The recent hospitalisation of Evan Somers, and the killing of two men in Sligo have stunned us all. They have woken us all to a terrible truth about our society — that it’s not as progressive as we would like to think. Evan, a young man going about his life, was attacked because of his sexuality. Evan is all of us. He wrote on Twitter: “Last night a stranger called me a faggot before beating the shit out of me.” Evan was left with a fractured eye socket, two fractures, a dislocation in his ankle, and other injuries — all because of who he loves.
The pictures from his hospital bed were particularly disturbing, but essential for us all to see. That a beautiful young man, minding his own business, would be attacked because of his orientation should not sit well with any of us. I clearly remember the sense of relief in 2015 when Ireland voted in significant numbers to push forward with same-sex marriage.
I had worked with teenagers for many years, and sexuality was generally the main cause of mental dysphoria. But 2015 changed everything. It was such a seminal moment in the history of our little nation. I felt immense pride, the rainbow flags flying over Government buildings signalled the end of myopic and oppressive thinking about sexuality. Or so I thought. I felt pride in the realisation we were moving away from such linear and destructive paradigms about sexuality.
Even as I write this, I feel incredibly frustrated that we are still going over the same old ground. Hurting people because of who they love. It just seems so archaic and barbaric. And when a member of the LGBTQ+ community is attacked, that is an attack on all of us. And we should not accept it. We must all stand up for Evan and many others like him who have been targeted because of their sexuality.
I have worked in schools now for 20 years, and over the years many past students have emailed me and ask to meet for a coffee. It’s always so lovely to see the men and women they have become. To see their life trajectory taking shape. Often in those conversations, the student I’m talking with tells me about their sexuality.
We often talk about growing up, the classroom environment I created, when they first realised their sexuality and how comfortable they are now with themselves. I always leave that conversation feeling a little conflicted. Proud and privileged that they wanted me to know about who they are, but also a little deflated, because those conversations reveal just how much work we have to do as a society so that children don’t have to worry about coming out, that being gay is normal and something to celebrate.
In my experience working with adults and adolescents, something I have experienced over and over again, which has led me to see it as a truth, is that sexuality is far more fluid than we would like to think. So why are we so stuck in our viewpoint on it? Another important question I’d ask is why do we care so much about sexuality? We don’t know much about Shakespeare, but we do know he was bisexual. It’s an odd bit of information to have about the greatest writer of all time, while knowing little else about him.
We have to move past this preoccupation with sexuality and see people as they truly are — beautifully complex and individual. The labels we give each other are designed to make this incredibly complicated world easier to comprehend, but we are far more than being gay or straight.
The real change starts at home. Words like ‘faggot’ have no place in our society. Family and school is where we eradicate it. When we teach our children that those words are not acceptable, we change how they view themselves and others around them. Parents have a massive responsibility when they bring children into the world. None of us are born hating someone’s sexual preference, that is drilled into us as we develop.
The actions of a few cannot allow us to fall backwards. We have come a long way since I was a teenager in Cork in the early 90s. Homosexuality was listed in the DSM as a mental disorder, and it was criminal to be gay. So, we have made significant strides and Pride Week is incredibly important. Postboxes and Garda cars in rainbow colours normalise homosexuality, and that is no small thing.
It is very important for the mental health of any child or adult questioning their sexuality. They feel the support of their community. Incidences like those we’ve seen recently make people fearful about expressing themselves. We cannot allow this to happen. We must all stand up. So finally, sexuality is not something that profoundly interests us about each other. That we view each other in all our uniqueness and complexity. That’s the dream.