When I was 16 I struggled with the terror of realising I was gay and the fear of the un-known and what that would mean for my life. I knew I was different but I just wanted to fit in. I saw no other option for me other than to live a double life and play by society’s rules. I even had a girlfriend…. although she will tell you now, I was a terrible boyfriend! I had sunk into a dark depression. I was young and alone and didn’t know where to turn.
I was so scared.
One day I picked up my dad’s newspaper and read an article about BeLonGTo. I’ll never forget the feeling of relief that washed over me, realising that there was an organisation there for someone like me. I remember snatching the paper and running upstairs with it. I hid it under my bed. It was weeks before I finally plucked up the courage to make contact. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t.
BeLonG To changed my life.
For the first time in my life I met there young people who knew what I was feeling. I was in awe of them, and slowly I began to gain confidence in myself. My youth worker helped me through some rough times and even went with me to my first visit to a counsellor.
So as we celebrate a year on from the YES Equality vote, I want to explain why Ireland needs to Keep Saying YES!
If I could go back and talk to my young self, I would tell him to take courage. I spent many years being afraid, living a double life, and not being able to be myself. It was so damag-ing.
And it’s hurting - and even killing - many other young people who are struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, their identity and where they fit into the society they see around them.
Eventually I came out to a friend and then another and then my twin brother. My poor mum though found out in a slightly more public way. I had written to the then Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, pleading for him to introduce equal rights for gay people so that I could perhaps get married like my mum and sisters. Then, at a public rally outside Central Bank, my letter was read out, with me standing beside the speaker. And it was shown on the RTE 9 o’clock News! When I got home, my mum said “I saw you at the rally.” Luckily she was fine about me being gay and told me how proud she was of me for doing what I did. Sadly my dad was not so understanding and wrote me a letter disowning me.
If I hadn’t had the support of BeLonG To during those really difficult years, I don’t know what I would have done. I do know, without their help, I might not be here. I was lucky that I got support.
A recent study found that 56% of young LGBT people self-harm. And 70% of 14-18year olds struggling to come to terms with their sexuality or come out have seriously contemplated ending their own lives.
A year ago Ireland finally delivered the vision I wrote about.
But I know we still need to deliver the reality for the children and young people just coming to terms with their sexuality and in desperate need of support.
As we celebrate the first anniversary of the Marriage Equality vote, we must also remem-ber that equality is not just one day. Equality needs to be every day.
We said YES as a nation last year for adult LGBT people.
Please, let’s keep saying YES for our LBGT children and young people.
Just €40 will provide for a one-to-one support service
Just €80 will provide for an anti-bullying pack to schools
Just €200 will provide for life-saving suicide prevention work
Please keep saying YES.
Names and some identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. Stock photo. Posed by model.