Another Day in Another May: Reflections on Equality a Year on From the Irish Referendum

On May 22nd, 2015, Ireland passed an historic referendum that allowed any two people, without distinction as to their sex, to be legally permitted to marry.

In the year that proceeded, Ireland has seen stable measures of macroeconomic growth, albeit amidst widening social inequality that has manifested in mental health cuts, communities devastated by youth suicide and a devastating housing crisis that has seen vastly increasing numbers of families becoming homeless all around the country.

As Ireland gets set to celebrate the one year anniversary of what is being promoted as 'LGBT equality', many voices who have seen and experienced the effects of ever-widening inequality still struggle to get their voices heard amidst the resounding noise of political backslapping.

As reported by Broadsheet.ie, Galway writer and poet Sarah Clancy, had campaigned for a Yes vote in the marriage equality referendum last year. She had subsequently received an invite to a photo call in Dublin Castle to mark the first anniversary of the marriage referendum. Clancy refused the invitation however, stating:

"I admire the work GLEN and others have done on Marriage Equality but please do not be co-opted into providing a continuing patina of equality for a government that has increased inequality to the extent that we have a spiralling crisis of homelessness."

Citing regressive and dangerous legislation that affects asylum seekers in the International Protection Act and a failure to honor commitments made to the Magdelen women in the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act among other social crises being ignored by the last two governments, Clancy affirmed, "Equality is for everyone or it is worth nothing."

Journalist, Tomás Heneghan has also been working against the tides of Irish LGBT inequality. Having already brought a High Court challenge to the blood donation ban on gay men in July of last year, he recently stressed in an Irish Times column, the importance of continuing the fight for real and substantial equality in legal and judicial arenas, highlighting that this change will be incremental and does not simply begin and end with marriage rights.

There's also a new book compiled by Irish journalist and broadcaster, Charlie Bird, tells 52 stories from LGBT individuals around Ireland about how life as an Irish LGBT person has impacted them and what the passing of the referendum in 2015 meant to them personally.

The book features stories of many notable Irish LGBT figures and activists, including Tony Award winning theatre director Garry Hynes, radio presenter Bill Hughes and the organizer of the first pride parade in the West of Ireland, Nuala Ward.

Ward's speech at the launch of the book at The National Gallery of Ireland on May 2nd further underlined aspects of the government intent on using Marriage Equality as a smokescreen to cover for a cultivation of wider social apartheid through implementing regressive cuts on social services and facilities, which effect the LGBT community, other minority groups and the poor most adversely.

"I think in Ireland we have learned, directly or indirectly, to fear, to judge, to reject and treat LGBT people as lesser human beings, and LGBT have also learned the same," Said Ward, "Is it any wonder that suicide and self-harm is higher within the LGBT community, and coming out can be such a difficult struggle."

Indeed it would be difficult to find an Irish person who has not lost a friend or loved one to suicide in the past year. In the West of Ireland, it's too heartbreakingly commonplace to get a call or a text and be asked to join a search party resigned to bringing the body of a friend home to lay to a final place of rest.

Still, availability of data on suicide and mental health is clouded by a prevailing sense of stigma in Ireland, rooted in old dogma that suicide is an individualized mortal sin rather than a product of an imbalanced society, underscored by an uncomfortable history that consigned Irish people who display nonconformative traits and behaviours to harsh and inhumane institutions such as The Magdalen Laundries and industrial schools.

Back in March, Una Mulally wrote in the Irish Times about a new report published by LGBTIreland which did manage to bypass such stigma and found that pervasive homogeneity can be counterproductive in making real gains on our centuries old systems of discrimination and inequality.

The report also found that LGBTI young people have twice the level of self-harm, three times the level of attempted suicide, and four times the level of severe or extremely severe stress, anxiety and depression of a comparative group of young people.

In her 'A Day in May' speech -- that went conspicuously ignored by the attendant Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Enda Kenny -- Ward also mentioned aspects of social isolation and inequality experienced by the travelling community as well as non-white Irish people, people in direct provision (asylum seekers) as well as Irish women, for whom obtaining an abortion is still illegal in 2016.

It still seems necessary to stress that, despite an overarching tendency to paint the typical Irish LGBT person as white, male and middle class, the Irish LGBT experience can intersect with any of the aforementioned experiences, which can easily contribute to a more compounding effect on an individual's experience of social exclusion and diminishing mental health across margins of Irish society.

And this is the impasse that Ireland stands at with how we view inequality and its effects -- experiences and lives still being deliberately kept under the radar in favour of easy platitudes on how much progress we've made. Below the surface, it's a different reality however and facilitation of telling a more complex type of story is deliberately lacking.

"I volunteered on the Galway Lesbian helpline from 1988 to 2000, one night a week for two hours." Ward recalls, "The calls I found most difficult were from LGBT people who were suicidal, a week can be a very long time to wait, hoping that the person would call back and if they don't, you're concerned and fearing for their wellbeing. But back then I believed that suicide would be less prevalent within the LGBT community as things improved, but that is not the case."

The royalties of the book 'A Day in May' will be donated to Console, an organization that raises awareness on suicide and mental health in Ireland.