Colm’s Blog – Pride & Prejudice

It’s probably because of the strange times we are in, but I had to be reminded that June is Pride month.  I suppose I have started to get used to seeing rainbow flags and messages of solidarity and have begun to take them for granted, but it got me thinking about how much has changed for LGBT+ people over my lifetime.

When I was a teenager back in the 70’s in Dublin, it wasn’t a great place or time to realise that I was different to the majority of my school friends.  It certainly wasn’t acceptable to talk to anyone about sexuality or sexual orientation and my overwhelming feeling was one of shame, that somehow there was something fundamentally wrong with me.  There were no real role models back then – if you are old enough to remember John Inman in ‘Are you Being Served?’, you will know that the popular image of a gay man was, to say the very least, a grotesque caricature.

I remember confiding in a teacher who seemed to be quite liberal.  His response was “You have chosen a very sad and lonely life and you will never have a family of your own.”  As you can imagine, it wasn’t the most reassuring response and one that helped me stay quiet and stuck in my shame for a few more years.

If you had told me then that in my lifetime Ireland would have a gay Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Irish people would vote overwhelmingly for marriage equality, I would never have believed you.  If you had told me then that one day my sister would give a speech at my wedding and tell everyone there that she was so proud of her little brother and his partner of over 20 years for being such good role models for her sons, I definitely would not have believed you!  That was the day that the last residues of shame disappeared, and I understood what pride means.

However, I still have to be challenged about my own prejudices.  We live in a small town and this time last year we had our first local Pride Festival.  It is not an area renowned for its diversity, and old fears about being visible and the prejudice that might awaken surfaced (we are old enough to remember when taking part in London Pride ran the risk of verbal and physical abuse).   That was until the 8-year-old daughter of some friends asked if she and her mum could march with us.  It turned out she was doing a project on LGBT+ equality and wanted to go on a Pride march.  My surprise and delight that children in primary school get to do equality projects was matched only by the fact the ‘march’ turned out to be a family affair with lots of parents and children cheered on and applauded by local people.

But it also took an 8-year-old girl to remind me that the first ‘Pride’ was, in fact, a riot.  In the twilight hours of June 28th, 1969, New York City Police raided the Stonewall Inn – a popular place for LGBT+ people to socialise.  The customers were fed up of being mistreated by the police and Marsha P. Johnson, who as a black Trans woman, had experienced appalling levels of prejudice, discrimination and brutality at the hands of the Police,  unknowingly sparked a revolution that led to us being able to celebrate with our families today.

Pride started with a protest and will continue to be until all LGBT+ people everywhere can celebrate as we can here.  As Marsha once famously said, “Nobody promised you tomorrow,”meaning that what we have gained could just as easily be lost.

So I’m not taking the rainbow flags for granted any more.  It is important to be visible and I’m proud as can be of my family and our journey from there to here.

Happy Pride 2020!