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Aoife Martin: Pride isn't just about rainbows and flags - it's about being seen

This week, our columnist looks back at Pride 2021 and says there’s more to it than just a celebration once a year.

Aoife Martin

AS SURELY AS pride comes before a fall, Pride month comes before the Fall and as June draws to a close, it’s worth reflecting on what Pride actually means and who it is for.

Pride month can be something of a circus. Flags are raised, social media avatars are dusted down and given a splash of colour, lip service is paid. There are panels and discussions and column inches written.

There are Twitter tweets and Facebook posts and whatever it is that Instagram does. It’s easy to be cynical, especially when you see people who remain silent about LGBT+ rights throughout the rest of the year suddenly jumping on the bandwagon.

All is well now?

It’s also easy to think that, post-marriage equality, everything is just fine. It’s six years since Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.

That’s six years since members of the LGBT+ community and their families and friends had to go door to door to ask for their rights, six years since members of the LGBT+ community had to speak publicly about their deeply personal stories and had to listen to people on the opposing side tell them why they didn’t deserve the same equality that everyone else had – all in the name of balance.

It’s almost 40 years since Declan Flynn was kicked and beaten to death in Fairview Park, Dublin because he was gay. The five youths who killed him got suspended sentences.

It’s five years since 49 people were killed in a mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It’s just over two weeks since Pride flags that had been flying outside Waterford city’s council building were burned. A few days later the same thing happened again.

It’s over a week since homophobic graffiti was written on a wall next to Pantibar in Dublin’s city centre.

Ireland has come a long way in a few short years but the rights that we have now, no matter how hard-fought-for, should not be taken for granted for they can be easily lost.

Worrying trends

Governments come and Governments go, and public opinion is a fickle master. There are those who would exploit Lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions to gain a platform to suit their right-wing agendas. We’ve seen it play out time and time again.

In 2020, transgender people in Hungary lost their right to legal gender recognition. In 2021, also in Hungary, legislation was submitted to ban content promoting homosexuality and gender change to minors. The legislation passed on 15 June by a majority of 157-1.

The law bans the “promotion of homosexuality” to people under 18, effectively removing any discussion of LGBT+ issues in sex education classes – something, I suspect, that isn’t much different here.

A recent report published by BeLong To Youth Services stated that 97% of the young LGBT+ community are struggling with anxiety, stress or depression.

With so many ongoing issues around LGBT+ rights, it’s easy to be cynical about Pride but it’s important to remember that it can mean different things to different people. For some people, it’s a party, for some a protest, and for others, it’s a celebration of their identity – of who they are and of how proud they are to be visible. And it’s that visibility that’s important.

Pride matters

Outside of Pride month when is the last time you saw a gay couple being affectionate in public? Or even doing something as simple as holding hands? Something that every straight, cisgender person takes for granted.
Pride isn’t just about parades and rainbows and flags, it’s about what those things symbolise. It’s about being seen. It’s about that scared kid who is still in the closet seeing people like themselves for the first time and knowing that they are not alone, that the feelings they have are not unique to them and that there is a community out there who will love and accept them for who they are.

We live in a heteronormative society, the ads we see, the films we watch, the books and articles read are, in the vast majority, made with cisgender heterosexual people in mind.

The institutions of the State and Church are designed with cisgender heterosexual people in mind. We might have marriage equality, in terms of the State at least, but we have a long way to go before we have true equality.

We devote one month a year to celebrating a community that is often maligned, mistreated and discriminated against but being LGBT+ in a society, a society you have to live in and interact with all year round is not an easy thing to navigate. Let’s not forget that.

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Pride is for life, not just June.

Aoife Martin is a trans woman and activist. In her spare time, she likes reading, going to the cinema and practising card tricks.

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