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Conversations with Grace: Is Pride Political? 

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

The essence of pride is both personal and political, attendees heard at this event during the week of Cork Pride. 

A packed room in MEP Grace O’Sullivan’s office gathered for the “Pride is Political” event on Thursday 3rd August, taking place during Cork Pride Week. 

The event was attended by Minister Roderic O’Gorman, whose brief at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration & Youth covers support and engagement with all things LGBTIQ+. 

Minister O’Gorman presented on the ongoing work of his Department, which has progressed many pieces of legislation during the lifetime of this Government including the introduction of adoptive leave for same sex couples. He noted that there was still much legislation ongoing, including three major pieces of work around legislation against hate crimes, the banning of conversion therapies and a wider bill around government support for those using fertility and surrogacy services. 

Other panelists included Campaigner and Labour Cork City South West Rep Laura Harmon, Trans+ Cork Pride Co-Founder Saoirse Mackin, Labour Councillor John Maher and former Lord Mayor of Cork John Buttimer. With a spectrum of political opinions between parties and from activist to politician – some varying opinions were shared on the night.

O’Sullivan then posed the question “Is Pride Political”, noting how many people may disagree with the statement of the event title – instead finding it to be more of a personal feeling and event for people to enjoy once a year. 

Ms. Harmon noted that many people, including herself at a certain point, struggled with shame around their sexuality and that Pride can serve as the opposite of that. 

“Pride should be the opposite of shame; for me it’s very political – there’s still a lot of work to do, you look at places like Hungary and Italy – it’s absolutely shocking what can happen when the wrong people get elected” she shared.

Indeed the backsliding of rights in other countries was a focus of conversation on the night, and now the new presence in Ireland of protesters at libraries and other Pride events such at Kingdom Pride in Killarney recently. 

Cllr. John Maher spoke about the reasons behind his own public sharing of his sexuality as an elected representative, saying that he more so did it for visibility and to support those who might still be on their own personal journey. On visibility, he shared;

“Because we don’t hear about LGBTIQ [issues] enough, we think they have gone away. But homophobia and transphobia are still happening, we need to speak to this now, we need to remind politicians what is going on. We need now more than ever that we can stand together as allies and as a community”. 

Trans+ Pride Cork Co-Founder shared why she had set up her event. While initial plans to hold a rally in 2020 were scuppered due to COVID, they had then planned to host their first year of the event in 2023. However, after 3 days of debate on the existence of trans people was aired on RTÉ Joe Duffy’s Liveline and related headlines published in 2022, the organisers decided to push ahead with hosting their first Trans+ Pride a year earlier than expected. 

“I wanted to create a space where Trans+ people could come together and support one another, especially when there is so much debate in public media about our lives.” Mackin shared. 

The responsibility of the media in igniting debate around trans issues in particular in recent years – particularly in the US and UK was noted, something which has led to a stifling of what was almost a linear progression in the expansion of rights and improvement of social attitudes towards LGBTIQ+ communities until then. 

Former Lord Mayor of Cork John Buttimer shared “I came out before decriminalsiation. We like to leave the future better than the generation before us. Ultimately one of our end points is that nobody should have to come out, and on some levels we’re not political enough. We like our world to not have rough edges, but when we do that we lose our identity in the process”. 

MEP O’Sullivan noted the importance of speaking openly about human rights and holding other politicians to account on these issues. In the European Parliament, where debates and campaigns have brought attention to LGBTIQ+ injustices in Europe and around the world, she noted.

“In 2020 regions in Poland were declared as LGBT Free Zones – essentially telling members of that community that they were no longer welcome to live there as their authentic selves. The European Union was founded on the principles of human dignity, freedom, equality and rule of law in the shadow of a war which had persecuted the rights of so many minorities, and thankfully the EU managed to step in here in this case. When some of these regions realised that they may no longer be eligible for European funds, their “LGBT Free” statuses were quickly rescinded. Solidarity across borders is so important, and while we have had a significant progression of rights and attitudes in Ireland in recent years, it’s important to remember that this is not the same in all corners of the globe” the MEP shared.

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