I finished studying at Queen’s University, Belfast, I knew it had to be done. I didn’t want any secrets and had to tell my parents and friends. I went home one weekend, sat mum down and told her. She cried a little, then went to bed.
The next day we had a chat, and she told my sisters and brother. She also told my dad, as I was a bit scared. But he was great, and said that it was my life to live. There’s definitely been a change in Northern Ireland, with people more out and proud of themselves, and a good club scene. The Kremlin, for example, is one of the best gay clubs in the UK. People now come over from the mainland for weekends. Belfast is a good city to be in. Iris Robinson is entitled to her opinions, whether she quotes the Bible or not, but what she says as a representative of Parliament is different. I don’t think many people share her views. The rugby community has welcomed us. We played Derry City team last autumn and we’d heard some scare stories about them. They killed us on the field but off it were gentlemen through and through.”
‘We met at Pride and will soon be married’
Michael Bell (36) is publisher of FATE magazine, lives in Belfast and is marrying his partner, Tim, next year. He says: I’ll be marching on Saturday and have marched every year since I came back from London six years ago. I think Gay Pride is a time when the whole gay community unites to pay respects to those who brought the cause on. We’re lucky now that, with the exception of a few bigots, gayness is more accepted, and this is due to the people in the late 1970s and early 80s who campaigned when it wasn’t so easy to live a gay life. Saturday will be a day when you can hold your partner’s hand, which is something you still can’t easily do. Funnily, one part of me thinks Gay Pride is a great idea, the other part of me thinks it has had its day. The important thing is to reach equality, and hopefully one day we shouldn’t need a Gay Pride. I knew from about the age of 11 that I was gay. For a long time I tried to fight it and it’s one of the reasons I moved away from Northern Ireland. Twenty years ago, it was totally taboo and you felt an outcast. Gayness was never discussed. People would just have said: “You’re a pervert.”
North Belfast at the time of the Troubles was a very heterosexual place to grow up and I was bullied at school. I couldn’t live the life I wanted to live. But when I returned to Belfast, I was astonished at the change. Northern Ireland has moved on massively in terms of having a gay scene. When I have friends over from Paris and London, they can’t believe it’s so prevalent. The reason there remains some anti-gay feeling is partly due to religion, but there’s also a small-mindedness, a fear factor and the fact we’re a very traditional society, with the highest number of people getting married and having children early, which is fine, too. Being gay was never an issue for me. But if I was 17 and didn’t live in the city, it would be a great thing at Pride for me to see like-minded people, particularly with all the destructive comments made recently. I’m loath to give her more publicity but all I want to say about Mrs Robinson is that she’s an idiot and intelligent people take no notice of her. I have to say Gay Pride has been very good to me. Two Prides ago, at a discussion forum in the Black Box, I met my partner, Tim, and we’re getting married next year.”
‘It’s easier for young ones to come out today’
Ruth McCarthy (37) is originally from Limerick and lives in Belfast. She is co-ordinator of Outburst, the Queer Arts Festival in Northern Ireland. She says: "I think for me Pride is the celebration of visibility. Things have changed because we’re showing that anyone can be gay, your neighbour, teacher or doctor. There’s been a huge change in the scene in Belfast over the years. When I first arrived there were a couple of voluntary organisations, with no money coming in and one bar. Now, there are plenty of places to go, lots of bars and clubs. I think what the scene needs today is diversity. Gay people can go anywhere straight people can, but we need places for people to meet like-minded people that aren’t necessarily centred around alcohol. That’s where projects like Outburst have come from. It’s about creativity and telling our stories; a means of support for when you’re coming out, which is really important. We spent so many years campaigning for basic human rights. Now that we have those, we need to focus on special needs and minorities within the community.
For instance, older gay people may not have family support but still need to be cared for. There are also issues such as young people coming out and being bullied in schools. We can now focus on questions like that rather than worrying about losing our jobs because we’re gay. I marched in the very first Belfast Pride in about 1990, and there were only about 30 of us, it was exhilarating but terrifying at the same time. I get emotional to see it now, we’ve come so far. You see the young people in the parade and how it’s easier for them to come out now. I was 15 when I came out in Limerick, where attitudes were much the same as in Belfast. The media was negative, stereotypes were negative. You find strength in other gay people and with them you can feel good about who you are. I think that because gay people have to fight for who they are, it makes them very strong inside.
I’m looking forward to Pride this year because Iris Robinson has stirred up a lot of emotions. Gay people who weren’t very active or politicised are now standing up and getting involved. Straight people are too. This year will be a celebration by both gay and straight people, declaring that we are no longer the kind of society that will tolerate hate crimes through language.”
For more information on Gay Pride week go to www.belfastpride.com
August 28, 2008
Northern Ireland gay fund in place before DUP took office
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
Funding arrangements put in place while Northern Ireland was still under direct rule from Westminster have ensured that LGBT groups in the province are getting state funds. Despite the presence of the DUP in the devolved government, £150,000 has already been paid from a £230,000 package put in place by former Secretary of State Peter Hain. The funds, which come under the jurisdiction of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), are paid to the Coalition on Sexual Orientation (CoSO).
