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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C

An octogenarian gentleman taught me that it's never too late to come out

News of Pat Carey’s brave move reminds Dil Wickremasinghe of an elderly man who asked to connect with LGBT community. “I’ve wanted to do this all my life,” he said.

SOMETHING QUITE PHENOMENAL is happening in Ireland today. A movement that started over 40 years ago is no longer in the shadows of the margins but has become a mainstream issue.

The LGBT movement has been slowly gaining traction and is no longer an issue that only concerns LGBT people but is gaining more and more straight allies every day. Even religious groups are joining the battle for equal rights as Faith in Marriage Equality, a group made up of Catholic and Church of Ireland members, launched a campaign just this week urging people of faith to vote Yes in the same-sex marriage referendum.

As a 41-year-old lesbian who was rejected by my religious parents at the tender age of 17, resulting in my becoming homeless, I cannot express how incredibly healing it is to see that religious people can be accepting and supportive too.

Positive role models not just for the young

When our Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, came out publicly last month he became the first openly gay minister in the history of the State and received huge support from his colleagues, the media and the general public. However, one comment I heard time and time again since Mr. Varadkar came out and indeed whenever anyone with a high profile comes out is “this is great for young people”.

People forget that young people are not the only ones who struggle with coming out as older people do too. Arguably it is even more difficult for them because many older LGBT people are of a generation where sexuality was not freely spoken of, and who never came out. And now, their invisibility is compounded; many feel that it’s too late for them and run the risk of being left behind.

Mr Varadkar was 36 years old when he felt safe enough to come out publicly and even then he admitted that he always thought he would be alone and was only able to envisage himself in a relationship in the last couple of years.

Then just last week, 67-year-old former Fianna Fáil minister Pat Carey spoke publicly about his sexuality. He admitted that he only understood his own sexuality in his 60s but has never spoken about the issue before because he didn’t have the courage to do so.

Thankfully he took the brave step to be open about his sexuality which not only highlights the importance of creating an equal society for all but also he has provided a valuable role model for older LGBT people.

Is it ever too late to come out?

Hearing about Pat Carey’s story reminded me of another older person who showed tremendous courage. In 2012 I worked in Outhouse, the LGBT community resource centre as a community worker. It was my way of giving back to my community and help others in their journey towards self-acceptance.

I received a call one day from a social worker who worked in a nursing home and needed my assistance with one of their residents. A resident who was well into his 80s had expressed a wish to come out. He had been in the services for a number of years and felt it was the right time for him to connect with the LGBT community. I was delighted to inform her that we had a social group for older men he could join.

Making the brave step

It took a bit of planning on both our parts to make this happen but when the day arrived needless to say we were beside ourselves with excitement! We arranged to meet in a nearby café as he wanted to meet me on neutral ground first. He was a distinguished-looking gentleman, exceptionally well groomed and impeccably dressed. He was so well spoken and mannerly despite his obvious nerves.

He asked me lots of questions about the organisation and the services we provided. After about an hour we walked over to the resource centre and as I opened the heavy Georgian door, I turned around and officially welcomed him to his LGBT community.

He stood at the door, looking around and taking it all in. After a minute or so he stepped over the threshold and paused. He looked at his foot; he looked over at his social worker and at me and said, “I’ve wanted to do this all my life”.

We were all overcome with emotion and moved to tears by the bravery of this beautiful man who proved that it’s never too late to come out.

  • Dil is a social justice and mental health campaigner, broadcaster of Global Village on Newstalk 106-108fm, Saturdays 7-9pm and Training Director with Insight Matters

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