'Equality in Ireland remains a work in progress' says Adam Long

Adam Long comments on Pride debate which discussed education equality, hate crimes, Direct Provision, foreign policy, and more.

political equality panel sits in front of screen reading

At the recent NXF Dublin Pride Annual Political Debate, a number of important topics relating to equality were addressed by a panel comprising of high-profile political figures and civil society representatives. This author, in his capacity as Advocacy & Communications spokesperson with the National LGBT Federation (NXF), chaired the event and was joined on stage by Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty TD (Fine Gael), Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald TD, Barry Andrews MEP (Fianna Fail), Cllr Roderic O’Gorman of the Greens, and LGBT asylum seeker and campaigner Evgeny Shtorn.

The discussion began with a focus on the soon-to-be-published National LGBTI Strategy, which will set out a number of actions to be delivered over a two-year period designed to ensure that LGBT people in Ireland are able to fully participate as themselves across all aspects of Irish society. Minister Regina Doherty stated that it was the intention of the current government to have the Strategy in place as soon as possible and certainly in advance of the next general election, which is expected to take place either later this year or early next year. Should there be a change of government at that election, representatives of the other political parties committed their parties to also fully supporting its delivery.

Anti-LGBT hate crime and hate speech featured prominently in the public consultations around that Strategy and was also identified as the leading policy priority issue for the LGBT community in the NXF commissioned ‘Burning Issues 2’ report of 2016. I pointed out to my panelists that Ireland stands virtually alone in the western world in having no hate crime legislation in place. In response, Minister Doherty referenced a review currently being undertaken by her ministerial colleague David Stanton into this whole area, in addition to the National Strategy. All the panelists stressed the need for any new legislation to be underpinned by robust training for all those involved in its enforcement, including An Garda Siochana and members of the Judiciary.

The recent controversy concerning the targeting of a gay journalist for vile homophobic abuse on the YouTube platform, owned by Google (one of the sponsors of Pride), was also discussed as part of a larger debate around online hate speech. Google was heavily criticised, including by the National LGBT Federation (NXF), for failing to appropriately respond to such homophobia, initially seeming to claim that the behaviour constituted legitimate ‘debate’. Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald was firmly of the view that greater state regulation of social media platforms is required and that free speech does not mean a ‘free-for-all’ of hate and bigotry.

A clear desire to use Irish foreign policy as an instrument to advance global LGBT rights was expressed among both the audience and panelists. Barry Andrews MEP talked of the fundamental values of the European Union coming under attack from outside (Presidents Trump & Putin) and also from within, with the illiberal, reactionary governments of Hungary and Poland leading the way in attacking LGBT and other minority communities. For Mary Lou McDonald, it was a ‘no-brainer’ that countries that refuse to adhere to the kind of basic human rights commitments that allowed them become members of the EU in the first place, must be subject to sanction.

In one of the most well-received interventions of the evening, Evgeny Shtorn spoke in very eloquent terms about his experiences of Direct Provision, with his call for its abolition being roundly applauded. With reports of LGBT asylum seekers being subject to homophobia/transphobia in these centres, it was suggested by this author that the State was being derelict in its duty by failing to proactively promote integration and in particular teach about the need to respect the likes of women’s rights and LGBT rights. In her response, Minister Doherty said it is completely unacceptable that LGBT residents would be subject to the kind of abuse and persecution that caused them to flee their homelands and pledged to work with her colleague Minister David Stanton in preparing a plan to counter such prejudice.

The issue of Education Equality is seen by many as the next great social-liberal advance following our victories in the marriage equality and Repeal referendums. All my panelists agreed with the proposition that every school should be required to teach a state-mandated LGBT inclusive RSE (Relationships & Sexuality Education) curriculum, regardless of ‘ethos’ as recommended recently by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on Education. In response to possible constitutional concerns around the role of ‘ethos’, Cllr Roderic O’Gorman pointed out how recently enacted ‘Children First’ guidelines remove discretion from Boards of Management of schools when it comes to RSE delivery, although issues remain around content as identified by the Oireachtas Committee.

As always, there simply was not enough time to cover the many other topics that inform the lives of our LGBT community. It was especially unfortunate that my Trans panelist was unable to attend although a colleague of hers in the audience outlined the main priorities for that community. Another area I would have liked to tease out more is the evolution of Pride itself. With more State and corporate entities than ever before now wishing to be associated with us, this brings both challenges and opportunities. It was especially disappointing to learn of a series of transphobic incidents on the day of the Parade, underlining the need for better awareness and sensitivity training among those outside entities participating, but also the fact that Pride is first and foremost about the LGBT community and our right to express ourselves openly and visibly in the absence of discrimination.

It’s clear that LGBT+ equality in Ireland remains a work in progress.

For more on Irish LGBT equality, check out the GCN article Four Years Since Marriage Equality: What’s Next?

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