It has been a traumatic week for members of Ireland's LGBTQI+ community. The killing of two men, Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee, in Sligo and the homophobic attack on Evan Somers in Dublin have rekindled fears that never dip far beneath the surface of everyday life. That sense of fear, but also of solidarity in the face of such heartbreak, was eloquently captured at vigils that took place across Ireland yesterday.
Having been shamefully slow to recognise the rights and human dignity of gay people – only in 1993 was homosexuality decriminalised – Ireland has made important progressive strides in recent years. Overwhelming public endorsement for equal marriage, in a referendum in 2015, seemed to mark a watershed – one celebrated not only within the community itself but by much of wider society, which saw it as a statement of the country’s renewal and a decisive break with the religious dogma that held such sway through the 20th century. The passage of progressive legislation on gender recognition was another important milestone.
But social progress is not linear. For minorities in any society, the battle is never won. Valuable as those legal victories were, they could never in themselves eradicate the deep prejudice and discrimination that LGBTQI+ people knew all too well. It was complacent to think otherwise. Powerful institutions at home and abroad, from churches to the governments of fellow EU member states, continue actively to marginalise and exclude the community.
Hate crime legislation is still awaited; not until it is on the statute books will data on hate-motivated assaults be systematically recorded, but anecdotal evidence suggests the situation is as bad as it ever was.
A survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2020 found that 31 per cent of LGBTQI+ people in the Republic avoid certain locations for fear of being assaulted. Some 18 per cent felt discriminated against at work, and a full 11 per cent had been attacked in the five years before the survey. Separate research for the 2019 School Climate Survey found high levels of homophobia and transphobia experienced by children, with bullying and harassment, including over the internet, not uncommon.
The climate for LGBTQI+ people in Ireland has improved significantly since the days, within living memory, when the community was disowned, isolated, condemned by their own State. But changing laws may prove to be the easy bit.
Ensuring the community feels safe, included and fully respected should be a national imperative. The ability to live life free from the fear of harassment, discrimination or violence is one of the basic conditions if this State is to consider itself a modern pluralist republic.