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What would a No vote signal to young gay Ireland?

The result of the referendum will send a clear message to those young people in schoolyards and exam halls.

WE LIVE ON an Ireland of two – a nation divided between those who are equal under our Constitution and those who are not. There is a damaging decay among our young people that exists in classrooms from Ballymun to Buncrana. Much of Young Ireland is deeply struggling with its sexuality because it simply was not born to be what its institutionalised environment is forcing it to be.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people are twice as likely to commit suicide, have a 1.5 times higher risk of depression and are 1.5 times more likely to suffer from alcohol or substance abuse. Couple these statistics with the fact that many young LGBT teenagers simply are too afraid to come out.

You become an actor in your own life

Personally, I know what it’s like to hide in the shadows of the schoolyard. Fear smothers your true self because you wonder what your friends will say and do should your truth be exposed. You’re ashamed; you feel terrible, you feel self-hate and you wish it would all just end. You, in effect, become an actor to those closest to you, always trying to push these ‘unnatural’ feelings to the back of your head wishing they would leave you alone.

The acting our young people engage in is worthy of an Academy Award for the amount of people we try to fool, but at the end of the day we can never fool ourselves. This is sadly what growing up gay in Ireland is like for many.

The referendum for equal marriage is over three weeks away. It is my firmly held belief that this is the civil rights issue of our generation. I find it hard to put into words what a ‘Yes’ vote would mean to me and other members of the LGBT community. It would mean we are equal. It would mean the majority welcomes us into the Republic with open arms. It means we can participate in our nation as equals.

But more importantly, it sends a message of hope to those young people cowering in the shadows of the schoolyard. They will have been told in the clearest possible way that the majority is on their side and they want them to honest, open and free.

What message would a No vote send?

While a ‘Yes’ vote would mean so much for young Ireland, there are disastrous consequences if the people of Ireland were to return a ‘No’ vote. The week after the referendum, many students will be preparing to sit their Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations. If we reject equal marriage, I can only think of the gay teenager sitting in the exam hall having not only been struggling to do their best at study, but now having been crushed by the fact their hope of leaving secondary school as a second class citizen and entering third level as an equal citizen has been completely smashed.

We risk leaving an entire generation crestfallen who will recede into the shadows once more. The shadow is a dark and lonely place for a young mind to be in. I have experienced it and I never want to go back there again. Let us ensure that our young gay and lesbian Irishmen and Irishwomen no longer have to cower in fear. Instead, let them prosper in equality.

Dale McDermott is a final year Bachelor of Science in Accounting & Finance student in the Dublin Institute of Technology and is also a former President of Young Fine Gael.

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