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Portrait photo of Patrick Dempsey. Credit: Karl Hayden Karl Hayden

'We were walking through the flats and it came up in conversation. My Dad asked if I was gay'

I got really really angry with my family when they said they wouldn’t be voting in the marriage referendum, writes Patrick Dempsey.

I GREW UP in a place called School Street, the flats in School Street there. It was me, my Mam, two sisters, my Dad kind of moved away when we were fairly young. We would have struggled an awful lot. And I guess we were one of those inner city families that would have been really hit by drugs.

Like I mean a lot of my family members would have been on heroin or would have died from drugs. My Mam just tried to help us understand everything that was going on around us. But growing up in the flats was great. It was really, really great craic. All the kids used to be around. Everyone in the Liberties knows everyone anyway.

So, I really enjoyed my childhood. I enjoyed growing up, especially when I came out. I enjoyed being a young gay person, being able to go to my first gay nightclub with all of my friends on my eighteenth birthday. I had a weird impression of gay clubs. I thought they would all be suited and booted. So when I got there I was very disappointed, and overly dressed. I was kind of, ‘Oh, this is just kind of like anywhere else really.’

I felt like something was different

Growing up I never really felt in myself that I was just like anybody else around me. I don’t know why. I felt like something different was happening to me that wasn’t happening to other people. From about the age of ten I had begun to start thinking about what it was about, and from about twelve or thirteen I started thinking, ‘Am I gay?’ My first reaction was, ‘Oh, I can’t be gay. This isn’t happening to me.’ I was really upset.

No-one else knew until I was fifteen when I finally came out because of my Dad. We were walking through the flats and it came up in conversation. My Dad asked was I gay? I stopped for a second and thought I could either say ‘no’ and let everything continue, or I could just answer him. So I said ‘yes’. He was fine, and he said my Nanny and Grandad were worried about me and wanted me to know that everything would be alright.

He asked if I wanted him to tell everything. I thought that would be the easiest thing to do. And after that conversation I never really had anything to worry about. I came out in school in my final year. I had been bullied in school. Some people had called me gay without even knowing I was gay. There was really bad abuse. There would be comments in the classroom and the teachers wouldn’t do anything about it. It was very hostile and stressful. But I wasn’t lonely.

I knocked on one door canvassing during the referendum, and when it opened, there was a crucifix straight on the wall. And I was like, ‘Ok, here we go.’ There were a couple of shut doors in the face, but you just went on with it. People were also shouting from their balcony, ‘Have you got a leaflet, have you got a badge, have you got like a registration form to vote?’

It was great that people were so vocally supportive. But you could definitely see the difference in demographic, like in the older population maybe not being as forthright or even not wanting to talk as much about it. I guess the younger people very much got it.

Ireland Gay Marriage AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

My family never really voted. They had no interest in politics 

My issue was actually getting people out to vote full stop. My Mam never really voted. She knew how much I had done about the referendum, and on the day she was like, ‘I am not going to vote.’ And I was like, ‘Why?’ She was like, ‘I don’t vote. I don’t ever vote.’ And she doesn’t. My sisters don’t vote. My Dad doesn’t vote.

But I got really really angry, really pissed off. I had to walk away from her. But my two sisters were going to vote for the first time ever so then mam was like, ‘I will vote. I was being stupid.’ She just wasn’t into politics. And actually I think the next day she felt really good about doing it. I went to my Mam’s, and she was watching the Vincent Browne results, and she was just like ‘It’s going to be a great day today, isn’t it?’ And it was, because she actually did vote, and other people voted on that great day.

On the 23rd May 2015 the people of Ireland made history by becoming the first country in the world to introduce marriage equality by popular vote. This is an edited extract from A Day in May – Real Lives, True Stories by Charlie Bird, published by Merrion Press. The book compiles a powerful collection of 50 deeply personal interviews with LGBT members, their family and friends, recorded at the time of the Marriage Equality referendum. Taoiseach Enda Kenny is launching the book this evening.

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