Charlie Bird: Friend feared people would think I was gay for backing a Yes vote

Charlie Bird writes about his experience of campaigning for a yes vote in the upcoming referendum
Charlie Bird writes about his experience of campaigning for a yes vote in the upcoming referendum

About two months ago, a ‘straight’ friend of mine asked me, if I would chair the launch of the National Yes Equality campaign for Civil Marriage.

By Charlie Bird

I agreed to do so.

Working in RTE for almost four decades, other than campaigning for the removal of the broadcasting ban, I’d never got involved in what might loosely be called the political arena.

But my decision to chair the meeting, brought about an odd reaction from someone I knew well. Commenting to a friend the person remarked, “Will people not think that he’s gay”.

The fact that one still has to use the term ‘straight’ as some form of indicator of our sexual orientation, tells a lot about us.

For me the issue of Civil Marriage Equality is not just one for the LGBT community in Ireland, but for all of us.

Over the past month or so, I have chaired seven meetings across the country where people tell their stories of why they are voting yes in the referendum.

What has been remarkable about these gatherings is the number of parents who have spoken with such emotion and love for their Lesbian and Gay children.

At the meeting in Naas, Co.Kildare recently a mother stood clutching a piece of paper and with tears in her eyes told the gathering of how her son was bullied at school and how his ‘coming out to them’ had brought them even closer together as a family.

Then her daughter stood up and told of how proud she was of her brother and how she hoped that someday he would find happiness, if he wanted to get married.

She had come home from Scotland for a few days to go knocking on doors for a yes vote.

It clearly took great courage for both of them to stand up and speak publicly about the subject.

There were very few people in the room who did not have a tear in the eye listening to their story, and to be honest, it included me.

At the gathering in Ballinasloe a 73 or 74-year-old man told the audience of his experience of what it was like living in rural Ireland in the seventies and eighties and being afraid to tell anyone that he was gay.

He spoke about his struggle in ‘coming out’ over the past few years and finally, the relief that it had brought him even at his stage of life.

There were so many more stories in that vein, but some might argue while they are powerful in themselves it is not enough of a reason to add the 17 words to the constitution and allow the introduction of civil marriage.

The chips will fall where they fall after the people have spoken on the 22nd of May, but having watched the empowerment of the LGBT community over the past few weeks I believe that change in this area is on its way sooner or later. For all those loving families I hope it is sooner.

More importantly having listened to so many Irish mammies and daddies, who in the past would have been afraid to stand up and tell their stories- to do so now- is a real indicator, of how much we are growing up as a country.

One of the things, which struck me most from listening to the contributions at the meeting across the country, is the fear that the mammies in particular, still have for the safety of their gay and lesbian children.

Unfortunately homophobic bullying it seems is still alive and well.  Hopefully one of the side effects of this referendum will be that more and more of us will not be afraid to speak up on this issue.

To my own shame I was not as conscious of this, as I should have been. 

But the positive effect of the general tenor of the debate we are having on the issue of civil marriage, will I hope, lead to a greater understanding among the ‘straight’ community about the real fears of our LGBT friends.

Finally some on the no side have argued that the introduction is civil marriage is not a civil rights issue.

For me it is an issue of civil rights and of equal rights.

Whether it’s on the grounds of sexual discrimination or human rights, I feel it’s time for us to cherish all of the children of the Nation equally and vote yes for marriage equality.