EILE’s Founder and Editor-at-Large, Scott De Buitléir, takes stock of the trials and tribulations of 2016, as we prepare ourselves in celebration of a new year.
Sometimes, it’s good to take stock of the progress we have made in recent years.
In Europe, social progress was introduced in waves, with neighbouring countries influencing one another. The United Kingdom lifted a ban on blood donations from MSMs, and thousands of gay and bisexual men were retroactively pardoned for being charged under anti-gay laws of yesteryear.
Most of the UK welcomed same-sex marriage, with the sole exception of Northern Ireland, despite the Republic of Ireland voting in favour of it in a landmark referendum. Gender recognition legislation was introduced in Ireland also, a move that was welcomed by the country’s trans community, although acknowledging that it wasn’t perfect. Several other European countries introduced several other LGBT protections, anti-discrimination legislation, and social and legal equality.
In North America, a similar story took place. Marriage equality swept across all 50 States, thanks to a ruling from their Supreme Court, boosting the efforts of marriage equality advocates for individual states. Barack Obama’s time in the White House saw the biggest move towards LGBT progress; from his own vocal support of marriage equality, to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to Vice-President Joe Biden’s own son being married to his partner in the White House. Even recently, Obama’s words of gratitude and support for Ellen DeGeneres went viral on social media, reminding us all of the change that has taken place in the world, since Ellen came out as gay so many years ago.
What we have seen is a time of great progress for LGBT people in the West. The Great Mainstreaming of 1995-2016 brought gay life from the outcast fringes of society to being a normal part of everyday life.
At the risk of sounding too ominous, that time has now passed, although whether or not we are about to fall into a global political New Dark Age is unclear. Over the coming weeks and months, the political landscape of the Western World will undergo a tectonic shift that few expected, and fewer were prepared for. We have seen the initial earthquakes and landslides – from the US presidential elections to the vote on Brexit – and it’s likely that we have not seen the end of this violent shift in national dialogue and politics.
The first people to truly see this were LGBT Russians, who had been (predictably) forgotten, once the world’s media got over the shock of the introduction of Russia’s ‘Gay Propaganda’ laws. The homophobic language used against LGBT people in Russia is not dissimilar to the slurs, graffiti, and attacks now reported in American media, since Donald Trump’s victory in the recent presidential elections.
While conservative politics can have some good ideas for the economy and business, a shift to the right in social issues never bodes well for those most vulnerable in society, and yet history seems bound to repeat itself once again, like it has done at several periods during the 20th Century.
To take a specifically Irish perspective on these recent events, we are still on our road for social change. For now, at least, being stuck between Brexit and Trump hasn’t veered our own island off course for change. The #RepealThe8th movement proves that for all recent progress made for LGBT people, women’s rights have not progressed as quickly in Ireland, and the State needs to modernise rapidly in that regard.
Northern Ireland’s LGBT groups are still campaigning for marriage equality, and will continue to do so, despite any dismissive comments from Arlene Foster on the matter.
Ireland is still only an island nation, however, and the events across the seas will still have some sort of effect on us. If Britain is soon to leave certain social bodies within the EU and go rogue, then Ireland will need to step up as Europe’s new English-speaking ambassador for LGBT progress. Ireland could potentially make a great impact from here onwards, although it has punched well above its weight in recent years – that must continue.
Where Trump’s new America is concerned, unity is key. The LGBT community needs to desperately rally together; not just for the pursuit (or indeed, maintenance) of LGBT issues and rights, but also to join forces with other minorities in the US, to find a common call for inclusivity and diversity, in the face of white nationalism and blatant racism.
In short: We cannot forget one another if times get dark. We cannot lose sight of the path we wish to travel, and we cannot afford to leave anybody behind.