How To Protect Yourself From Years Of LGBT Activism Taking Their Toll


Even glory has its shadow side, especially after the super-high hat-tricks of 2015, followed by countless losses and low blows in the following year and a bit


Rachel Mathews-McKay’s opinion piece on LGBT activism was originally published in the February 2017 Issue of GCN (Issue 326) which is available to read online here.

Part of our post-Christmas TV viewing, as the year ended and 2017 was about to be ushered in, was a screening of Anna Rodgers’ RTÉ documentary The Story of Yes, which recounted the lead-up to the marriage referendum in 2015. I found it hard to watch from beginning to end without feeling overwhelmed by a weight of mixed emotions.

It may seem very dramatic to suggest that people could have been or are still suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but in the spectrum of symptoms and causes there is no harm at all taking some time to really check in with where you’re at or how you’ve been fairing over the past 20 months since the referendum campaign.

The exposure we faced in our lived-out lives was full of actual and potential danger, people got hurt, harsh words were used like weapons about the core of our beings and the validity of our families.


LGBT Activism – Strained Relationships

What about your relationships with the people in your life you knew or suspected to have voted No on May 22? Have you had the opportunity and courage to be in their company, or perhaps the opposite, have you removed
their unsupportive negativity from your life.

And what about all the champions who night and day, wrote letters, racked up phone bills, clocked up mileage, hosted conferences, gathered for protests and practically lived in Leinster House to kick-start some serious gender recognition legislation?

And let’s not forget those too who put a big dent in the challenges LGBT-identifying teachers and health professionals face in their working lives under the employment amendment section 37.1 legislation?


LGBT Activism – The Shadow Side

Even glory has its shadow side, especially after the super-high hat-tricks of 2015, followed of course by countless losses and low blows in the following year and a bit. We lost good friends in the fight for life, heart-connected artists from the world of arts and music, and politically we will be spinning for many years to come, thanks mainly to Brexit and the US elections.

A quote saying "we did it because we had to, we did it because the status quo needed shifting" from the opinion piece on LGBT activism

Putting oneself out there for all the world to see, for all the world to challenge and disagree with, even just standing on one spot with a leaflet in hand and holding the necessary smile regardless of what reaction is coming your way, is an unnatural and unsustainable position for most sane adults.

But we did it all and we did it because we had to; we did it because the status quo needed shifting and individuals and families then, now and down the line, were relying on us to kick outdated perceptions to the curb and pave the way for progressive and inclusive human rights.


Keep reading to find out about ongoing LGBT activism initiatives like GCN Town Hall Talks, how to counter burnout and passing on the torch of LGBT activism to a new generation.

LGBT Activism – Town Hall Talks

All across the country, and internationally too, there is so much room and need for all the skills and expertise we gathered and nurtured. In January for example GCN and Outhouse started a series of Town Hall Talks exploring
our community and its future.

Maybe you could start similar talks where you are in the country? Katherine Zappone TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has just appointed Una Mullally as Chair of the first national LGBT strategy for young people, no doubt she could use our support by feeding into those strategies.

What we’ve learned is that positive social change needs a show of solidarity from as far and as wide as possible. But as 2017 rolls in and the call for our collective activism rings out again, I ask are you ready? It goes without saying that there is so much more to achieve, but before you sign up ask yourself have your battle wounds healed yet and how much of yourself can you actually realistically give, and at what cost?


LGBT Activism – Burnout

Personally I didn’t take enough time out after the referendum. Like many of us, I wanted to harness the positivity of the LGBT successes into the General and Seanad Elections.

I also saw the benefits of joining the Burning Issues 2 report workforce so that there would be a substantial record of the island’s LGBT thoughts, conclusions, hopes, ideas, strategies, outstanding concerns and existing fears.

And while I am very proud of the report, all the contributors and the work we put into it, in hindsight my health needed me to do less extra activist work and accept that my full-time job, choir membership and family life is full enough. Slowly but surely, after years of successive, high functioning activist campaigns, I’ve had to re-learn how to take better care of myself, how to step out of urgent action mode and put my ‘caring’ into perspective.

Full-on and full-time activism is not everyone’s calling in life, and even for those of us who move from cause to cause, frontline to frontline and action station to action station, eventually the burnout catches up.


LGBT Activism – Passing On The Baton

I’m not suggesting that activism or an activist life isn’t full of reward; it absolutely can be. But it’s imperative that we take care of ourselves, recognise our limits, give ourselves the opportunity to re-group, nurture our skills, lick any wounds and most importantly take the time to absorb our successes.

Winning doesn’t always mean you have to keep playing the game; it is okay to walk away head held high. And just because you might be an excellent team player and/or leader doesn’t mean you have to keep carrying the baton.

2015 will always be remembered as the year we changed the world as we knew it, and the inextinguishable fires of hope and change we lit still shine brightly regardless of who the torch carriers prove to be into the future.

(Featured Image: Shanon Wise, CC2.0)

© 2017 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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