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  • Transcript of remarks by President McAleese to the LGBT young people of Ireland


    Galway - October 30, 2008



    It’s good to be here, thanks a million Michael for the invitation to be here and for the chance also to meet so many of the people who are doing the work, the basic building block work, that you are doing.  Setting up the organizations, setting up the structures, whether it is in rural areas, in towns, whether it’s in cities – starting that very difficult basic building block work. It takes just one person to say ‘you know, we need to have a structure. We need to have a place, we need to have a space. Usually you start that debate, and you don’t have any money – do you? There’s never any money until you start that debate. Maybe there are only a handful of people you can call on. Then you start the work. You start making the connections, drawing in the local bodies, the statutory bodies, the voluntary bodies, the agencies that are around, applying for the grant funding – all of that is tough work but there is no other way of creating a community, there is no other way of networking apart from what you are doing. And believe me the investment you are making, tough though it may be, it building a kind of building block, a platform on which to build a very, very different future. And we need to build a different future. 

    I think back to my own teenage life. I think I was only somewhere in the region of 19 or 20 before I realised there was this other phenomenon called homosexuality. I didn’t, nor did Martin or anyone belonging to us, I didn’t choose to be heterosexual – it was discovery. It was a life’s discovery of part of who I am. You didn’t choose to be what you are or make a decision. You discovered it. It was possibly a slow process of discovery. And one of the big differences between growing up in that world where you happily discover yourself to be heterosexual or discover yourself to be gay lesbian, bisexual or transgender – it is that growing up as a heterosexual the words that you hear, the things that you hear or the things that are said are supportive and encouraging. And the world around you is supportive and encouraging of what you are. It is not challenging of what you are. But if you are 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and in your ear you are hearing the funny comments, the wise cracks, the anti-gay jibes, the nasty toned comments, sometimes the ambiguous comments, that is what you are hearing and then your own process of life’s discovery reveals to you “gosh, I am one of these people they are mocking. I’m one of these people they are talking about. This is me.” And who is it that’s reflecting this back to you? It could be your own mother or father. It could be your own brothers and sisters, your own aunts and uncles. Your own friends, your own peer group. This narrow intimate group whom you love who you want to be part of, whom you yearn to be part of. And these are telling you that something about you, something quiet and secret that you have not shared with anyone, that there is something in their view not right. What a very lonely, what a diabolically lonely experience that is. And we know that there have been generations who have been hurt by that loneliness, shaped by that loneliness. And who actually have made decisions to pretend to be heterosexual, decisions that have cost them and families very dearly; that they have paid very dearly for in terms of mental ill health; in terms of lives, the worthless struggle, lives that never really blossomed to their fullest potential. And we also know in that world of silence, where that discovery is happening over an ambience that is hostile, that there are such dangers. There is the vulnerability to bullying. That awful vulnerability to being bullied. There is that awful vulnerability to self-doubt, which buries itself very deeply in the human psyche and manifests itself very often in terms of mental ill health.  

    One of the issues I raised when we were at the suicide conference earlier this year, was we talk and we talk with our hearts breaking over the issue of youth suicide because we know that one of the greatest contributors, in fact the greatest contributor, to youth death, that is those between the ages of 15 and 25, particularly young males, is of course suicide. One of the untold stories in that, one of the stories that we need to talk about openly is the impact of being different or thinking you are different or worse than that – thinking that you are somebody worthy of the contempt and the jibes of others. What kind of impact does that have on the growing, maturing young person? The person who wants to belong, who yearns to belong? Who yearns to be accepted, not for what people would like them to be, but for who they actually are and who they are absolutely entitled to be. We have to be very very careful.  

    Martin and I are both from Belfast, as you know. We grew up in a city that was riven with sectarianism and riven with sectarian bias - and you know none of these things, -homophobia, sectarian bias, they are all first cousins of each other - they don’t come at us from the ether. You don’t see them in the beauty of trees, you don’t see them in beautiful landscapes, and they don’t come down in the rain and snow. They grow in human hearts. They are transmitted by human voices. It is people who share with each other the spores and the toxin, whether it is of racism, sectarianism homophobia, and these things pass from hand to hand – in the handshake, in the wise crack. You can see this in Northern Ireland if we move away from homophobia for a moment and think about sectarianism or racism, these things that teach people, actually teach human beings to be contemptuous of other human beings. These things are taught, these things are learnt. They have devastating consequences. We can see the devastating consequences in Northern Ireland – the dead bodies, the broken relationships, the wasted opportunities, the wasted landscape – it’s all written for us. Look at 20th century Europe, look at the early part of 20th century Europe if you want to see Racism run riot. When we look at the un-channeled, unstopped toxin of Anti-Semitic phobia. We see all of that and we know these things and we know they are transmitted humanly and the only thing, or one of the only things, we know that stops them is the human voice that says “Actually no. I believe your point of view to be incorrect. I believe that bias and bigotry to be dangerous. Please do not use that kind of language.” And then support that with systems and laws that protect the integrity and dignity of the human person, that outlaw these kinds of expressions that are toxic.  

