May 25, 2015

We said Yes! But we're not done yet.

It's not often you get to watch events unfold, knowing that your children and grandchildren will one day be learning about it as a turning point in world history.

On May 22nd, the people of Ireland voted 62.07% in favour of allowing couples to marry, regardless of their gender. Watching the tallies come in was thrilling. We got to see our country make history.

But we all know this isn't the end. There are still other issues to be confronted, more battles to be fought. We need gender recognition. We need women to have control over their own bodies. We need to make sure that no-one can be fired from their job for being an LGBTQ person. We need to stop future campaigns from being fought using lies and scaremongering, as the No Campaign did.

This referendum revealed many things about the Irish. Our belief in equality. Our determination to be heard, even if it mean travelling across the world to vote, like Big Damn Heroes. But we also had some of our old prejudices brought to light. I've lost count of the times I've seen someone say...

"I believe in equality, but..."

"They already have enough..."

"They can't provide a loving home..."

"We're being bullied into silence."

"People will vote no because they don't want to be told to vote yes."

I haven't always held my tongue, and now I no longer have to try.

If you believe somebody should have different rights to you, you do not believe in equality. There is no such thing as "enough" rights. People either have equal rights, or they don't. And if they don't, then we should all fight for those rights.

Acting and speaking in a bigoted manner is being a bigot.

But calling someone a bigot is not bigotry. Standing up to a bully is not bullying. Speaking against those who would silence a minority is not silencing them. Standing up for the oppressed is not oppression. It's just that the people who've been able to get away with their prejudice for so long are no longer being allowed to, and they're scared. Scared of what it means. Scared that maybe, it was wrong of them to treat people who are different as though they were less. And what that says about them, as people.

People wiser than me say that all hate and fear comes from a hatred of something within us. This can build over time, and when someone lashes out against what should be an obvious answer (ie: should we all have the same rights?), it could be that they don't want to believe they've been wrong. No-one wants to be the bad guy. So they fight and rail against the very notion that they could be in the wrong.

These people are our neighbours. Our relatives. Our friends. And one of the challenges now is for each of us to acknowledge those in our lives who voted No. Whether due to being misled by the No Campaign, or because they genuinely hold such prejudicial attitudes, we have to come to terms with it, and decide what to do next.

For some, we'll tolerate them, walk away from them. Leave them to their prejudice, and hope they learn in time that they were wrong, or at least not get in the way of the happiness of others.

Others we'll try and reason with. We'll explain why it's wrong to expect an oppressed group to withhold their anger and fear just because it might make others uncomfortable. We'll explain why the Yes victory is a good thing. And, hopefully, they will decide to change.

Some we will sympathise with. The ones taken in by the No Campaign's tactics, who believed the lies and became scared of what could happen. The ones who we hope will see, as time goes by, that this is not the catastrophe the No Campaign would have them believe.

And then there are those who will never change. The ones so entrenched in their prejudice that they'll use every tool they have to shield themselves from the truth. The ones who will still hold up their now-tattered banner and look for other ways to fight back. These are the ones we have to watch for. The ones we've beaten, for now, but will face again. The ones I will happily call bigot.

The referendum has also illustrated why "treat everyone equally" is not enough to solve society's problems.

The No Campaign was full of people saying they believed in equality, but didn't want same-sex marriage. To them, they did want to treat everyone equally, but they ignored the specific reasons why same-sex marriage was an important cause, one that needed to be won.

I believe wholeheartedly in labelling issues. When we give a name to something, we gain power over it. We will not cure the world of pain and suffering by covering it with a blanket of "be good to each other." We will only do it by getting down into each problem, rooting out the source, and fixing it.

It's a long, hard road, and there are no short-cuts. Whether it's gender-recognition, bodily autonomy, feminism, or any other cause, we have to approach each one in full understanding of its own unique challenges. Only by doing that can we hope to keeping making the world a better place.

We won this battle. But there will be more to come. It starts here. And monsters really can be beaten.

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