Pride month: how the marriage equality vote affected LGBTQ + people in Ireland

Even two years on from the marriage equality referendum, a café filled with families doesn’t seem the best place to talk about being gay in Ireland. Even Leo Varadkar’s recent victory in the Fine Gael party leadership, which made him the first openly gay leader of a political party in Ireland, doesn’t guarantee the odd comment going astray.

Firstly, the place is crowded and we are forced to sit close to other patrons. A family is next to us: a mother, father and two young children. We can hear their conversations clearly. No doubt they will hear ours. “Would you care to go somewhere quieter?” I ask him. “No,” he tells me. “It’s fine. I don’t mind if anybody hears.”

For a 28-year-old gay man, John* seems sure of himself on this account. And so I turn my recorder on and began the interview. “I don’t mind people insulting me about being gay. I can handle it because I know who I am,” he says. Though that knowing took some time to surface for the Limerick City native.

“I became close with the supervisor in the counseling center I worked in.” He smiles at the memory. “She knew before I did that I was gay.” Having just finished his counseling degree, John was working with clients one-on-one and having to face some difficult sessions. “I had been having clients who were straight and married but were telling me about their feeling towards the other sex. Listening to them was very uncomfortable but at the same time comforting to know that other people were going through similar things.”

Finally, at age 23, he came face-to-face with a realization he had been denying for years. “I remember going home and being in the bath and thinking: either I run from this and get married and live a straight life and probably end up topping myself because I would be so unhappy, or I bite the bullet.” John smiles. “So I decided, screw it. It’s time.”

It was a road paved with dips and rises. And while his mother and siblings were supportive, his father struggled with the news. “My Dad had never faced something like this in his life. He had rugby, soccer and religion and here I come and I want to be with men. It’s like everything he was told was completely wrong.”

I ask him if the marriage referendum has made things easier for families to accept their gay members? He frowns. “It frustrated me that people were voting to make me an equal,” he says. “What is wrong with me? You’re voting to say that I’m okay? It pissed me off that other people (non-gay) had that power to stop me from marrying someone that I loved.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by fourth year journalism student Sean Lynch (21), Co-President of Out in UL, a LGBTQ+ society at the University of Limerick. “It was strange. I was only 19 at the time and had only been out for a year. Then suddenly I was going door-to-door, person-to-person, campaigning for a basic human right that we all should have.” He sighs. “Even now it feels uncomfortable that we had to do that.”

For some, the referendum seemed like the big victory that would “solve” gay rights issues in Ireland for good. But Sean says it was only the beginning, especially on issues affecting other members of the LGBTQ+ community, like bi-sexual and trans people who were often erased from the campaign.

“I remember sitting in a different campaign meeting and asking if we can bring up that it affects more than just lesbian and gay people and I was told no, we couldn’t talk about that.” He was told there should be “no mixed messages.” It was to be a gay issue only. “It was all about winning. Though granted if we had lost, that would have been too much to bear.” He smiles. “But now that the buzz around winning has gone we can focus on educating people. I guess it’s just not the immediate change people might have expected. And perhaps they shouldn’t have expected it. From a 60 percent voting turnout, 38 percent cast their ballots for no. And in some towns, like Claremorris in Co. Mayo, that position was acutely felt.

“All I saw in my town was vote NO posters,” says Megan Thornton (19). “I was 17 and coming to terms with being gay,” she tells me at the UL library café. “I hadn’t fully accepted it yet and hadn’t told anyone, and there I was surrounded by these NO posters.”

“The posters said, ‘a child needs a mother and a father.’ Firstly, this is about marriage and not every gay person who marries wants to have children. Secondly, what about single parents? You’re basically insulting every single parent with that poster.”

Like John and Sean, Megan feels like the referendum was something that people who weren’t gay or LGBTQ+ shouldn’t have voted on. But now that it has passed, she believes Ireland should focus on better representation of the community. “Some people are too scared to change the attitudes they grew up or were raised with,” she says. She adds that these attitudes and micro-aggressions are the problem now.

And small-town mindedness. Having told her parents and some family about her sexuality, the town doesn’t know that Megan is gay. Not even her beloved granny. “She’s my best friend. She’s not ultra-conservative but she’s very religious. Mostly I think she just cares about what other people think.”

