(Sing if you’re) Glad to be Voting Yes to Marriage Equality

I’ve been listening to this song a lot in the last week, pretty much any time a ‘No’ campaigner makes one of those comments that feels like a punch in the chest. Loudly singing along not only provides an outlet for unproductive rage, it’s also a valuable reminder of the historical context in which this campaign is taking place.

This is an exhilarating time to be an LGBT person in Ireland. After decades of exclusion, for the first time ever we have the opportunity to reach out to our families and communities, to share our pride in who we are and, together, to stand for a better future and a warmer, more accepting Ireland.

Unfortunately, a month out from the marriage referendum, I think the joy is fading from the ‘Yes’ campaign. I’m not surprised. As May 22nd draws closer, our opponents voices are getting harsher. And as ‘No’ campaigners ask ever more insidious questions as to whether we are abnormal, anti-social, or threatening to children, we are forbidden to defend ourselves with a simple truth: that those who oppose equality for LGBT people are homophobic.

Fifteen months ago, by threatening legal action against RTÉ and Rory O’Neill, members of Ireland’s extreme conservative establishment sent a clear warning to LGBT people and their allies: you are not entitled to the phrase homophobia, you are not entitled to your anger, you are not entitled to speak, or live, your truth. This has been endlessly reiterated since, most recently in the attack that’s been launched against Joe Caslin’s mural on George’s Street. The message, again, is clear: gay people should stay quiet and stop taking up space.

The worst thing is, I think they’ve gotten away with it. As LGBT campaigners we have allowed ourselves to be intimidated, we are running a campaign whose first goal is not to step on anyone’s toes. Terrified by the prospect of losing the support of the “soft middle”, the campaign has become about smiling nicely, saying unthreatening things about love, not being too flamboyant and not, under any circumstances, expressing anger against what Mary McAleese calls “the architecture of homophobia”.

To paraphrase Panti herself, instead of striving to be the being the best gays possible, we’re checking ourselves, trying not to “give the gay away”. And to me, that feels oppressive. What’s more, it loses sight of the concept that has, for nearly half a century, been at the heart of queer politics — Pride.

Right now, all the talk seems to be about what will happen if we lose the soft middle and, as a result, the referendum. But why not turn that on its head? If we convince ordinary, decent voters with an inspiring vision of the society we’re trying to create, we’re looking at a huge victory, a loud and clear statement that — just two decades after homosexuality was decriminalised — shame no longer has a place in our families, our communities, our politics or our society.

There has, rightly, been a lot of focus on today’s young LGBT people and on future generations of children who deserve to know love and acceptance. However, we also speak for another silent demographic, the generations of gay people for whom leaving the closet was never an option, the people driven from the country by violence, hatred and criminalisation, and the hundreds of gay men who should be with us today but fell victim to the AIDS epidemic, often stigmatised by their communities and left to die in isolation.

For me, and for many young gay people, that past is almost unimaginable, but its legacy continues. Just as future generations deserve our hope and our support, past generations deserve our anger and our pride. This is a fight, between silence and speech, between hatred and love, between shame and pride and, in the most severe cases, between life and death.

We have one month left. Let’s make it a party.

Want to show your support for the Yes Equality campaign? Click here to donate or here to find out more about volunteering.

A Bring Back Our Girls Reading List

Ifemelu wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not those who received, to be one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given, to be among those who could afford copious pity and empathy.

–          Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

(Note: see comments for an insightful critique of the tweet above)

In the evolution of mass social media campaigns, particularly those relevant to Africa, the point inevitably comes when Twitter is divided into those fervently hashtagging for justice and those criticising the shallow, callous, white privileged, neo-colonial nature of the campaign.

When it comes to the #BringBackOurGirls movement, I am squarely in the latter camp. But the discussion won’t be meaningfully forwarded by the opinions of another indignant white woman, so instead of writing myself I’ve compiled the analysis and opinions of some people who are far better-placed than me to illustrate the true dynamics at play here.

If you have additional reading suggestions, please pass them on and I’ll add them to the list.

From Africa is a Country, 4 May:

I reiterate, I am glad that the world is finally taking notice of the Chibok girls. On the other hand, I do grow nervous when overly sensationalized coverage of children in African conflicts in the West go the way of #kony2012. While the language we use to talk about these girls must do the utmost the horror of their plight, but that in our eagerness to “say something” we do not marginalize them further.

–          Karen Attiah, #BringBackOurGirls: What took the world so long?

From Foreign Affairs, 5 May:

Boko Haram is sneering at a world that has shown time and again that girls are expendable and easily weaponized. It is targeting society’s most defenseless and fetishized. This act in essence is not dissimilar to how the Syrian government has used women as targets of punishment in that war, allegedly perpetrating rape on women and girls in front of their husbands or sending videotapes of rape to families as a means of humiliating them. Both are showing they can take what “belongs” to other men and use them as they please.

–          Lauren Wolfe, director of Women Under Siege, Why women are the “spoils of war” in Nigeria and around the world — and nobody cares.

