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Column: 'Support for my coming out reflects changing attitudes in Ireland'

The Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer said publicly for the first time this week that he is gay. Writing for TheJournal.ie, he explains the reasons behind his decision to come out…

Senator Jerry Buttimer Member of Seanad Éireann and LGBT advocate

On Monday, the Fine Gael TD for Cork South Central Jerry Buttimer disclosed that he is gay becoming only the third openly gay TD to serve in Dáil Eireann. Here he explains the reasons behind his decision to come out.

Last weekend we launched the Fine Gael Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Group in the week of the 96th anniversary of the declaration of Irish Republic on the steps of the GPO.

In contemporary Ireland the words of the 1916 proclamation continue to resonate, it sets out ideals which must continually be reaffirmed.  In reaffirming the proclamation we continue to attach significance to its aspirations that “the Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally”.

Establishing an LGBT Group in Fine Gael is but one step in attaining full civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities.  For Fine Gael it was a significant and important event in the history and tradition of the Party.

As our largest political party Fine Gael reflects the country in all its diversity and must lead and shape public discourse on this as it does many issues.  The LGBT Group is just one element of the diversity within Fine Gael and across Ireland.

Fine Gael has always had a significant footprint throughout Irish society – rural and urban and politically at local and national levels.  We are now recognising the role, importance and contribution of lesbian and gay people within the party and across the country.

LGBT issues are not just about those who are directly affected, they are also about the kind of society and communities we want to live in; they are also about the kind of environment in which we work and do business.

‘I am public representative who just happens to be gay’

Last July, when An Taoiseach spoke courageously in the Dáil in response to the Cloyne report it caused me to reflect, personally and politically. In my case I had to decide to either continue to speak with limited credibility or to be bold and show leadership in the formation of policy, and on shaping opinion on gay issues.

In my mind one such step was the formation of a Fine Gael LGBT group, to establish an advocacy platform within Fine Gael.  Another step was for me to publicly acknowledge that I am public representative who just happens to be gay.

The concept of a Fine Gael LGBT group received support from across the party, from ordinary members, public representatives and party leadership were fulsome in their support.  It was this support, particularly from An Taoiseach and the General Secretary of the party, which made last weekend possible.

Over the last few days I have received many messages of support.  Unsurprisingly that support has come from across the spectrum of Irish society.  People of all age groups and all backgrounds have contacted me by text, email and phone.  This support has been encouraging and reflects the changed attitudes in Irish society.

Perhaps one day declarations like the one I made at the weekend will not be necessary.  But for now, at a time of change in society for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, it was necessary.  For me I felt it was necessary if I wanted to fully participate in the challenge to attain civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities.

We must strive to achieve an Ireland where irrespective of sexual orientation each person, each member of society, should be free to fulfil their true potential.

For me politics is about people, politics is not just about activism it’s also about making choices, choices which lead to change.  Last weekend was just another one of those choices.

Jerry Buttimer: ‘Being gay is not all of what I am’

About the author:

Senator Jerry Buttimer  / Member of Seanad Éireann and LGBT advocate

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