#MarRef Diary Day 9: "I empathise with No voters who'll later regret it when their gay grandchildren ask how they voted"

Thursday, May 21st: “Hope will never be silent” – Harvey Milk This last diary e...

14.50 13 May 2015

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#MarRef Diary Day 9: "...

#MarRef Diary Day 9: "I empathise with No voters who'll later regret it when their gay grandchildren ask how they voted"


14.50 13 May 2015

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Thursday, May 21st: “Hope will never be silent” – Harvey Milk

This last diary entry opens and closes with a quote from the late Harvey Milk, in honour of his birthday tomorrow, May 22nd.

So this is it. Years of organised meetings, funding applications, education, community involvement, public events, advertising /marketing, design, printing and canvassing. This is it.


I remember where I was when Alison rang me to tell me that a date was set for the referendum. I felt relieved that we finally got it after such a long battle by the LGBT community, our families and friends. I wish I still felt relief, but to be honest, I don’t know what I feel. This has been the most unpredictable time in my life and I can’t call the outcome of the referendum.

I feel very proud of the YES EQUALITY campaign and the people involved for their honesty, dignity and strife for a better, fairer and equal Ireland. They have fought this battle for years and will continue until we are all treated equally. I empathise with the people who will vote No and later regret it when their gay children or grandchildren ask them how they voted.

For the first time in our country we have ALL political parties on the Yes side along with all the trade unions, student unions, An Garda Síochána, past presidents, priests, nuns, celebrities and children’s rights alliance groups. We have teachers, doctors, psychologists, lawyers, ministers, TDs and pretty much everyone calling for a Yes vote. We have gay people in their 60s and 70s coming out for the first time in a final plea for acceptance.

The world has its eyes on Ireland this week, yesterday we made front page news in The New York Times. Everyone looking in on us, and most people in Ireland want this referendum to pass.

We’ve had a surge of first-time voters, the scale of which Ireland has not seen before. The country is screaming for change and the world is listening. Discussing homosexuality is no longer taboo and hiding in the closet is no longer necessary. However, consider this referendum failed until YOU get to your polling station and VOTE YES.

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights… it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression” – Harvey Milk

- Pauline Burke

Day 8: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”

Wednesday, May 20th: My dream in this referendum is to have a monumental Yes win. That we’ll have people mobilising their grannies, mammies and friends for voting on Friday. An overwhelming Yes vote clarifying that the Irish people love us and care for us.

But really I didn’t sleep very well last night. At about 4am I woke up to Pauline having a nightmare, it was one of those dreams where you’re trying to scream but nothing comes out. She doesn’t normally do this but bad dreams seem to have become the norm for the two of us lately.

The majority of our friends and family will be voting Yes on Friday. There’s no denying I’m faced with No voters everyday of my life, perhaps even by a few people that I love and respect.

The people are given the opportunity to vote but in my mind that’s unfair, the majority voting for the minority is unjust. I refuse to accept people in my life that don’t want to extend these rights to us, to simply tolerate us, is not enough. It’s not good for my soul, my mental health and overall happiness. 

I know in my heart that love will triumph this weekend, on Saturday we will celebrate our love, our determination, our futures. It’ll be our friends but mostly the citizens we don’t know who will secure this for us. We can’t do it alone and are now relying on you. I want to thank you all in advance for voting.

"I have absolutely no right to say I am tired, the word tired should not be in my vocabulary, but truth be known, right now, I am."

Since 2009, I’ve been campaigning for LGBTQI rights. I was an organiser with LGBT Noise for years and have worked with other groups. One of the big initiatives Noise does is organise the annual March for Marriage, a street protest calling on the government to introduce marriage equality. 

Year on year we saw 5,000+ people take to the streets marching for equality. It is hard yet gratifying work.  I’ve been thinking about all the activists who have been campaigning for this for many years, Colm O’Gorman, Katherine Zappone, Lydia Foy and David Norris to name but a few. 

Photo: Alison McDonnell - LGBT Noise March for Marriage, Dublin, 2013

I remember Colm’s closing remarks at the constitutional convention. He often has to share intimate details of his life and I have such admiration for him for doing so. I recall him saying he was tired of having to do this, and rightly so, he should not have to be so public about his life, yet he does it so that we’ll be respected, accepted, celebrated and seen as equal by our republic.

I have absolutely no right to say I am tired, the word tired should not be in my vocabulary, but truth be known, right now, I am.

So back to my dream, that’s one that you have the power to make a reality.

Please, please vote on Friday, turnout will be key, grab others and give them a lift. I’ve been listening to people say it should be a Yes vote. The reality is that the No voters will most definitely vote. If anyone is thinking this is in the bag, I’m begging you to take the 15 minutes out of your day to go and vote. 

The Students Union of Ireland has a fantastic initiative, #votormotor where people can connect to get lifts on Friday. 

Both Hailo and Uber are offering a free lift to anyone that pre books a taxi. And sure walking down to make a vote in this historic referendum would be pretty sweet too.   

