Dublin Pride: a time for celebration and commemoration

If ever there was a painful reminder that our LGBT+ family is still under attack and constant persecution, it was the heinous murder of 49 LGBT+ people in Orlando

A row of crosses that make up part of a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Pulse night club shootings in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

A row of crosses that make up part of a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Pulse night club shootings in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

 

This month, the LGBT+ community around the world celebrates Pride. It’s a festival, an enormous street party where LGBT+ people, our friends and families celebrate our culture and our history. Critics sometimes admonish revellers for losing touch with the history behind Pride and the need for it as a political and social event. However Pride’s history is rooted in love and celebration of identity over violence.

The very first Pride march was in NYC in November 1969 a few months after the Stonewall riots. It was a visceral reaction to the violence that was commonplace against LGBT+ people in the city, so the community came together in protest. It is an extraordinary thing to think of the danger they put themselves in to show their strength in numbers. They paved the way for the freedoms we in Ireland almost take for granted today.

The first Pride march in Dublin took place in 1983, again months after a tipping point in our community. A gang of men set upon a 31-year-old gay man, Declan Flynn, in Fairview Park and killed him. They had attacked him because he was gay. Adding insult to injury, his killers got suspended sentences. It sent a message to would-be homophobic murderers that it was open season on the Irish LGBT+ community. However, just like in NYC in 1969, the Irish LGBT+ community came out in force and with impressive courage showed that Declan Flynn wasn’t alone. These brave pioneers marched in solidarity, defiance and outrage.

Following the Yes vote in the marriage referendum last year, there were some commentators who thought: job done, go home, there is no need for Pride anymore. They were oblivious of the ongoing isolation, rejection and anti-gay violence still experienced by young people in Ireland today. But the National LGBT+ Youth Organisation, BeLonG To, hears directly from young people all across Ireland about the homophobia and transphobia that they experience. Half of them have experienced bullying because of their sexuality or gender identity and one if four of them skip school to avoid negative treatment due to being LGBT. One in five of them has been punched, hit or physically attacked in public because of who they are. Sadly, only one in three feel safe showing affection to, or holding hands with a partner in public.

Unsurprisingly these high levels of violence or threat of harm leads to poorer mental health for LGBT people, which has been documented in a major piece of research, The LGBTIreland Report – a national study of the mental health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people conducted by a research team in Trinity College Dublin.

But if ever there was a painful reminder that our LGBT+ family is still under attack and constant persecution, it was the heinous murder of 49 LGBT+ people in Orlando.

Since the vigil in Dublin the day after the Orlando shooting, where I was surrounded by hundreds of fellow mourners, I realised why I had been feeling such intense grief. Members of my community had been murdered. LGBT+ people globally are part of one family. When you hurt one of us, because of who we are, you hurt us all. But equally when we and our allies are united in defiance, we are proud, brave and resourceful. Our community is no stranger to hate and violence, from the white noise homophobia many of us experience regularly on the street, to severe beatings and executions in countries where it is still illegal to be gay, to the lives lost all too often to suicide in Ireland, to this mass murder in Orlando. It is important to remember it is all part of the same spectrum of homophobia, prejudice and hatred.

The revelation that the Orlando shooter was himself gay, demonstrates one of the extreme results that an unwelcoming and intolerant society can have. But regardless of his motive, the same number of people are dead. The same hearts broken and lives torn apart. The revelation of the shooter’s allegedly repressed homosexuality and internalised homophobia is indicative of the enormous struggle it takes for LGBT+ young people to accept themselves in a heteronormative society. It shows a clear need for support during this process of “coming out” and the need for us to ask ourselves how are we contributing, even a little, to making the world a more inclusive, welcoming place for LGBT+ young people?

This is why coming to Pride is still compelling. It is a family reunion, a show of strength, a celebration of how far we have come and a marker of how much more work there is still to be done to achieve the Ireland we voted for last year.

We will stand up together against being bullied or threatened. Our family finds strength in our numbers and during Pride, the numbers are visible. It’s a glorious visual display of our power to overcome adversity. This year BeLonG To will be marching with more than 250 young people and youth workers from LGBT groups from around Ireland from Youth Work Ireland and Foroige to highlight how youth work transforms young lives.

For some it will be their first Pride and one they will never forget. For a few hours on Saturday they will experience first hand, for the first time what it feels like to be part of our big diverse LGBT+ family, that they are loved, that they belong. We will march to remember all those we have lost this year, and re-energise ourselves for the work we still need to do to make sure nobody else dies because they are LGBT+. May they rest in Pride.

The Dublin LGBTQ Pride Parade takes place at 1pm on June 25th, gathering at the Garden of Remembrance, marching past the GPO and finishing at Merrion Square.

Moninne Griffith is Executive Director of BeLonG To, the National Organisation for LGBT+ Youth in Ireland.

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