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'Growing up in Donegal was a privilege, but growing up LGBTI+ in any county is not easy'

My only regret is not coming out sooner, writes Ayrton Kelly.

Ayrton Kelly Student and activist

GROWING UP IN Donegal was a privilege, but growing up LGBTI+ in any county of Ireland is not easy.

I always knew I was different and that is really confusing at a young age. It was in the High School Musical era (circa 2006) when Gabriella Montez was breaking the hearts of my male classmates that I could pin it down, because it was Troy Bolton that was breaking mine.

‘I said no’

I remained in the closet for a further ten years. I remember in 2015, during the Marriage Equality Referendum, wearing a ‘Tá’ badge and being asked if I was gay. I said no.

But a year later, in the middle of sixth year, I made a huge step. I made an appointment with Sinead Murray-Lynch at Donegal Youth Service and with her guidance and support, along with that of BreakOUT (a local LGBT youth group), I came out to my friends and family.

The world did not stop spinning. My parents still loved me, and my friendships did not disintegrate. The most remarkable thing was it changed almost nothing in my day to day life except it felt like a weight was lifted. Diana Ross’ ‘I’m Coming Out’ quite accurately narrates this brief period of my life because it was a whirlwind of positive emotions.

Coming out continues

Three Prides later and coming out still continues. Just last week I was getting my hair cut and I was asked if I had a girlfriend by my hairdresser.

I no longer struggle with ‘I’m gay’. It rolls off the tongue with ease now, which is funny considering I had to came out with Snapchat to my sister, letter to my parents and Messenger to friends because I croaked at the word ‘gay’.

Overall, the support from my local youth service, my family, my teachers, and my friends was the most inspirational thing. I think I always knew they would support me, but the fear of coming out is incomprehensibly irrational. My only regret is not coming out sooner.

Ireland is world renowned for its hospitality, its generosity and – more recently – its insatiable desire to finally (102 years later) cherish all its children equally.

An unequal society

But behind the façade, we still live in a society that is unequal. Where opportunities afforded to you are limited through any deviation from the rugged, masculine, straight, white male or the pale white, innocent, straight female.

But this is about to change. The launch of the National LGBTI+ Strategy by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone is the shot in the arm we need to continue our journey to full equality for all.

Yes, we have it better off than our LGBTI+ brothers, sisters and non-binary siblings who live in genuine, crippling fear for their lives in countries like Uganda, Saudi Arabia or Russia. But say that to our young people battling mental illness, trying to access PrEP, or being bullied in school day in day out for expressing their gender in a way which does not conform to that which they were assigned at birth.

We live in a country where homosexuality is not a crime; where same-sex marriage is legal; and where Gender Recognition exists. But this does not mean we have achieved the equality which the 1916 Leaders were talking about when they read the Proclamation from the steps of the GPO.

Ayrton Kelly is 20 years old and from Letterkenny, Co Donegal. He is studying Commerce with French in UCD Dublin and has gotten involved with social justice movements through his time working with UCD Students’ Union, Donegal Youth Service, Youth Work Ireland, Foróige, Donegal Hospice, and BeLonG To.

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About the author:

Ayrton Kelly  / Student and activist

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