It’s a mentality that has a stranglehold on many gay men and women who worry about being ostracized in their community if they come out. But Megan recently told her father she wasn’t going to be closeted when returning to Mayo this summer. “I imagine it will cause quite a scandal,” she says. “Last year, someone went to a hairdresser for their communion and her plait fell out. It was the talk of the town.” She laughs. “So I’m sure everyone’s going to have a field day when they find out I’m gay.”

Her confidence is refreshing and though the marriage referendum cannot be the only reason for its vigor, it can’t have hurt as a boost. As John says, “The ones against this issue are in the minority now. So many people are connected in one way or another to a gay person. And those connections make it harder for people to cling to the older ways.”

The café is quiet now, emptier, but that doesn’t stop John from raising his voice in a declaration and saying: “If I want to hold my partner’s hand, I can do so. I don’t have to put up with the abuse anymore, even though it still exists.” He smiles. “Perhaps it’s a forced change for some people, but that’s not a bad thing.”

Read other news on the city site of Dublin.
LGBTQ peopleinIreland
If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor
4 views in september
I recommend
No recommendations yet


Comments are designed to communicate and discuss the features of an enterprise or event, as well as to find out the interesting questions on it.

TWO national school teachers and an accountant have been spared jail for their part in a violent brawl in a well-known Dublin pub. Teachers Michael Davitt and Seamus O Cearra, as well as accountant Conor Shannon all walked free from court today after admitting violent disorder charges in the 10-man melee. A fourth accused, warehouse manager and soccer team captain Stephen Cantwell also avoided a prison sentence while a fifth, electrician David McSweeney wa...
Two people have been hospitalised with serious injuries and a man arrested on suspicion of drink-driving following a collision in Co Wexford. The two-car crash happened at The Leap in Clonroche at around 8.30pm yesterday evening. A man and woman, both in their 50s, were taken by ambulance to Wexford General Hospital. The driver of the second car, a man in his 50s, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of drink-driving. He has since been released from cust...
Long-standing plans to deliver hundreds of new homes on the site of the former Player Wills cigarette factory on Dublin's South Circular Road have come up against yet another obstacle. Documents lodged in the High Court showed the site's Nama-appointed receivers, Paul McCann and Stephen Tennant of Grant Thornton, are locked in legal proceedings in an effort to remove a company operating a salvage business from the site. The case relating to the tenancy rig...
Health Minister Simon Harris has been told his decision on whether to grant access to a revolutionary new drug for children with a rare degenerative condition is one of life or death. Families, friends, supporters and sufferers of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) gathered outside the Dail yesterday to call for access to the drug Spinraza. The only drug ever manufactured to treat SMA, a degenerative neuromuscular disorder, it is licensed, available and changin...
Storm damage at the ploughing championships has forced organisers to cancel the second day of the event. More than 100,000 people had been scheduled to attend Ireland's largest annual outdoor event outside Tullamore, Co Offaly. However, two delayed openings were not enough to save the National Ploughing Association (NPA) event, after tents were badly damaged by the gusting winds. NPA assistant managing director Anna Marie McHugh said the organisers will no...
A dream holiday to Ireland turned to tragedy for a tourist who died after her caravan was blown into the sea as Storm Ali battered the country. The woman, named locally as Elvira Ferraii from Switzerland, had arrived in the Clifden area of Galway the day before the tragic incident. She rented a caravan and was staying at the Clifden Eco Beach camping and caravan site in the Claddaghduff area, along the Atlantic coastline. At around 7.45am yesterday the car...
Teachers Michael Davitt and Seamus O Cearra and accountant Conor Shannon all walked free from court yesterday after admitting violent disorder charges over the 10-man melee. A fourth accused, warehouse manager Stephen Cantwell, also avoided a prison term while a fifth, electrician David McSweeney, was jailed for six months. Passing sentence, Judge Brian O'Shea said the teachers were "ambassadors for their schools" whenever they went out and they had "let t...
ESB Networks says 39,000 homes, farms and businesses are still without power this morning after StormAli crossed the country yesterday. Repair crews workedthrough the night, but 1,600 individual faults remain on the network. It says it hopes to restore power to everyone affected today. ESB Networks Operations Manager Derek Hynes said most repairs are in the Cavan/Longford, Monaghan and Mayo areas. He saidcrews need to get to 1,600 locations today andwarned...
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone has said she hopes to bring a memo to Government "in the coming weeks"regarding the next steps to be taken at the site of the former Mother-and-Baby-Home in Tuam, CoGalway. Following a public consultation process earlier this year, a total of five different options are under consideration. These range from a full excavation of the burial ground, where "significant quantities of human remains"have be...