Academic & Journalist
Thu, Apr 14, 2022.
As an openly gay man, I am, of course, appalled at the idea that someone like me can be violently attacked on the street as an expression of vicious homophobia.
The recent horrific attack on a young gay man leaving the George bar in Dublin during the early hours of last Sunday morning left me wondering if it is indicative of a growing sense of resentment among some heterosexual men in Irish society towards their homosexual counterparts.
While there is admittedly a dearth of empirical evidence to support my thesis, even Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recently pointed to a growing sense of worry among the gay community in relation to a perceived increase in homophobic verbal abuse and physical assaults on our streets.
Research carried out by the Rainbow Project in Belfast between 2017 and 2019 highlighted a significant rise in homophobic attacks in Northern Ireland during this period from 163 to 281. However, it is understood that most homophobic attacks are not reported to the PSNI and, as a result, these figures are lower than actual incidents.
The research also showed that 150 of the attacks during 2019 were violent in nature. While it would not be wise to compare the attitudes towards the LGBT community in Northern Ireland, which had marriage equality thrust upon it by the Westminster government rather than by popular consent, it would be wise to acknowledge that homophobia remains a significant public health concern on this island.
An article published in the Journal of Homosexuality in January 2010, which explored heterosexual men’s anger towards male homosexuality, suggests that sexual prejudice most likely facilitates anti-gay aggression in men who are exposed to intimate or sexual interactions between two men. The article suggests that this supposition is consistent with the view that sexual prejudice and anti-gay aggression function to enforce gender and societal norms.
This would support the view that some heterosexual men in Irish society are feeling resentful at the increased visibility of openly gay men on the streets, in the media, online and occupying traditionally heterosexual normative roles; the office of the taoiseach and now Tánaiste by Leo Varadkar being a case in point.
It is clear that what we need is a greater understanding of how heterosexual men are responding to the liberation in recent years of homosexual lifestyles in Ireland. It is foolish to think that legislation alone changes attitudes, it doesn’t, it merely sets a standard for the kind of society we aspire to be. Changing attitudes can take much longer – generations in fact – and I would argue that what we are witnessing at the moment is evidence of the conflict that emerges as a result in the gap between legislation and the adjustment of attitudes regarding LGBT issues.
While advances in sexual tolerance have been hard won in Ireland, it could be argued that many of those who were not in favour of marriage equality, for example, may be feeling marginalised in a diverse modern Ireland. Far from ignoring and condemning these people, we would do well to understand them and to listen to their concerns so that we can respond to them with authority and, yes, compassion. This, I would argue, is equality in action.
Tolerance is a funny thing in that it has its limits. When we ask people to grant us equality it can come with a price tag. This price is an understanding that we will ultimately assimilate, not stand out in the crowd, not rock the boat too hard and not challenge gender and societal norms too much.
If the LGBT community are guilty of one thing, it is complacency and a false sense of security that the war has been won.
It is clear from the recent spate of horrific violence towards gay men that while we have come so far in Irish society, we are a long way from Kansas yet.Violence in all its forms must be vilified at every turn. Homophobic violence in particular assaults the very nature of our society in Ireland which in recent years has striven to be a beacon of inclusivity and diversity.
However, espousing these principles can also mean that we must constantly evaluate our values and, at times, hear those who may not agree with us and listen to those who may even wish us harm.
A truly equal society will address violence not only through condemnation but with an understanding that we may all be equal but we are definitely not the same.
Derek Byrne’s article was triggered by two recent unrelated events in Dublin and Sligo on both of which the (Irish) & (London) Times report today…