“Pride has become that special time when we get to affirm our dignity and our equality, and increase our visibility. It’s in opposition to the shame and social stigma many of us grew up with.”
These are the words of Brian Carroll, the grand marshall for this year’s Galway Community Pride festival - the longest continuing Pride event in Ireland - which takes place from Monday August 9 to Sunday 15, with this year’s theme being ‘Hope’.
“Pride is about visibility and saying ‘We are part of the community’, and it is always someone’s first Pride, that’s why it has to happen each year,” says Galway Community Pride chair and Social Democrats Galway City East councillor, Owen Hanley. “Since the marriage equality referendum there has been a noticeable change, people are far more accepting, and you have people and businesses embracing Pride where that wouldn’t have happened before.”
Brian, who is originally from Dublin, says he is “honoured and humbled” to be grand marshall. It is a recognition of his sterling work with Galway’s LGBT+ community at the former Teach Solais resource centre. “When we lost Teach Solais we lost a focal point, a home,” he says. “People could come in without fear of judgement. I sincerely hope we can get such a centre back again.”
Pride is a protest
Pride is a celebration, an affirmation, a chance for the community to come together and connect, but it should never be forgotten that Pride is also a protest and a political event. The decriminialisation of homosexuality in 1993 and the marraige equality of referendum of 2015 did not mark the end of the struggle for LGBT+ rights in Ireland, only the end of two major struggles. Many more remain.
“Pride is a chance to celebrate openly who you are, and who the community is,” says Cllr Hanley, “but it is always twinned with protest. We saw recently how the Waterford pride flag was burned, and Pride displays in Cork were taken down. There is always a hostile element that has to be faced.”
Leon Redmond, originally from Gory, Wexford, but now living in Galway, is similarly concerned. “My experiences in Galway have mostly been positive,” they said, “but it has started to become trickier over the last year. I’m worried about the rise in verbal harassment on the street. There wasn’t that before as we were always in a group, but with covid, the restrictions, the isolation, and if you stand out in any way, as a queer person I’m less comfortable being on the streets than in previous years, and that may be because there are less people around.”
For Brian, who is 69, and who lived through the worst years when homophobia was seen as a reasonable attitude and the law made criminals of gay men, says there is no room for complacency.
“There will be a backlash down the road,” he warns. “Our young people won significant victories, but they haven’t yet endured bruising defeat. But I’m relatively optimistic. I admire our young people. They are very active, very vocal, and they don’t back down. They must be ready for the fight and not give an inch.”
The struggle continues
As Pride is a protest, what issues still need campaigning for? Cllr Hanley points out there are many unresolved issues which affect the LGBT+ community, such as full parental rights in terms of guardianship, adoption, and being legally recongnised as a parent; restrictions preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood; and the issue of Transgender healthcare.
He also points to the recent Focus Ireland report on homelessness and the LGBT+ community, which noted a “relationship between homelessness and mental health problems heavily bound up in complex experiences of stigma and shame. Just over half (thirteen ) of the participants disclosed mental health issues, with five participants experiencing severe mental ill-health situations, including suicidal ideation.”
Leon agrees these are major issues, and adds that banning conversion therapy another issue which has motiviated LGBT+ people. They also cite intersex people’s rights, and transgender rights for teens. “Many transgender rights don’t come into effect until adulthood,” they said, “and before that they have to be made by their parents who may not always understand or support their child’s needs.”
‘An affirmation of who we are’
Pride is about getting a “balance between fun and the continued fight,” says Leon. “You have to mind yourself as an activist. It’s important to take a moment to celebrate, to breathe, and to recap.”
Pride 2021 will certainly offer all that, with more than 30 online and in person events. While there will be no parade this year, owing to the Covid restrictions, there will be a big day out in Salthill.
Pride begins on August 9 with the rainbow flag raising in Eyre Square, followed by a launch night event. The annual remembrance vigil takes place on Wednesday at 9pm in Eyre Square.
“I’m a sucker for the traditions,” admits Cllr Hanley. “The flag raising is always great, you see people you haven’t seen in ages and it’s a real declaration of ‘We’re here!’”
A variety of fascinating issues are up for discussion at the Queer Women's Night (Thursday, 7pm, Bierhaus ). “I’m very excited about everything,” says Leon, “but if I have to pick one event, it is this! I’m a big fan of panel events and I’m looking forward to the discussions on race and racism in the LGBT+ community, ‘Beyond the Binary’; and ‘Queerness and disability’.”
In place of the parade, there will be a Pride day in Salthill!, starting with a Pride swim at Blackrock, then to a community gathering in Salthill Park. There will also be a ‘BTQAI’ tea party in Fr Burke Park. “Everyone is welcome to this,” says Leon, “but the main focus is on these sections of the community who are often left out.”
There are also going to be some big nights out - albeit strictly adhering to Government guidelines and social distancing. Galway Pride and Galway Pro Choice will host 'This Legislation is S***e' in Áras na nGael with non-stop music and “highlighting the need for better, more inclusive reform of reproductive justice”.
The Saturday night will see one of Galway’s favourite shows, The Dirty Circus burlesque and cabaret night, deliver comedy, music, pole, drag, and more.
For Cllr Hanley, the two strands of Pride - the celebration, the protest - are vital to ensuring the continued strength of the LGBT+ community in Galway.
“What gives me hope are the young activists,” he says, “and Pride gives them a space to come through. The important thing is, why Pride exists. It’s about equality, an equality that respects difference, and that requires different voices around the table, sharing their different experiences. Pride is our community's best campfire, a chance to sit together sharing stories, and a laugh. It is a celebration of what we have achieved and a protest for the rights and dignities yet to be won.”
For more information on the festival, see Galway Community Pride on Facebook.