Details of the funding package came to light after the Belfast Telegraph made a freedom of information request. The Coalition on Sexual Orientation (CoSO) was established by LGBT groups in Northern Ireland and acts as an umbrella body. Founder organisations include Belfast Lesbian Line, Belfast Pride, Foyle LGB Line, the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association and the Rainbow Project. Of the £230,000 allocated in 2007, £50,000 was paid before the province’s coalition government took office in May last year.
Two further payments of £50,000 were made in July 2007 and February 2008. The remaining £80,000 will be paid by the OFMDFM by March 2009. CoSO gave more than £5,000 to this year’s Belfast Pride parade, where the wife of First Minister Peter Robinson was a focus for protest. Iris Robinson, who is a DUP MP and member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, has been criticised for speaking out against gay people.
During a BBC Radio Ulster interview in June the MP for Strangford offered to introduce gay men to a "Christian psychiatrist" who could make them heterosexual. She has refused to modify her position that homosexuality is vile, wicked and an abomination, based on her Biblical beliefs. During a June 17th House of Commons committee discussion on the assessment and management of sex offenders, Mrs Robinson said: "There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality, than sexually abusing innocent children."
She claims that she meant that child abuse is worse than homosexuality. At this year’s Belfast Pride Mrs Robinson ‘appeared’ on masks carried by Pride participants. A float called the ‘Iris Mobile’ joined the procession along the Belfast streets with a giant papier-mâché image of the controversial politician. The DUP is well-known for its opposition to gay equality. In the 1970s its then-leader Ian Paisley spearheaded a campaign against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland, "Save Ulster From Sodomy," and as recently as 2005 he led opposition to civil partnerships.
Since taking office in a joint administration with nationalist party Sinn Fein in May 2007 the DUP has muted their stance on gay rights. First Minister Peter Robinson, who succeeded Mr Paisley in June, has distanced himself from his wife’s remarks. DUP colleagues have backed her, saying she is entitled to express her religious beliefs.
"The DUP is committed to equality and fairness for all of our people," the party said in a statement last month. "Our record shows that we are working to bring the maximum benefit of devolved government to everyone in Northern Ireland regardless of their background."
September 15, 2008
Mob attack on gay men in Northern Ireland
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
A group of up to 12 men and women carried out a sustained attack on two men in County Londonderry that has been described as homophobic. The mob struck early on Sunday morning as the men walked near the village of Maghera. The gang verbally abused the men, chased them, assaulted them, then went to the home of one of the victims and attacked his mother. There are less than 4,000 people in the village, but no arrests have been made and the police are appealing for witnesses.
The chair of the local policing partnership, Seán McPeake, told the Mid Ulster Mail: "The message must go out loud and clear that such sickening homophobic attacks have no place in our society. Everyone regardless of class, creed, colour, nationality or sexuality have the right to live their lives with full dignity and in peace."
A previous homophobic attack in the province caused a major political storm when the DUP’s Iris Robinson was asked to comment. During a BBC Radio Ulster interview in June the MP for Strangford offered to introduce gay men to a "Christian psychiatrist" who could make them heterosexual. She has refused to modify her position that homosexuality is vile, wicked and an abomination, based on her Biblical beliefs.
Northern Ireland’s only health project for gay and bisexual men, Rainbow Project, said in July: "The thugs that perpetrate hate will readily lap up whatever encouragement that they can find. It does not take much to inspire the misguided to violence; and the hatred spouted by some will add more fuel to the fires of prejudice and bigotry. Mrs Robinson is playing with people’s lives; we hope and pray that the end result is not more prejudice, blighted lives or even bloodshed."
October 30, 2008
Ireland’s President urges kids to fight gay bullying
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
The President of Ireland has spoken at a forum for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans young people. Mary McAleese said that homophobic bullying must be tackled.
"Celebrating and respecting diversity among young people is at the heart of this important forum," she said, according to the Irish Times. Homophobic bullying continues to be a society-wide issue, including in our schools and the link between it and suicide sends a clear message that this trend must be reversed. By working together, by standing up for the democratic values that we share, by refusing to go along with loudly-voiced prejudices, we can overcome the bias and hostility experienced by many young gay people throughout the country. No-one should have to suffer on account of their sexual orientation."
Earlier this year the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland’s other main teaching union, yesterday, produced a new information resource on homophobic bullying, in conjunction with the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network. President McAleese, who is the first head of state from Northern Ireland, was a founder member of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform and its legal adviser until 1979. A former barrister and law lecturer, she was elected for a second seven year term unopposed in 2004.
Michael Barron, director of LGBT youth group BeLonG To, organisers of today’s event, said: "The President’s ongoing support sends out an incredibly strong and positive message to LGBT young people. We must foster a culture of acceptance and equality across Ireland where local communities value their LGBT young people as cared-for and vital members."
The Irish government has produced draft legislation that would create a form of civil partnerships for same-sex couples but has ruled out gay marriage, claiming that it would require a change to the country’s constitution and a potentially divisive referendum. The Republic of Ireland will recognise same-sex marriages, civil unions and civil partnerships from other countries when it legalises same-sex unions. The UK already recognises same-sex unions and marriages from nearly 20 countries, including Canada, the US and France.