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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco

Column It's time to end the casual use of homophobic language in Ireland

Excusing homophobia by saying it’s ‘just a joke’ is no excuse and it’s not funny, writes Rory Geraghty.


I am tired of people thinking that hiding homophobia under the flag of humour is acceptable.

I’m tired of logging onto Facebook and seeing the latest joke about a ‘fag’. I’m tired of people finding this funny. I’m tired of my friends telling me to lighten up and that it’s just a joke. That word is never a joke.

That word is said to LGBT people to hurt them, to make them feel like they are lesser people, and  I resent that. It’s easy when you have never suffered homophobia to think that it’s just a word but when a teenager walks into school and sees it scrawled across their locker or when someone hears people shouting it at them as they embrace their partner in a public place, then that is when it is no longer just a word.

Imagine being afraid to embrace the person you love, or hold their hand in a public place. In a free and decent society this is something we should all be able to do without fear.

According to a survey of second level teachers conducted by Dublin City University (DCU), 79 per cent said they were aware of homophobic bullying at their school. 30 per cent of these had encountered this type of bullying on more than ten occasions during the last term in which the survey was carried out. What is most frightening about the findings of this survey is that 16 per cent of the respondents also stated that they were aware of physical bullying based on pupils perceptions of homosexuality.

So the next time you use the word ‘fag’ as a joke, remember that there is probably some kid in a school getting his or her head kicked in simply for being different. Is it still just a joke?

‘Being gay should not be an obstacle to entering politics’

At the same time, I’m tired of politicians being too afraid to come out for fear of a media backlash against them. Being gay should not be an obstacle to entering politics. Sadly, it was the last election, in 2011; before we actually elected any openly gay TDs. How exactly do we live in a free society if someone cannot be open about his or her sexual orientation?

I’m tired of listening to the arguments against gay marriage and gay adoption. In fact it is bizarre that in 2012 we are still having the same arguments. Society should have moved on by now. It’s depressing that it has not.

Most of all though, I’m tired of the fact that people are not more angry about the institutionalised homophobia in our society and that they are not motivated to do something to make it cease.

Last week, in an interview with the New Statesman magazine in the UK, the Labour candidate for Mayor of London Ken Livingstone was caught in a controversy when he claimed that the British Conservative Party was ‘riddled’ with gay men and women. In the succeeding days it emerged that this quote was taken out of context and was actually part of a commentary on how difficult it can be for gay people in politics.

As the media ploughed through this storm with snow boots and ski polls, I was reminded that if one politician has not tired of the fight for LGBT rights, it is Ken Livingstone.

In fact, Livingstone has been one of the most important straight allies of the LGBT community in recent decades. As Mayor, he took on discriminatory holiday company Sandals by banning their adverts on the London Underground, London buses & taxis, forcing them abandon their ban on LGBT people.

Furthermore, it was Livingstone who launched the first ever Partnerships Register in the UK, a step followed by many other local authorities, which helped create the environment that led to the UK’s Civil Partnership Act and a massive advancement of rights for gay people.

‘Gay people alone cannot advance the cause of equality’

Here in Ireland we have some excellent politicians promoting gay rights too. Senator Katherine Zappone, for example, has battled through the legal system to gain recognition for her and her partner’s same sex marriage. In this struggle she has been supported by her colleague Senator Ivana Bacik who too has dedicated much of her political career to fight for the right for LGBT couples to gain the right to marry. Of course, it would be wrong of me not to mention Senator David Norris, who too, made significant contributions to gay rights in Ireland.

If even half the politicians, or indeed ordinary people, in the UK or Ireland had this attitude and this bravery then we would be significantly closer to achieving full equality for the LGBT community. Gay people alone cannot advance the cause of equality. We need as many straight allies as possible!

It’s time we all stopped yawning and rubbing our eyes as homophobia scurries across the floor in front of us. If, as Mayor of London, Livingstone can take on a major holiday retailer and force them to end their homophobic policies, then we can force our friends to stop using the word ‘fag’ as a ‘joke’. If David Norris, as ‘A. Citizen’ can force the Irish government to decriminalise homosexuality, then we can support our gay politicians if they want to be open about their sexual orientation.

It’s time to fight the stigma and stand up for gay rights. It’s time to stand up against homophobic bullying and it’s time to end the casual use of homophobic language as a regular day to day occurrence. It’s not funny, it’s not pleasant and it’s holding us back from genuine equality.

Rory Geraghty is a former Chair of Labour Youth and works full time in politics having spent the last year studying at the London School of Economics. He tweets at

Previously: UNESCO praises Irish anti-homophobic bullying campaign >

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