Let’s talk about…Effects of political division on LGBTQ+ issues

RFU decision reflective of polarising views

If you walk down Dominick Street in Galway this week, you’ll be met with a sea of Pride flags that stretch all the way down the road, jutting out from above the various bars, shops, and chippies. This is because Galway is celebrating its 2022 Pride festival this week, and the area is set to play host to a fair amount of the festival’s events.

I’d seen the street lined with Pride flags like this earlier this summer, back when Pride Month was being celebrated in June. However, during that time, while Dublin Pride and similar celebrations happened, Galway did not hold its full festival. Not until now, two months later. But Galway Pride not taking place during Pride month (as one might expect) is not an outlier; the case is the same for many counties across the country.

The Irish Pride movement first began gaining real traction in the 1970s, with the first Pride march taking place in 1974 with ten marchers in attendance. It was almost ten years later before the first large-scale march took place, and when it finally did in 1983, it, devastatingly, was in response the brutal murder of an Irishman, Declan Flynn, in a homophobic attack, and the subsequent release of the five men responsible for his death. Evidentially, the Irish Pride movement was facing an uphill battle, and it was not helped by the fact there was very little strength in numbers. And so, in deciding to host events at different dates in different counties, more people could travel around to attend them.

This tradition has continued forward to today (explaining Galway’s August Pride celebrations), despite modern attendances not presenting the same issue – thousands were in attendance at Pride events in Dublin and Cork this year after the Covid hiatus, and no doubt Galway will see huge crowds for Saturday’s parade. Irish Pride today has moved way beyond ten-person marches, and just seeing how far the movement has come is testament to how our societal attitudes around LGBTQ+ issues have progressed in Ireland.

After all, in the last few decades, Irish society has consistently edged towards more progressive territories when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues and rights.

Of course, there remains more that could be done, but historically speaking, Ireland has continually been on a path of progress. That said, in the more recent past, I’ve felt there seems to be renewed fire lit under anti-LGBT+ sentiment bubbling up now in Ireland.

For example, though we might reflect on Declan Flynn’s murder in 1983 and think of it as backward times, it was only this year that a lesbian couple were violently attacked in Dublin and two men passed away as a result of a suspected homophobic attack in Sligo.

In addition, despite the issue being raised more and more in public discussion recently, Ireland to this day has failed to outlaw the practicing of conversion ‘therapy’, which has been so incredibly damaging and traumatising for many LGBTQ+ folk over the years (not to mention being entirely ineffectual and rooted in bigotry).

But perhaps the most evident example of Ireland’s backsliding on LGBTQ+ issues, can be found by looking at the increase in anti-trans sentiment that we’ve been seeing recently. Just a few months ago, RTÉ were criticised for enabling transphobic hate speech when callers’ anti-trans views were put to air. Even side-lining the question of what RTÉ should rightfully platform, the incident highlighted the surprising extent and popularity of anti-trans opinions.

Flash forward to this week, when the IRFU followed in the footsteps of the RFU and World Rugby to ban trans women from contact rugby to “ensure fair competition and the safety of competitors”. I’ve written before about how the opinions of those opposing trans women’s inclusion in sports are often rooted in transphobia and an unwavering belief that biological women are inferior to biological men, but then disguised as an attempt to ‘protect women’s sports’.

In this case too, the IRFU’s decision seems much more linked to the controversy around trans sportswomen at the moment, as opposed to actual concerns about women’s sport – especially considering how often they’re under fire for mistreating women players (one recent example being in 2021, when Connacht players were forced to change beside the bins at Donnybrook stadium).

These types of events, the increasingly blatant sense of homophobia and transphobia that seems to be permeating into Irish society, are incredibly disheartening. We have, in so many instances, been an example of progress and inclusivity, but recently there has been a changing of the tide. It feels as though in some ways, progression on LGBTQ+ issues is not the (relatively) steady march forward it once was.

Perhaps this is purely reflective of the much more divided political climate we’ve all landed in the past while. Post-Covid especially, there has been a deeper global sense of political polarisation. We have seen how so many people’s attitudes have diverged to extremes, and perhaps progression for LGBTQ+ issues is just one of the latest casualties of this.

Ireland, for all its past (and recent) transgressions and strides when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues, remains a country that is testament to how much things can change – both for the worse and the better it seems. Hopefully the political polarisation and rise in extremist anti-LGBTQ opinions we’ve seen recently fades away soon, and the path to progress from here on out is clearer.