Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese addresses church with powerful Pride speech

An ally of the community for decades, the former president spoke to Christ Church Cathedral about Pride and LGBTQ+ inclusion.

A headshot of Mary McAleese, who delivered a speech to Christ Church Cathedral on Pride weekend.

Mary McAleese, who served as the President of Ireland from 1997 to 2011, delivered a powerful pro-LGBTQ+ speech at Christ Church Cathedral on the weekend of Dublin Pride. McAleese, a Catholic, spoke as part of the Choral Evensong celebration on Sunday, June 30.

The former president has a history of fighting for LGBTQ+ equality. Not only is McAleese mother to an openly gay son, but she was an early member of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform.

At last weekend’s Evensong Pride event, Mary McAleese referenced the country’s former criminalisation of homosexuality, commenting, “In this overwhelmingly Christian country there can be no doubt that the racists, homophobes and misogynists will all have heard the words of the great commandment to love one another. They have ignored them, or worse, edited them cynically.”

McAleese went on to note that the country is still marred by anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and violence; that it is not a thing of the past. 

While McAleese recognised the historical and contemporary challenges facing Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community, she told the congregation that she was largely hopeful about the future, noting the ways in which both Ireland and the church have changed over decades. 

“That Ireland has changed and changed profoundly came home to me in a very special way just a few weeks ago,” McAleese told the congregation.

“I was coming back from Rome where the Vatican was reeling from the hostile global reaction to Pope Francis’ repeated homophobic locker room language. The shock and pain of my gay friends and family, both lay and clerical, was just plain awful. I had texts and emails from many saying how tested they were in their faith. I knew how they felt…

“It was in precisely that mood of dejection and frustration that my husband and I disembarked the plane and entered Dublin Airport Terminal 2. The place was decked out in rainbows, wall to wall rainbows, proclaiming this month of Pride in Dublin, saying loud and clear that Dublin, that Ireland, is a place that has Pride’s back, that is proud of Pride and all it stands for.

“My husband and I looked at each other and laughed with joy. Here was love in action. Here was proof positive of the power of love and the power of Pride in pushing the LGBTIQA+ community from hiding in the wings of life to centre stage.

“Everyone exiting that airport, heading East or West, North or South could be left in no doubt that God’s people will do whatever it takes for however long it takes to fulfil the law of love,” McAleese continued. 

McAleese similarly celebrated the milestones Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community has already achieved, including 2015’s successful referendum on marriage equality, calling today’s Irish citizens “a fortunate generation to have had that miraculous day of grace in 2015 when the voters of Ireland overwhelmingly endorsed same-sex marriage.”

She continued: “Of all the decades we could have lived in, this one, though it could be better, is better than most. That is thanks to the courage and sacrifice of those who first lifted the Pride banner 50 years ago in very hostile times.

“Small in number then, they refused to settle for laws, attitudes, biases and language that rendered them second-class citizens, made them vulnerable to violence, prejudice and untold and unnecessary heartache. They brought out into the open the damage visited upon them by the prejudice and hate-filled language that had been festering, unchallenged in private, safe spaces and had made toxic the public space whether streets or laws or encounters.

“Pride helped to change attitudes, change Ireland. Pride has grown so exponentially that this is by far the best decade for LGBTIQA+ men and women in our country but in no way can anyone who proclaims the commandment to love one another settle for the way things are for there is a long road yet to travel to that place where love triumphs and proves its worth. If the best is yet to come it will take more courage, more work, more Pride gatherings, more solidarity until all that miserable hatred is squeezed out by Pride, by lived love of neighbour,” McAleese concluded. 

Speaking on her Pride speech, Mary McAleese said she hoped her message was “a statement of intent about the next 1,000 years. To the extent that we can, we will insist on the right of all of us to (receive) love, respect, equality, to be free from wrongs inflicted by ignorance, bigotry and abuse of the gospel and to call it out whenever it appears.”

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