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NOT JUST RAINBOWS

Portraits by Hazel Coonagh.

M ultipletragedies have unfortunately dominated headlines as of late. On May 16, less than 24 hours before International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), a lesbian couple was attacked at a Dublin bus stop, with one of the victims, Robyn, suffering injuries to her face. In the hours following the assault and while waiting for an x-ray in hospital, Robyn posted on her Instagram story, “all I keep thinking is I am so glad we are both alive.”

People outside of our community may think that fearing for your life because of your sexuality is outdated. “Nobody cares if you’re gay!” is a sentence offered far too often by those ignorant to our experiences. The bleak reality was made all too clear in mid-April, when it emerged that two men in Sligo had been killed, and another violently assaulted, in attacks that were reported to be motivated by homophobia.

According to officials, Aidan Moffitt (42) and Michael Snee (58) were murdered in their homes in two separate incidents occurring on April 11 and April 12 respectively. Another man, Anthony Burke, was stabbed in the face in the Racecourse area of Sligo town just days before, and a 22 year-old man has been charged with all three offences. It is suspected that the perpetrator met the three victims through a gay dating app, and that these were homophobic hate crimes.

You know in the back of your mind this stuff can happen, but I didn’t really think it would...

Days before those horrific killings, the community was shaken by an attack in Dublin City that occurred in the early hours of Sunday, April 10. Evan Somers was walking along Dame Street following a night out in The George when he was targeted and viciously assaulted.

One full month later on May 10, Somers arrived at a GCN photoshoot for the portraits accompanying this story still wearing a boot to protect his ankle on which he had surgery as a result of the attack.

“The bones were smashed in the ankle and there were two fractures and a dislocation,” he told GCN. “They weren’t clean breaks so the boot is on ‘til May. I’m not sure what happens once I get it off.” As well as that, a blow to the face from the assailant left Evan with a fractured eye socket. A player with the Emerald Warriors rugby club, Evan’s future in the sport is now uncertain because of the injuries sustained.

Describing the incident in his own words, he said: “We were in The George all night, I think he saw us leave.

I’m not sure if he thought I was on my own. We were all sort of separated, trying to get a taxi on Dame Street. I was probably running along trying to get a taxi and [my friends] were behind me trying to get a taxi.

“He came over to me and basically started calling me names. He called me a f****t, he punched me in the face and called me a f****t again.”

The attack continued, but luckily, Evan was not alone and his companions managed to chase the attacker away, though not before serious physical and psychological harm was inflicted. Prior to the incident, Evan said he “would have felt safe” in the city, adding, “You know in the back of your mind this stuff can happen, but I didn’t really think it would”.

Following the slew of heinous attacks, fear is much more prominent now for countless members of the queer community. “It still feels kind of fresh to me,” Evan began. “I don’t really know how I’m going to be if that makes sense. I do think I’ll be a little bit more paranoid because I know you hear about things like this happening, but it’s a confirmation that this actually can happen to anyone.”

An attack such as this occurring around an area in the city known to be frequented by queer folk also removes the feeling of security from our so-called safe spaces. “I was probably a bit naive because I did feel really safe around that whole area - anywhere near Gay Spar, Dame Street, George’s Street, because of The George and everything and because it’s not really too far from Street 66. It just feels like an area I would have been comfortable in.

“But I think it’s important to remember that we all have the same right to walk down Dublin streets as anyone else,” he added defiantly.

The incidents mentioned thus far are the ones that have been brought to light as of late either through the news or social media. However, it should be noted that many cases of homophobic aggression, verbal or physical, subtle or severe, go unreported and unheard of for a number of reasons. Many feel that they will not receive any justice if they go to the Gardaí, others may simply want to leave the traumatic events behind them. Whatever the reason, specific to each individual, it is statistically proven that hate crimes go underreported, and that there are far more incidents than those that we know of.

In Evan’s case, he decided to speak out on Twitter.

“Originally, I didn’t intend to put it on social media, like that wasn’t obviously my first thought. I had a lot of time lying there in a hospital bed, basically in a corridor, my ankle was really messed up, and I was lying there thinking: ‘Why should people like him get away with it?’” he explained.

“I’m not the first for this to happen to, and I won’t be the last unfortunately. So the more they get away with it, the more that they’re going to feel like they can go down the street and do this and attack people just because they don’t like who they are.

“So it came from a place of not letting these kinds of people get away with this. But obviously, I didn’t know it was going to blow up so much,” he said.

What started as a message to Evan’s 600 or so followers at the time, grew into a post that now has over 132,000 likes, over 15,000 retweets, and almost 8,000 replies. He received an overwhelming amount of support from peers and strangers alike, in a display of queer solidarity he never expected.

“It’s weird because, even though it was online and most of these people weren’t speaking to me in person, it was reassurance that most people are good and that it is just a small percentage of people who do these bad things,” Evan commented.

"Remember who you are and just be proud of who you are...

The response from the queer community and its allies to these events has been a small ray of light in the otherwise dark moments. When the lesbian couple was attacked as mentioned earlier, a GoFundMe was set up to help with their expenses which raised an incredible €13,000 for the pair. When the multiple tragedies occurred in Sligo, the display of support through numerous vigils and gatherings across the country was extremely powerful and impactful.

However, more must be done to prevent this violence, and it cannot just be queer folk who are fighting for change. There is an obvious need for hate crime legislation in the country, and it has regrettably taken terrible events like these to pressurise the Irish government into acting faster. Earlier this year, a draft Bill was published and welcomed by the LGBTQ+ community, and in the wake of recent incidents, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee committed to progressing the legislation “in a matter of weeks”.

At the Pride At Work 2022 conference, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman added that the Government intends to move forward with hate crime legislation before the summer recess, and to have it on the statute books later this year.

Despite going through what he went through, Evan refuses to sacrifice any aspect of his authenticity, and encourages others to do the same despite the new-found fear they may feel.

“Always be proud of yourself. Hopefully one day we’ll truly feel like we’re equal and we’ll all be able to walk down the street feeling as safe as the next person. Remember there are good people that see us for the people we are and not for what the bad people consider us to be.

“Remember who you are and just be proud of who y ou are,” he concluded, a strong message for all this Pride season.

This article appears in the 372 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 372 Issue of GCN