Address by Niall Polland to ABC Council LGBTQI Event


We stand here 49 years on from the Stonewall Riots. A time in which, the LGBT+ community, stood up, and fought back, against police brutality and oppression. It gave us pride, with remarkable activists, such as Marsha P Johnson, a Trans, Black, sex-worker who through the first brick for liberation.

We also stand here 25 years on since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 26 counties. In truth, the LGBT+community has seen a brutal isolation and marginalisation throughout Irish history. This bore from a legal system that oppressed the LGBT+ community, through police brutality, laws prohibiting gay sex and even, forced sterilisation.

Ireland has now changed momentously; the old conservative state has gone. It has been replaced with a dispensation of equality, respect and tolerance. But when you come up north, you are hit with a wall of inequality, disrespect and a narrow thinking of a minority at the expense of the rights of the majority.

4 years ago, I came out as a proud member of the LGBT+ community. I stand here knowing my story is only one of thousands that make up the narrative of this community. Mine is one of positivity largely due to those around me, but for many LGBT+ young people its highly different, especially at school.

Many LGBT+ young people experience severe emotional, verbal and physical abuse while they are at school, and yet continue to suffer in silence, as they don’t want to ‘out’ themselves, because they believe the school will look unfavourable upon them, or because they believe that the school will not take appropriate action.Although many LGBT+ people are coming out at an earlier age, young people still unfortunately spend their time in school trying to concealtheir sexual orientation and identity.

The school curriculum in the north doesn’t help either. The exclusion of LGBT+ education gives an impression to young people that only heterosexual relationships are worth value. It does not have as big of an impact as homophobic bullying, but it has negative effects on the ability of LGBT+ young people to access their right to education.

94% of young people are not taught anything in sex education that is relevant to themselves as an LGB young person. While 79% are not taught anything about their rights, including anti-discrimination legislation and the correct age of consent.

Couple this with homophobic bullying, young people face a wall of acceptance, that many cannot climb. Hence why, two-thirds of LGBT young people feel unwelcome at school, why 25% have contemplated dropping out of school and why 33% believe if they were heterosexual they would have achieved better grades.

LGBT youth can no longer be left at the back of the bus. What we need are schools to be trained on how to identify homophobic language and bullying. When schools can support, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans young people, they are much more likely to be safe, happy and able to fulfil their true potential.

What we also need is acceptance. What we need is respect and tolerance. What we need is marriage equality. And, what we need is a sexual orientation strategy. But, while legislation can be passed in a matter of days, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia will take much longer to disappear. The community are well aware of this.

That’s why we need activists.

Activists, like Marsha P Johnson, to help bring about this change. As we all need to agitate to liberate. We, as a community, also have a role to play in healing a fractured world. This community, and its allies, are uniquely qualified to spread a message of compassion, forgiveness, self-acceptance, and inclusion.

It is also necessary, for us all, to view the LGBT+ struggle as one with much to reflect on. The courage and conviction shown by activists to challenge the conservative status quo and do what is right when society tells you that you are wrong, as well as an unwillingness to stoop to the tactics of the political elite despite anger and emotion, is a hallmark of this movement. Thus, we must never lose sight of the fact that despite the moves forward, until discrimination ends, in society and systematically, full LGBT+ equality will not be achieved.

Pride is a time in which members, and allies, of the LGBT+ community look forward to. A protest for true equality, and full liberation. A protest that sends solidarity to every LGBT+ person, in the 170 countries that don’t allow same sex marriage, in the 70 countries where being gay is a criminal offence and, in the 10 countries where you can be killed for being gay.

The commercialisation of pride has allowed the LGBT+ community to be heard worldwide. However, we cannot allow the commercialisation of this protest to benefit companies, while they do not support our community. Due to this rainbow capitalism, the foundation of pride has been forgotten. We must never displace the fact that Pride is protest. It shall always be until there is full liberation, including the liberation of LGBT+ young people. As Marsha P Johnson said, there can be “no pride for some of us, without liberation for all of us”.

If we all work together we can ensure that we don’t just tackle homophobia in the classroom, but on our streets and in our homes.

That we don’t just change law and policy but change hearts and minds.

And that we just don’t make the island of Ireland a moreinclusive place, but the world.

Ógra Shinn Féin