At the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis there was plenty of rainbow flag-waving, but it’s the LGBT community who need to make sure actual political will is flexed from all parties in the pink corner, says Rob Buchanan.
LGBT issues were at the forefront of the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis last weekend. Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness compared homophobia to sectarianism, saying: “We need to challenge intolerance, inequality and exclusion. Sectarianism is no different to racism, sexism or homophobia. They’re all wrong.”
Sinn Féin’s LGBT rights officer Chris Curran discussed the homophobia inherent in Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law and also the scandalous RTÉ censorship and payouts over Pantigate. Curran said: “Panti, Sinn Féin LGBT commends you, for you represent the Ireland of tomorrow,” drawing a huge round of applause.
Whilst Sinn Féin have undoubtedly had a long and, perhaps surprising, history of support for LGBT rights it seems many parties and independents are keen to get in the pink corner,but it is queers not career politicians who need to set the agenda for the debates. We must take a leaf out of the book of other civil rights fights and forge links with other causes, which might not seem too similar to our own at first hand, but which share common ground in regard to discrimination and injustice. Our message can be focused, but the support we seek should be broad.
Some might question the sincerity of political party rainbow flag-waving. There has been some bandwagon jumping, but so what? Likewise there are some late bloomers in the political world who have finally understood that it’s prudent to listen to their LGBT constituents, as we are a small, yet vocal and well-networked lobby.
With the upcoming marriage equality referendum it’s critical that we mobilise and raise the debate, whether it’s in the Dáil, in the media, or with our straight friends. We must confront and question those who would deny us equality and test the mettle of their arguments.
We must all take part in this democratic process, instead of passively paying lip service to it. Attendances for demonstrations are good to modest, but are hardly representative of the huge numbers queer protestors who would gather for a Pride march or a Lady Gaga concert.
Protests and letter writing campaigns to local politicians are ways of flexing our democratic muscles too. It makes the powers that be reflect on the power of the pink vote. But letter-writing is a toothless exercise unless we translate our discontent in to action.
It’s time to get out of our comfort zones. I think the recent debate is a fantastic excuse for sincere self-examination. Do we feel we are being treated fairly? What are we going to do about it? What kind of an Ireland do we want to leave for future generations of LGBT people?
Let the political parties praise us, let them use us even. But let us also steer them in the directions we want them, as public servants, to go. Once they see that our agenda is equality, nothing more, and that being gay is only part of our identity, then it becomes far harder for them to deny us our rights.
History is being written on the streets of Ireland – are you going to be a part of it?
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