    If anyone wants to wonder, and I am sometimes terrified at the shelf life of these toxic spores, just look at, for example, sectarianism in Ireland.  It goes right back to the Reformation and the Counter Reformation 400 years ago. The shelf life of these toxic spores, that convey contempt and carry hatred from generation to generation, outcrop in violence, in loneliness and vulnerability and exclusion, these things have a very long shelf life.  

    In this generation we’re very fortunate, you are a very fortunate generation. Much more open. Much more talk. Much more debate. The secret spaces where people were the victims of all sorts of predators and the victims of their own vulnerability, those secret spaces now are being opened up and people are telling us about themselves, and we have to listen. When people tell us who they are, what they are, we are obliged to listen to one another, and to give each other the respect and dignity that comes from listening. Celebrating and respecting diversity, which you spoke about. Among young people it is at the very heart of what you are about - getting that voice out, putting the shoulders back, facing into life, confidently recognizing ‘I did not make a choice, I made a discovery about myself. This is the person I am. This is the person I am entitled to be.’  

    Things like homophobic bullying continues to be a very big issue, including in our schools.  The link between it and suicide just sends us a message, a really strong message that it’s a trend that has to be reversed, it’s something that we have to stop. We have to do what we can to stop that toxin from reaching into the hearts and souls of still forming lives, the lives of teenagers, to give them encouragement, to give them support, to give them heart. And so, by working together, as you do, as we do all of us, by standing up for democratic values, the values that we all share and that benefit every one of us, and by refusing to go along with all of those loud voices of prejudice, by having the strength of character and the strength of voice to say “No, I’m sorry, I just don’t accept that. That remark is homophobic. I think that remark could very well hurt someone. I think that remark could send someone scurrying into alienation and isolation. I think it’s unacceptable.” I think we between us, we are probably the first generation in many ways, that has this tremendous opportunity now to challenge bias from a great position and platform of strength, to overcome the bias experienced by so many young people, so many gay young people, so many lesbian, bisexual, transgender young people and no one, absolutely no one in this country should have to suffer because of their sexual orientation.  

    We talk about our young people as one of the most precious gifts we have. Their mental wellbeing is a very, very important issue for us. Their blossoming to their fullest potential is our greatest treasure. And their greatest treasure is their uniqueness. Their utter absolute uniqueness and their entitlement for them to be the unique person they are. That is why I am here today to say in every way that I can how much I support what you are doing, and how much I encourage what you are doing. I know I am painting in broad strokes. You face the practicalities. How do I get the young people from a rural area, how do we get them to come to the kind of place where they can experience community and support and the wisdom and the shared insight we can give one another. How do we get our small group to grow bigger? How do we get the financial support? You start. That’s what you do. You take one step. You just do it one bit at a time, one step at a time. You may not, in your generation, solve it all, but you’ll solve some of it. You’ll take it far enough that another generation, encouraged and liberated by what you’ve done, they will take it the next bit.  

    If any of you watch soccer, if they ever, ever, ever score any goal,any time in soccer it is always set up for them. The movement starts way back down, and then in comes the fancy person with the fancy pair of legs, and they score the goal and then of course they are worth 5 million, and the poor person who was the genius down the back is forgotten about, and so inevitably it’s the goalie whose life is destroyed! No longer transferable anywhere! Some of us are people who set up the goal that others are going to score. That’s our job, that’s our role. There has to be unselfishness in understanding that. The job that you are doing is about the business of creating a better world. An open world, a world free of homophobic bullying and bias. A world where people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, at whatever time of their lives they discover that about themselves that they can feel, ‘So what? So what? That’s the world. I live in a world where that’s everyday. Where nobody passes a remark on it. Nobody comments. This is how life is.’ I feel very strongly that what you are doing is such an important step by step by step growth, helping not just yourselves but actually at a much bigger level, helping all of us as community, as society, as Mums, dads, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, colleagues to one another to be a loving caring community. You’re helping us to grow and to go that journey.  

    So, thank you for your courage and thank you for going that journey and thank you in particular for growing that journey.  Go raibh mile maith agat.