Maria Walsh Answers Questions From The LGBT+ Community

We asked organisations such as BeLonG To, TENI and Extinction Rebellion to pose a question to Maria Walsh, who is a candidate in the 2019 European Elections.

Maria Walsh

At the age of 31, Maria Walsh is the youngest candidate seeking election in the 2019 European Elections. Maria rose to national attention when crowned the 2014 International Rose of Tralee. She took this opportunity to visit every county in Ireland and every continent. The platform allowed her to visit many communities and she now lends her voice to Jigsaw Mental Health, that supports young people between the ages of 12-25 and to the Thomas Meagher Foundation. She regularly speaks to school students on inclusion and what it means to be a part of ‘Todays Ireland’.

We asked Maria some questions about her plans to support Ireland and Europe’s LGBT+ community if she is to be elected.

 

According to the recent report from ILGA Europe, Ireland currently ranks 17th in Europe in relation to equality provisions for LGBTI+ people with recent milestones including same-sex marriage and gender recognition for over 18s. With the visible backslide on laws and policies safeguarding equality and human rights of LGBTI+ people across Europe, how will you (the candidate) ensure that Ireland maintains our progress and does not regress?

Making sure LGBT+ rights in the Republic is continuously working ahead but equally, we’re bringing our brothers and sisters with us.

A lot has happened since 2015 in terms of visibility and education, there is an awful lot more to do when we think of the whole island of Ireland is not equal. From my position as an LGBT+ advocate and someone who is quite vocal in terms of confidence in our own sexuality and the importance of having conversations that continually need to happen.

From a European standpoint, it comes back to making sure companies and schools are aware of LGBT+ rights: that the entire person gets welcomed in their community. From a European standpoint, it’s a case that it’s my expectation of myself as an advocate to hold people accountable to make sure that not just Ireland but throughout the EU we are consistently talking about what we have been doing and my big focus point is Northern Ireland.

Making sure LGBT+ rights in the Republic is continuously working ahead but equally, we’re bringing our brothers and sisters with us. We can not say we are balanced in marriage equality unless we have equality across the island and then we have to look at same-sex couples in terms of having families; IVF treatment, parental leave, legal affairs, making sure companies, not just multinationals, are championing diversity, inclusion and belonging. So there’s a lot more to do.

 

The European Union has been important for transgender people’s rights across the continent. What are your priorities for ensuring trans people are represented in and supported by the European Parliament if you are elected as an MEP?

I feel even with the marriage equality, a lot of emphases was placed on our lesbian and gay communities and now we still have to continue that fight with the same emphasis, enthusiasm and passion for our trans community.

I was part of an event in the House of Commons about a month ago where leaders in the lesbian and bisexual communities were brought together. One of the biggest conversations was around our trans siblings and the lack of visibility and supports. I’m not just talking about medical supports, but psychological supports. Positive mental health has to happen for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation but in particular that the trans community feel part of our community, they feel that they are represented.

I feel even with the marriage equality, a lot of emphases was placed on our lesbian and gay communities and now we still have to continue that fight with the same emphasis, enthusiasm and passion for our trans community.

I work with a foundation called the Thomas Francis Meagher Foundation and I spoke to deputy principals and principals a number of months ago at their national conference. The number of people who came over to me looking for supports saying we have a member of our school who is transitioning. I always point them to TENI or BeLonG To because they are phenomenal in what they do in just making sure a person, a family and a community feel supported.

We must ensure infrastructures are in place and that means if grassroots programmes, schools, teachers, do have a question or a concern then there has to be that space to do that.

The European Parliament can take a hand in that in terms of additional funding coming in and I’m championing for a European Year of Good Mental Health which mirrors the 2011 European Year of Volunteerism which showed that grassroots programmes can get better funded, more incentives and education around positive mental health and within that is our LGBT+ community.

 

Earlier this year, the European Parliament called on the Commission to secure the future of its LGBTI strategy, including on the freedom of movement of rainbow families, including trans people with problems accessing legal gender recognition. Will you work to secure the right to freedom of movement for LGBTI families and individuals in Ireland across the EU?

Of course. If elected into the midlands northwest I would be part of one of the largest blocks in terms of the European Peoples Party. Historically the EPP has not been very visible when it comes to LGBT+ inclusion and that needs to change. Like I tell everybody when I meet them at the door or in the press, you can not change something unless you are involved in a conversation.

It’s my expectation that I keep vocalising, I keep offering visibility, I keep offering education points. I bring people together around a table to make sure that nobody is forgotten about. The reason we joined the European Parliament in 1973 was because of peace, inclusion, opportunity and that has to stand not just economically but socially so yes, of course, I’ll be fighting and asking very hard to make sure everybody feels included.

 

Do you support a Fossil Free Future by ending support for new non-renewable energy exploration & banning the extraction and importation of fracked gas across Europe?

We’re not inheriting the land from our parents, we’re borrowing it from our children and that needs to be addressed with urgency.

You know it’s funny to me because certain individuals are championing climate conversation and protecting the environment for many years. Every day I’m learning something new about what we can do better. Much like equality, it’s not the flick of a switch but we must our climate emergency with urgency. Gone are the days where we can say ‘by 205o were going to have X amount of renewable energy’ no we actually have to be more aggressive.

It’s not a case of whether we have an opportunity or a window because future generations are getting lost. It shouldn’t have taken thousands of young people across the European Union to make public representatives and decision makers stand up and see the fact that our climate is disintegrating around us.

So yes as someone who is championing climate conversations, as someone who is championing the fact that we need to meet plans with urgency and not delay any further. People need to start looking at electric cars, single-use plastics need to be banned, microbeads need to be taken out of the ocean.

Every single one of us is accountable for changing the way we live and that’s down to renewables too, it’s down to reducing if not stopping fracking because we see the effects. It shouldn’t be future politicians or generations that have to clean up the mess of our past. We’re not inheriting the land from our parents, we’re borrowing it from our children and that needs to be addressed with urgency.

 

We have reported a vast number of hate crimes occurring in Ireland over the years. What can you do at an EU level to assist the process of introducing laws against hate crimes and hate speech in Ireland?

It saddens me that we still see hate crimes but that’s the reality of where we are in our society. You see the rise of populism across the European Union that’s not just ‘licked off a stone’ as we say in the West. We need to change that and we need to protect our citizens. Be it whatever orientation: straight, LGBT+. Hate crimes have destroyed families, have destroyed individuals and we need to stop that.

That’s why it was very special for me to be a part of Call It Out, the campaign by TENI. I have an LGBT+ brother and I’m nervous that he would be coming home from a bar in Galway or Dublin and he’s hurt. Equally with me, if you look at we are talking today in terms of Call It Out; hate crimes are physical but they are also mental. Hate happens when we keep chipping away at someone too and you keep chipping away at the whole person and you start affecting their mental health and the positivity around that.

We need to not only protect the physical barriers in relation to hate crime but we also need to protect the mental and emotional. As a champion for positive mental health, as a person who is an LGBT+ advocate and community member I can only say this, I will do my utmost best ability to make sure that if a hate crime happens that there are support services around, not just from An Garda Siochana but from counsellors to make sure that the hate crime doesn’t have to follow them forever.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

This post is sponsored by Maria Walsh

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