Homophobia watchdog needed before marriage equality referendum

LGBT rights debate shows how far Irish society needs to progress

Participants in the fourth annual LGBT march through Dublin in support of same-sex marriage. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Participants in the fourth annual LGBT march through Dublin in support of same-sex marriage. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Mon, Jan 20, 2014, 12:00

Another week, another landslide of stories about the torrid mistreatment of LGBT people. In Russia, Vladimir Putin reinforced his disgusting attitude towards LGBT people in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, saying gay people should leave children in peace. In Nigeria, gay men are being rounded up, arrested, tortured and whipped because of their sexuality. We need to fight homophobia internationally and at home.

In Ireland, discourse surrounding LGBT rights will amplify in the run-up to 2015’s referendum on marriage equality, as well as upcoming legislation concerned with matters of adoption. Teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality are homophobic. Hopefully, those teachings will evolve, as other teachings have. Most of the prominent voices in the Irish media who oppose marriage being extended to same-sex couples represent a Catholic point of view, organisation, or the church itself. At the time of writing, the performer and businessman Rory O’Neill has received four solicitors’ letters from associates of the Iona Institute objecting to a brief discussion on the nuances of subtle homophobia in Irish society on Brendan O’Connor’s Saturday Night Show on RTÉ.

RTÉ also received legal correspondence* leading the station to remove the programme from the RTÉ Player. It was later reinstated with O’Neill’s interview edited. But that’s not all. Last week, Ryan Tubridy’s show ran an item asking listeners to text in if they had a “GBF”, or a “gay best friend”. I’m sure there was no harm intended, but there wasn’t much thought put into it either. The trivialisation of gay people as valid only in the context of their friendships with non-gay people, or as some kind of accessory may be “fun” to discuss, but it is also silly and othering.

On Thursday The God Slot, a religious programme on RTÉ Radio One tweeted “Can gays be cured of being gay?” ahead of a broadcast. It doesn’t matter what the answer was, the question is offensive and stupid. The idiocy continued with The God Slot Twitter account hysterically replying to one Twitter user, “can questions not be posed in this age of fascism masquerading as liberalism?” This trend of shouting down fair accusations of discrimination is as transparent as it is insidious.

Everyone is scared of being labelled a racist. Yet the term “homophobia” is being wrestled from LGBT people, as if they are not able to identify it when they see it. Today, it almost feels as though when you call someone on homophobia, the alleged perpetrator reacts as if it is he or she who has been victimised.

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