May 16, 2015 by John Buckley
On the 15th of May one of my best friends asked me to speak at an event urging people to vote. I was like, “me”? I wasn’t sure what role I’d play in speaking to a crowd on marriage, but then I realised, I’m just an ordinary citizen, a regular person. On the 22nd of May it’s the ordinary people who’ll decide on the how we value our fellow citizens. I wrote this letter which I read out on the night on my call for a yes vote:
For the last few months the first conversation every morning in the office has been the marriage referendum, every day, the morning starts with how are you, followed by the latest referendum chat. It’s dotted with passion, disbelief at the no side arguments, hope, anecdotes, but the past few weeks it’s become worried, concerned. I’ve seen my colleagues, brave humans, strong humans, worry about what this vote will say about them. What it will say about their identity. But hope is still there, with a steely determination, that I’ve seen in many people’s eyes, a determination that is going to create change.
I’ve been working with NGOs, particularly children and young people for 7 years. I started by supporting young Travellers, asylum seekers and Roma people. I now work with young people around a range of health issues online. I’ve sat beside young people to empathize with their struggles with identity, not because they didn’t know who they were but because society wasn’t willing to allow them to be who they are. I’ve heard young people ask “what’s wrong with me?” when what was wrong was not with them, but with what they’re surrounded by. I’ve taken phone calls for a service on Christmas Day, late at night, from young people alone, in fear. I’ve had messages sent to a service asking what being gay means as they have felt too afraid to ask those around them. Afraid to use real names and give anything away, just looking for a little shred of hope, someone to say that “the person you are is completely ok”. What has this got to do with the marriage referendum? Everything, it’s about society saying, we are one, there are no differences between us. Young LGBT people experience mental health difficulties and are a risk of suicide more than the rest of society due to how we frame their lives as “other”.
I’ve spent evenings with young people on the street, in hospitals, in offices where they’ve wanted to end their lives, and hurt themselves. I’ve seen the direct impact of what growing up in a society that doesn’t value who you are has on our young people. The people who need our support more than any other demographic. Being a young person is tough enough, the changes and pressures experienced are enough, let alone potentially not being able to be who we are.
I’ve worked with gay parents; I’ve seen their parenting. I’ve worked with LGBT young people, they are young people – what’s the difference, nothing, nothing at all. I also campaigned for the children’s rights referendum and worked on forensically analyzing the wording and looking at what it will mean in terms of impact – I won’t waste our time on that now because all of us here know that children’s rights and best interests are enshrined in the constitution and any attempt to say this referendum changes that is based on a strategy of fear, nothing more, just look to all the rights groups and experts who have clear stated that this referendum is only beneficial to children and the adults they will become.
When I was in school I used sentences like “that’s so gay”, I called people “faggots” and present John is ashamed of past John. At the same time I was hunched over a toilet bowl one night at 17, having my back rubbed by my best friend, pouring my heart out about being confused about my own sexuality. It takes time to be comfortable in your own skin; it also takes an environment that accepts you for you are, where you are. Being a young person is shit at times, but it’s also filled with the opportunities for joy. Those opportunities are only possible when we support all of our young people.
I’m standing here as a human being and a straight man concerned for my fellow humans, concerned and full of anger. I don’t want the young LGBT people I work with to die by suicide, I don’t want my friends to second guess or check themselves for the people they are, I don’t want the people I love to be afraid to love those who mean the world to them. I want to see my friends and colleagues and family as humans in this country, not as “other”.
I know this is not what Heaney meant with this poem but still. “Digging” was my favorite piece of writing in a school where I was taught by one of the leading no campaigners, I probably have him to thank for introducing me to it. I want to use what he taught me for good. He taught me the kind of person that I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be a person who preaches hate in another name. This Friday we have a chance to do two things: one, radically transforms the lives of the people we care about, to continue the reshaping of our society into a fairer place. Secondly we can capture this momentum, this campaign, the youth and vibrancy of it to drag our society forward, to show our fellow citizens that we won’t stand for less than equality, or equality in another name, that we want fairness, that we want justice, that we want care and support. This can be the start of transforming Ireland. Use your vote to do it this coming Friday. Dig at the core of our society, turn over new ground, bring freshness to the surface, use your pen and mark the yes box, use your pen and spread your messages of love and compassion.
“Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.” HELL YES, vote YES! And bring your friends and family with you.
Polls are open this Friday, the 22nd of May from 7am to 10pm.
- Bring your polling card (if you have one) and photo ID to your polling stations
- Not sure where your polling station is? Look up your details on http://www.checktheregister.ie and they’ll show you. Most likely your local school/community centre
- Check in on Facebook and share on Twitter that you have voted, it will remind people
- Make sure you make time to vote, every vote counts, don’t rely on others to make change for you.
- Bring people to the polls with you, make an evening out of it!