From Foreign Affairs, September 2011:

Instead of associating itself with Abuja’s heavy-handed military response, the Obama administration should urge Jonathan to address what are essentially political problems: poverty and the corruption-driven alienation felt by the population of northern Nigeria, factors that contribute to Boko Haram’s popular support. . . . Even if Boko Haram expand its operations and establish significant contacts with international terrorist organizations, the Obama administration should not let counterterrorism considerations trump these public diplomacy strategies. Too heavy a hand would risk alienating Nigeria’s 75 million Muslims, who already have legitimate grievances in the north. This, in turn, could undermine the very unity of Nigeria — something neither Washington nor Abuja can afford.

–          John Campbell, To Battle Nigeria’s Boko Haram, Put Down Your Guns

Instead, Obama has highlighted this as an opportunity “to mobilise the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organisation that’s perpetrated such a terrible crime.” Worth remembering that the U.S. already has a drone base in Niger, established a little over a year ago.

From The Scoop, May 4:

We are experiencing what is, apart from the Biafran war, the most violent period in our nation’s existence. Like many Nigerians, I am distressed about the students murdered in their school, about the people whose bodies were spattered in Nyanya, about the girls abducted in Chibok. I am furious that politicians are politicizing what should be a collective Nigerian mourning, a shared Nigerian sadness. And I find our president’s actions and non-actions unbelievably surreal. I do not want a president who, weeks after girls are abducted from a school and days after brave Nigerians have taken to the streets to protest the abductions, merely announces a fact-finding committee to find the girls.

–          Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The President I Want

From The Atlantic, March 2012 (soon after the release of Kony 2012):

There is an internal ethical urge that demands that each of us serve justice as much as he or she can. But beyond the immediate attention that he rightly pays hungry mouths, child soldiers, or raped civilians, there are more complex and more widespread problems. There are serious problems of governance, of infrastructure, of democracy, and of law and order. These problems are neither simple in themselves nor are they reducible to slogans. Such problems are both intricate and intensely local.

–          Teju Cole, The White-Saviour Industrial Complex

As privileged observers, we must acknowledge that this is not about us, by which I mean the privileged whites of the West. That no matter how much pain, outrage or need to act this situation inspires in us, we are bystanders. This is about hundreds of young women somewhere in West Africa and, to return to Teju Cole:

They are not thinking of Twitter, where the captivity is the cause of the day, nor of the campaigns on the streets of Lagos for a more competent and less callous government, nor of the rallies in front of Nigeria’s embassies worldwide, nor of the suddenly ramped-up coverage by international media, nor of how this war will engulf even those who are only just beginning to hear about it, nor of those who, free for now, will someday become captives.

They are perhaps thinking only that night is falling again, and that the men will come to each of them again, an unending horror.

–          Teju Cole, Captivity

As the world spirals into ever greater chaos…

“The true lesson of history was this: that the so-called victims, the poor, the downtrodden, the masses, had always struggled with spears and arrows, with their hands and songs of courage and hope, to end their oppression and exploitation: that they would continue struggling until a human kingdom came: a world in which goodness and beauty and strength and courage would be seen not in how cunning one can be, not in how much power to oppress one possessed, but only in one’s contribution in creating a more humane world.”

– Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Petals of Blood

Ireland, I owe you an apology…

Since leaving Dublin a year ago, I have checked out of Irish politics. My engagement has declined gradually, but it’s approaching the point where I couldn’t cast an informed vote in a General Election and before long it will hit the stage where I would struggle to pass Junior Cert CSPE.

My checking out isn’t purely due to laziness or apathy, though that may play a part. Whatever Michael Noonan says about young people making the lifestyle choice to emigrate, when I realised that Ireland and I were done, I was standing outside Leinster House the night that the Savita story broke, with  a crowd of other people who were devastated at what the country — our country —had come to.

Being Irish is hard. It’s hard to watch government fob off the issues you care most about, because they’re scared, or because they’re prioritising the next election, or because they suddenly need to gather more information, or because everyone’s tired of referendums anyway.

But the outrageous treatment of Rory O’ Neill in the last fortnight has reminded me that the voices that oppose change in Ireland are not only scurrilous and spiteful, they are frighteningly well-resourced and not afraid to threaten, to silence and to intimidate. And the national broadcaster, as it still has the nerve to call itself, has caved and suggested that these are the voices of democratic debate.

So I’m sorry that I left, but now I’m back. Not back in the country, but back in the discussion. I know it won’t have much impact, but surely we need every voice we can get.

Media preview

The Experience of Women in Competitive Debating

I wrote a paper with Muireann O’ Dwyer and Clara Spera for the Monash Debate Review. You can read it here.

And here is a gratuitous photo of me, a woman, speaking in a debate.

Irish Times Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin Debating

Homosexual sex is a crime in India. Again.

What a terrible day. An emerging superpower, home to well over a billion people, taking such an appallingly retrograde step. My thoughts are with the Indian LGBT community.

NDTV reports:

The Supreme Court today said gay sex between consenting adults remains a criminal offence, dealing a severe blow to the largely closeted homosexual community in India.

The top court today said that the Delhi High court’s 2009 order decriminalising homosexuality is constitutionally unsustainable.

Activists say the onus is now on Parliament to legislate on homosexuality and repeal Section 377, a British pre-colonial era law that banned “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Conviction carries a fine and a maximum 10-year jail sentence.

Although prosecutions have been rare, gay activists have said that the police used the law to harass and intimidate members of their community.