I Won't Be Cowered By The 'No' Campaign


The final weeks of the No campaign may worry and upset us, but that’s all the more reason for each of us to stand up and fight for our equal rights


I had an email this morning from my son to say he’s flying home from Germany to vote Yes in the referendum. On a day when for the first time I had to pass posters on the way to work, declaring ‘Mothers and Fathers Matter: Vote No’ it was a piece of news I needed to hear. I always knew that in the final weeks of the referendum campaign I would be faced with difficult-to-stomach messages from the No side, but what I didn’t fully anticipate was the emotional complexity of my reaction.

A straight friend sent me a text after listening to the Marian Finucane Show on Sunday April 19, in which all sorts of erroneous arguments against marriage equality were floated, such as it would enshrine surrogacy into the constitution, or that children were statistically better off in heterosexually parented families, or that gay marriages don’t last as long as straight marriages. “I’m conscious of how sensitive this all is and what a fucking horrible time it is for the LGBT community, whose lives are somehow up for public discussion or inspection,” my friend wrote. “It is disturbing to witness.”

It is disturbing to experience. Like many of you, I am glued to the airwaves and Internet, scanning for anything to do with the referendum, but the net effect of being so connected is a gut feeling that isn’t unlike the one I had throughout my teenage years, when I was relentlessly bullied with the tacit endorsement of my school’s authorities, and my society, for being
“a queer”.

An Awful Feeling

The overriding emotion I felt in those dark days was shame. The people who bullied me should have been ashamed of themselves, but instead I grew more and more ashamed of who I was. I have long been freed from the shackles of such shame, but as I listen to No campaigners lie about my life, defame my relationship, denigrate my parenting and deny my civil rights, the dread at the pit of my stomach feels similar.

When I arrived at the office today, one of my colleagues, who had also seen the No campaign posters, said, “I have an awful feeling it’s going to be a No.” My reaction was to have that same awful feeling, to sink into pessimism about the outcome of the referendum, and about Ireland itself.

But I am not, and have never been, a pessimist, and I don’t think giving in to such thoughts is going to serve me very well.

This is a referendum. There is a Yes side and there is a No side. There will be posters saying Vote No and there will be people in the media arguing for a No vote, just as there will be posters declaring “Vote Yes!” and people in the media arguing for a Yes vote. Behind both campaigns there are professionals creating strategies and rolling them out, based on the best information they can get about influencing voters. It is good to remind ourselves that this is the way all referendums work, that no matter how many No posters we see, it doesn’t necessarily mean the No side are going to win when it comes to polling day.

Start-Up Support

What is amazingly heartening about the Yes campaign is the level of self-starting support that is springing up, that’s not organised by the professionals behind Yes Equality. Hearing Mary McAleese quote the 1916 declaration of independence, or seeing Hozier making an emotional video appeal with Straight Up For Equality, or hearing that students at universities are campaigning to have their exams moved so they can vote on May 22, helps soften the blows of the No campaign.

The next few weeks are not going to be an easy ride for any of us, but if there’s one message to be taken from the grassroots, self-starter Yes campaigns, it’s that we all need to get involved in pushing for a positive outcome. If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, it is your responsibility to take responsibility for your own rights in the lead-up to the referendum. If you wake up on May 23 having done nothing, and Ireland has indeed voted No to your basic human rights, then how will you feel?

We’ve created a spread in this issue featuring ten things you can do to help win a Yes vote in the referendum, but by far the most important, and the most effective of these is to go canvassing. I understand the idea of knocking on doors and asking strangers to vote for LGBT rights is a daunting prospect, but it is proven time and time again that canvassing is the major swinger in this country when it comes to getting votes.

Canvassing Call

If you decide to take up the call to action and go canvassing, you won’t be alone. There are Yes Equality groups throughout the country who will train you in how to do it, and will team you up with canvassing buddies to go door-to-door with. All you have to do is log on to the yesequality.ie to identify the nearest group to you, or to find out how to set up your own group. Who knows? Given that Ireland is the first country in the world to vote on introducing same-sex marriage, canvassing could be one of the most empowering and memorable experiences of your life.

Whatever you do, try not to let the No campaign negatively overwhelm you and put you in a place of pessimism. Now more than ever, we need to stay positive and proud, and to take positive, proud action for the future of this country. Now more than ever is the time for each of us to play our part in securing the equality we deserve. Now is a time to mobilise a vote that will show the rest of the world that Ireland is on the leading edge in the promotion and endorsement of civil and human rights. Now is a time to stand up for ourselves.

© 2015 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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