Ben was eight years old when he realised he was different. He didn’t have the words to verbalise how he felt and he had a terrible knot in his stomach. That knot would stay there for 11 years until he was able to come out as gay at the age of 19.
For those 11 years, he walked down corridors in school where he didn’t feel safe. He heard the word “gay” being used negatively by peers without being challenged by teachers. He felt alone and hurt and he internalised the rejection that he felt.
Ben also tried to take his own life during that time.
His experience was one of many stories heard from delegates at the Union of Students in Ireland’s congress last week.
Christina courageously told us about her beautiful gay brother who took his own life when he was 21.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people suffer because of the lack of recognition for their identities.
The 2009 Supporting LGBT Lives study found that 18 per cent of LGBT people had attempted suicide. It also found that 27 per cent had self-harmed and that 20 per cent missed school because they were threatened or felt unsafe.
If we pass the marriage equality referendum, it will send a clear message that LGBT people are valued and it will be a huge step to ensuring they are treated as equals.
Amée and Kathryn are students in St Angela’s College, Sligo. Sometimes strangers ask them if they are sisters because they are so close. They hate when that happens because they are not sisters; they are in love.
Last year they got engaged and they already have the hotel for the wedding booked for 2016. They hope to start a family one day and thankfully parental rights for LGBT couples are being dealt with in the Children and Family Relationships Bill, 2014.
They are very excited but they are worried that the marriage equality referendum will not pass on May 22nd. Neither of them wishes to live in a country that doesn’t recognise their love in law.
Chris is a parent and a student in Letterkenny Institute of Technology. His son is six years old and when his son falls in love when he is older, Chris won’t care what gender that person is because he loves his son and because it doesn’t matter.
We shouldn’t have children in classrooms with knots in their stomachs. We shouldn’t have school corridors that are unsafe. We can’t turn a deaf ear when we hear the word “gay” being used in a derogatory way.
We need to fill all of our young people with a sense of belonging. We need to do all we can to keep our young people safe from harm.
I was alone when I walked from University College Cork to Patrick’s Street that November day. It was my birthday and this was a birthday present to myself. I had been building up to this moment for weeks. I was going to my first coffee meeting with the UCC LGBT Society.
I was greeted by welcoming faces and was amazed to learn that there were so many people like me with similar experiences.
When I left the coffee shop that day, the knot in my stomach started to loosen. I wasn’t alone any more and from that day onwards I started to really live my life without having to hide an integral part of it away.
I’m proud to be a gay woman and my family are completely supportive. Lots of my straight friends have become engaged recently and I am so happy for them. I don’t know if I will get married in the future but when I was growing up in northwest Cork I had never dreamed in a million years that one day I could have the choice.
Love is the most wonderful and powerful human emotion. Life and love are precious.
Oscar Wilde once said: “If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.” There are LGBT people in this country who have waited all their lives for marriage equality. I hope that 2015 is the year that wait comes to an end.
We are the first country in the world to put this issue to a vote by referendum; many others have legislated for marriage equality. Imagine the sense of rejection that a No vote would send to our LGBT young people.
Imagine the knots tightening in their stomachs. Imagine the devastation that would be felt by older LGBT persons who have waited all their lives for this only to come to the realisation that they might never be equal.
We need to share our stories with family and friends. We need to make sure we’re registered to vote. We need to call our neighbours. We need to bring people with us to the ballot stations on Friday, May 22nd to vote Yes.
The time is now. Let’s make history. Let’s make grá the law. Laura Harmon is president of the Union of Students in Ireland Una Mullally is on leave