Rob Cas | UCCSU LGBT Rights Officer
After a long day of wandering around Vancouver I found myself in need of somewhere to get a cold drink and a Wi-Fi signal, so I chose a Starbucks. This particular store is smack bang in the middle of Vancouver’s answer to The Castro in San Francisco; Davie Street.
Looking out from this Starbucks window which has had “PRIDE” painted onto it, I’ve seen old and young members of the LGBT*Q community walking around with impunity. I have seen two dads carrying their child, two women holding hands, an old guy stepping out of his car that had a pride flag hanging out of its window and for seeing this I am both envious and ashamed.
I envy the forward thinking nature of Canada and its willingness to offer safety to those whose lives are assumed to be drastically different from heterosexuals. I am ashamed that my own cultural biases forced me to look at these occurrences and acknowledge them in a way I would only acknowledge an anomaly. That we can feel envy or shame means we know what we ought to aspire to.
If we can change our own world views and refuse to allow others continue to propagate the view that one kind of person is less deserving of as full a life as the next, then we can be satisfied and proud of ourselves.
The opportunities for this are many. As individuals we will inevitably encounter ignorance in our day to day lives, as well as witness social injustices, and we can act as individuals to counter these.
Next year Ireland votes on marriage equality, a referendum the UCC Students’ Union fully supports and will be raising awareness for and campaigning in favour of throughout the year. With student groups coming together as a strong example of how dedicated students are to this cause, we are further united in our belief that, working together, we can win this referendum.
Our university is a constituency of 18,000 votes, which is a powerful vote considering that the second divorce referendum in 1995 was won by 9,148 votes.
Opinion polls between now and polling day will show you that a majority of the country is in favour of equal marriage but we must not put our faith in these or view them as the vindication of our efforts. Our only vindication comes when all votes are counted and the returning officers declare a result. This is not a campaign that will be won with a single voice uttering a single sentence, but only when all groups, be they political parties, civil organisations or the student movement, work together.
We will have a strong opposition whose greatest strength is their anonymity and presentable natures. We cannot underestimate their power or dedication.
We must also focus on what this referendum is about: allowing two people of the same sex, who wish to marry before the law, equal rights and status to enjoy the same privileges already afforded to opposite sex couples. All UCC students can be part of this through voter drives, talks and campaigns.
The Irish LGBT rights movement was born in sad conditions in 1982 when Declan Flynn, an Aer Rianta worker, was killed in a park in Fairview, Dublin. His four attackers were given a suspended manslaughter sentence based on the judge opining that they had performed a public service. This prompted what was essentially Ireland’s first pride parade, a march of 900 people from Liberty Hall to Fairview Park to show solidarity with the victims of these vigilantes.
We have always carried ourselves with a dignity that demanded respect in and of itself. This is a tradition we must continue throughout the campaigns as we have little to gain from wild accusations of homophobia where there is none. I am not saying we won’t encounter it but we must not allow ourselves to become tangled in semantics and synonyms; if we find ourselves having to explain these terms, we are losing.
We are best served by appealing to people’s hearts and minds. Everybody in Ireland knows somebody from the lesbian, bisexual, gay and trans* community and their connections and relationships to them are a strong means of persuasion. Most parents want to see their child marry and have children of their own regardless of their sexual orientation and this is why they will vote yes. Despite what people will say in pubs and newspapers, on TV and radio, on the internet and on the streets across the nation, there are only benefits to letting love transcend gender.
One of my heroes is the immortal champion of human rights, Bobby Kennedy, who said; “We must recognise the full human equality of all of our people – before God, before the law and in the councils of government. We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous – although it is; not because the laws of God command it – although they do; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.”
Together we can win this referendum and together we are a stronger community of people who believe that rights and love are not based on sexual orientation.