Thank you for reading. I’ll wrap this last entry up with a poignant quote from Martin Luther King:

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”


- Alison McDonnell

Day 7: "The bullies don’t know how to react to the new found power of the minority"

Tuesday, May 19th: What’s the big deal? The few remaining differences between civil marriage and civil partnership will be ironed out.

I really am struggling to see what the big deal is because my relationship is my business. I’m not aware of the relationship status of all my neighbours, colleagues or people I walk by in a supermarket, are you?

Nobody would even notice if I was married, the only telling sign would be an occasional sparkle from my wedding ring finger. From that you wouldn’t know if I had a husband or wife. It would have absolutely no effect on your life yet you’re given the opportunity to decide, on a whim, if I should be allowed the right. That is wrong.

If you don’t like same-sex marriage, then don’t marry someone of the same-sex but don’t expect the rest of the country to follow suit.

This referendum is one of the most disgusting acts of hate on a minority that I hope I’ll ever witness. The most distasteful comparisons to paedophilia, neglect, incest and loveless families, to name a few, were made to members of the LGBT community and their families.

The bullies don’t know how to react to the new found power of the minority, so in a clever twist of words claim to be victims. As Panti put it: “The gays are no longer the victims of homophobia, but the homophobes are."

What I have yet to understand is how a No vote would be progressive for Ireland. The No campaign hasn’t explained that fact. We’re living in a country where the LGBT community are still being harassed, beaten, silenced, bullied, discriminated against, treated like outcasts and the No campaign think the best way forward is to continue that cycle?

Surely the 14 children’s rights alliance groups know what they’re talking about when they’re the ones who pick up the shattered lives of these people and get them on their feet again. Not the bullies, who are mobilised by a Church disgraced with the most horrific acts against humanity this country has ever seen.

I can’t describe how I feel about my country right now. I’m so torn in disbelief that we haven’t moved on from the embarrassments of our past.

I love travelling abroad, but consider places like Inisoirr, Achill, the Burren, the Black Valley, the Curragh, the Hook Head, as being some of the most amazing places in the world. I’ve been around Europe, New Zealand, Malawi and Kenya and have plenty of trips planned with Alison.

When I’m away for any period of time I miss Ireland. I miss the accents, the music, the friendliness and the sense of humour that you can’t get anywhere. I tell other people about Ireland and encourage them to come here.
I sing songs and tell stories about it and if I have my banjo with me I’d bang out a few tunes.

The thought that this country could get together and vote me down as less than equal, to deny me the marriage that I long for, really bloody hurts. I’m quite embarrassed of the people and hate in my country right now, please fix it and vote yes.

Day 6: "Funnily enough, Negative Vibes help when I feel like sh*t"

Monday, May 18th: Today, I want to share three videos with you. The first one is hilarious and I think we could all do with a laugh around about now, it’s Martin Life’s take on the referendum.

The second is from Teachers for Marriage Equality, who are a group of primary and secondary school teachers, lecturers and SNAs advocating for a Yes vote. The video covers everything referendum related, simply and effectively. 

I’m sharing it because I was dismayed when a tiny number of teachers calling for a No vote got a ton of media coverage when they launched the other day. To think the public might believe that they represent all teachers is really disheartening. The day Teachers for Marriage Equality launched their brilliant video there were a 100+ people in attendance - the group was made up of teachers, TDs, Senators, the Minister for Children, the ISPCC and other groups yet no media coverage.

Do me a favour, listen to all these teachers with mixed sexual orientations as they call passionately for a yes vote - it’s really brilliant! I particularly loved hearing the thoughts from a Dad of two twin girls, he’s beautiful!

Finally, my wonderful best mate Aisling keeps telling me to listen, on repeat, to Damien Dempsey’s Negative Vibes. I have been, it’s one of my favourite songs. It’s helping when I’m feeling like shit. Give it a listen…

Day 5: "My parents had such a happy marriage and I always thought I’d have the same"

Sunday, May 17th: I canvassed for the first time today and it was a very strange experience. We smiled, looked welcoming and wore badges. Yet so many people looked irritated by our presence as they dismissively shook their head and walked by.

One person told me that I was disgusting and unnatural and should be ashamed of myself asking for marriage. Other people smiled and shared their reasons for voting yes and asked how to convince more people to vote. We ran out of YES badges and stickers and I felt accepted every time I saw someone wearing one. An old woman in her 90s told me that she had a lifetime of happiness with her husband and that she wished the same for me.

"I watched them walk away hand in hand and I thought,“Why can’t I have that?'”

I smiled at the first couple I saw and said,“would you like some information on the marriage referendum?” They were late-20s, well dressed and looked friendly. Their response was to look me up and down while smirking as they reached out for each other’s hands and walked on in a typical inoffensive couples embrace. The leaflets in my hand were shaking and I had a lump in my throat. I watched them walk away hand in hand and I thought,“why can’t I have that?”

I have to ‘check’ before I hold Alison’s hand. Check for people who are appalled at the idea, and they’re often hard to spot. I never want to draw attention to ourselves but sometimes I find myself appreciating little moments with her and I just want to hold her hand. I felt so envious of that couple who could do that without a thought or an ounce of fear. Nobody would care if they held hands because they look like a “good couple.” Nobody cared for the simple reason that they were made up of one male and one female.

