Pride season is currently in full swing in all its colour and vibrancy, across Ireland and also internationally. This year has seen more welcome new additions to our Rainbow calendar here at home, with predominantly rural locations such as Tipperary, Wexford and Fermanagh all having hosted or set to host their first Pride events. The huge importance of these celebrations and the pivotal role they continue to play in fostering visibility and community solidarity cannot be underestimated. Indeed in our own Burning Issues 2 report of 2016 – the largest ever research into the views and priorities of LGBT+ citizens up to that point – the overwhelming majority of respondents (in excess of 80 percent) told the NXF that Pride was more important than ever.
The National Gay Federation (NGF) as we were then called was involved in those early commemorations of the Stonewall Riots which gave birth to the modern Pride movement. The Irish Queer Archive is replete with fascinating accounts of those early years of advocacy and campaigning. For Gay Pride Week ‘80, curator Tonie Walsh recounts a group of about 60 gay men and lesbians in Grafton Street handing out pink carnations and a booklet with information about the seminal events at Stonewall a decade previously.
Dublin Pride – the State’s largest LGBT+ gathering - now attracts not 60 but in excess of 60,000 participants, which is a testament to the monumental social transformation that has occurred in Irish society in the intervening period. However, there is nothing inevitable about progress and it is precisely because of the pioneering efforts of those early agents of change that, in Ireland at least, we are able to partake in such a large, all-encompassing event. And instead of the overtly hostile climate in which our Pride activities were held until quite recent times, it now appears that everyone from ‘Official Ireland’ to multiple corporate brands wish to be associated with our movement. In considering both the challenges and opportunities this new dynamic brings in its wake, we must never lose sight of what we are celebrating and what Pride is fundamentally all about.
Pride is first and foremost about honouring and staying true to the efforts of those who came before us and whose determined rejection of institutionalised prejudice and discrimination allows some of us at least to experience the rights we enjoy today. That refusal by ‘effeminate’ gay men, ‘butch’ lesbians, trans folk and drag queens - a truly eclectic visual of our LGBT+ community in all its diversity – to accept any further oppression, should continue to inspire us in an era when our hard-won gains are coming under threat from authoritarian, reactionary forces on the global stage who identify rolling back LGBT+ rights as one of their primary objectives.
Pride is also, at its core, about LGBT+ visibility and the ability to publicly celebrate and express our authentic selves in the absence of discrimination. The extent to which so many of our Rainbow communities are forced to conceal their identities was brought into sharp focus just last month when a study commissioned at Yale University revealed that 83 percent of LGBT+ people worldwide are part of what it termed the ‘Global Closet’. That shocking statistic would dwindle to 16 percent, according to the research, if the kind of structural stigma so many encounter was removed. Even in Western Europe, widely regarded as a beacon of LGBT+ social progress, one in every three LGBT+ people are closeted, a figure that jumps to four-fifths in the Eastern part of the continent.
The evolution of Pride in an Irish context is perhaps most keenly felt with the inclusion of so many State and corporate entities in our Pride Parades. As befitting a community as diverse and politically engaged as our LGBT+ one, there are naturally differing views on these developments – debates and discussions happening, not just in LGBT+ Ireland, but across the world. However, we should all agree that those who participate in Pride do so to primarily express support for and solidarity with LGBT+ people. Accounts of completely unacceptable homophobic/transphobic incidents during the recent Dublin Pride celebrations underline the need for that point to be clearly communicated by all those organisations who have recently joined the Pride festivities. Honouring the core meaning and message of Pride demands nothing less.