Even if LGBT people achieved absolute social acceptance in Ireland, the parades that inject Irish cities with a rainbow of colour would still be necessary. Brian O’Flynn explains why
In the dim, 2am lamplight of Washington St, my fingers fumble over my shirt buttons. Anxiety penetrates through inebriation.
I know it is not safe to be outside dressed like this. On the dancefloor of Chambers, I was a show-off — here, I shrink. After a minute’s struggle, my drunken digits succeed in closing the demure shirt fabric over my lurid pink crop top. Phew! Safe at last.
A mere two minutes later, a large group of lads passes, whooping their strange macho calls — an alien language. I am grateful that my fingers were not slower.
In the suburbs of Dublin, another’s fingers perform a different ritual. Anna is a trans woman.
She watches her movement in the mirror as her hands put the finishing touches to her outfit — a soft pink dress with a matching bow in her dark curls. She suppresses the rising fear in her chest — the fear that wells up every time she has to leave the house.
The alternative is to live a lie.
She takes a deep breath and puts the statistics out of her head. A trans woman is murdered every 21 hours, but they make up less than 0.2% of the global population. Her fingers reach for the door handle.
Not far from Anna’s house, Paddy is huffing and puffing in the corner of the kitchen, angry fists tightening on his newspaper.
“Sure, what do they need to have all these BLEEDIN’ parades for? Isn’t it enough that we gave ‘em the equal marriage thing? It’s like they want to shove it in yer face or somethin’”
His wife Mary rolls her eyes and continues stirring her tea.
A week later, I stride down O’Connell St. I’m wearing my crop top again, but this time my skin doesn’t prickle with fear. No eyes narrow in disgust, and no words are spat at me. Today is a day for wide eyes and yells of delight.
Today, I am not a target — I am just one pixel of pink in a kaleidoscopic aerial photograph.
Unfelt by me in the crowd, Anna too walks. She is wearing her most flamboyant, flowery, flowing dress — it is her favourite, but it is an ensemble she has not yet dared to wear outdoors. Today is different. Today, she enjoys the fearlessness of the majority. It is a comfort she rarely enjoys, but today is a special day.
Today is Pride.
Paddy watches the news at six and sees the rainbow train snaking its way through Dublin’s streets. A vein pulses in his forehead. Mary glares at him and changes the channel.
For Anna and me, Pride is more than a protest. It is the one day of the year when we, and all LGBT people, feel absolutely comfortable.
It’s the one day when we get to escape the trauma of growing up bullied, marginalised, different; when we get to wear whatever we want and not feel frightened; when our queerness is not the exception in an Irish street, but the norm.
It is a key day set aside for normalising queer identity. It is the crucial first step towards creating a world where we feel free to express our gender identity EVERY day, and not just one day a year.
No matter how much legislating you do, you cannot change attitudes in Dáil Éireann. You can only change attitudes by baring your soul to people.
That is what the LGBT community does on Pride day. It bares its soul.
Many ask why Pride is still necessary or relevant. We have achieved so much legislative recognition, and now we should be grateful and climb back into the closets we grew up in, apparently. But we refuse.
Asking to abolish Pride makes as much economic and political sense as asking to abolish St Patrick’s Day, or the Easter Rising celebrations.
And it is not all about the future — it is also about the past. Pride serves a commemorative function in remembering our oppression, our struggle, our martyrs. Even if we reach the point of absolute social acceptance, there would still be a reason to keep Pride, because the present does not erase the past. There is still much to be remembered, mourned, and celebrated.
Walk into a hotel, restaurant, shop, or nightclub, tell them there’ll be no Pride this year, and watch the colour drain from their faces. Pride injects every host city with economic adrenaline every summer — retailers come alive with rainbow merchandise, hotels book out, and nightclubs overflow as LGBT people descend on every metropolis to rejoice.
Pride is an occasion of pure, radiant, unbridled joy. It floods every town and city with colour, happiness, and the Pink Euro to boot.
To even consider doing away with something so overwhelmingly positive reeks of begrudgery, bitterness and underlying homophobia.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Senator David Norris strongly agrees that Pride must remain.
“The public witness to the acceptability of gay people in society is still very important to young people who are not yet out of the closet,” says Norris.
“On top of that, even when absolute full and complete equality is claimed for people in Ireland, we must continue the fight for the majority of gay people on the planet who live in regimes where they are routinely attacked, tortured, and murdered regrettably, often at the instigation of religious authorities.”
Riyadh Khalaf, the Irish Youtube sensation whose videos about gay identity have reached millions of people, tells the Irish Examiner: “Pride parades fulfil many functions aside from community visibility.
"They’re most important for young LGBT people who often feel disconnected from peers in school and college. They allow them to feel part of something, to make them aware that, although their sexuality doesn’t define them, it is something to be celebrated.”
Actor Eilish O’Carroll of Mrs Brown’s Boys fame summarises it perfectly for us.
“It’s very important to remain visible and continue to celebrate who we are and Pride is our opportunity to do that.”
I agree, Eilish, and so, I think, would Anna. Paddy is just going to have to put up with it.
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