I have a great relationship with Alison. I try not to wake her in the mornings when I go to work but I usually do and she doesn’t mind. She bought me flowers when I dealt with quite a hostile homosexually-insulting environment and ensured me that we would get through it. I got her perfume when her photography book got published and told her how proud I was of her. We’re so happy together.

My parents had such a happy marriage and I always thought I’d have the same. My dad died when he was 49 and left five children. My mam lost the love of her life, her security and her companion. My mam is now 72 and wears the YES badge with pride and starts up the conversation with anyone who’ll talk.

She describes marriage as one of her best experiences and can’t imagine what it would be like to not be allowed to marry the person you love. I want her at my wedding. If Ireland votes No, it will be 10 years before we get to vote again and she may not be around. When my siblings announced their engagements, we discussed dresses, cakes, venues and wedding bands.

I just can’t understand why my engagement would spark discussions and debate, not with my supportive family, but with the people who don’t know us.

Use your vote well.

Consider the lifelong couples who went to their graves without constitutional and social recognition.

Consider the silenced teens who are listening to their country describe the hate directed at them.

Consider the lives lost through suicide because it was too difficult to be themselves.

Consider the message that a No vote will say, which simply is “WE are not going to tolerate YOU”.

Be part of this historic moment in world history where a small group of people stand up to be recognised as equal. Be part of the YES vote and be proud of yourselves. 

- Pauline Burke

Day 4: "I agree with the No side in this particular instance, Don’t Be Silenced, because it’s hurting us"

Saturday, May 16th: I was out shooting for my photography project today, hoping to keep my mind off the referendum. It’s actually not possible because every road you turn down there’s a new poster popped up on a lamppost.

Every radio show and newsfeedis cluttered with it. I saw a new poster today while waiting at the lights in Whitehall - it was like a warning sign, in yellow and black colours, simply stating “Don’t Be Silenced, Vote No.” I thought about all my LGBT friends who are silenced in one way or another, every single day, whether they haven’t told an old friend from the past about their sexuality, whether it’s in school or work that they’re holding back the details of their lives, and in some cases for one reason or another feel they can’t let their loved ones know.

I agree with the No side in this particular instance, Don’t Be Silenced, because it’s hurting us.

The project I’m currently undertaking is one on hate crimes in Ireland, not just focused on LGBT crimes but covering all forms of crime including racial, sexual and other prejudices. I returned to Fairview Park today to shoot the location where Declan Flynn was murdered.

This story has been well documented but for anyone that isn’t aware, Declan was murdered in 1982 by a group of young men who at the time “were all part of the team to get rid of queers in Fairview Park.”  The five men who killed him were given suspended sentences by Justice Sean Gannon who stated “this could never be regarded as murder, they were cleaning up the area.”

There is no more time for silence, this last week is a time for screaming, we won’t put up with murders or muting parts of our lives because of what a very small number of people in our country are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with.

I urge everyone to let the people in your life know how much this means to you. If you can get out and canvass do so; if you can, talk to someone who is unsure and convince them then you’re doing your part. 

I hate the fact that my rights are open for discussion by people that don’t know me. Declan’s life was taken because of people who are prejudiced but these prejudices will continue as long as we are seen as less than! Friday has to be a yes vote, in honour of all the lives that have been silenced and lost.

Alison McDonnell

Day 3: “I’m not homophobic BUT…"

Friday, May 15th: “Here’s civil partnership, it’s not quite marriage and we retain the right to take it off you again, but sure look… it’s better than nothing!” Thanks very much Ireland, but no thanks!

The word homophobic is used so often these days and I have quite a mixed opinion on it. I regularly hear people say “I’m not homophobic BUT… I just don’t think they should get married, it’s not right.”

You may not consider that homophobic, but rather ignorance. Would you consider this racist? “I’m not racist BUT… I just don’t think people with different colour skin should marry each other, it’s just not right.”

Some people will say it’s open to interpretation and others will disagree… either way it’s sensitive, personal and everyone wants their say.

I’m very aware that people are discussing homosexuality for the first time and don’t know how to be politically correct. I’m okay with that, I listen out for their message or their question and not how they get it across.

"My brain was scrambled when I was asked: 'I mean, where will they stop with the whole equality thing, how much do they want?'”

Ignorance can take its toll though, and it’s tiring to constantly explain to people why I think I should have the right to get married because I end up explaining my worth. Particularly when people say they don’t even know what all the fuss is about, marriage is no big deal anyway. Would they feel that way if they were denied it?

Sometimes people have to fumble around for words in a conscious effort to not sound homophobic, I’m also okay with that! Sometimes I have to fumble around for words in a conscious effort to not sound homosexual.

Yesterday, wasn’t a bad day but my brain was scrambled for a few hours after a discussion where I was asked: “I mean, where will they stop with the whole equality thing, how much do they want?”

In response I exclaimed:  “When... really… when they’re equal, of course!”

That was a new one and I admit I was stuck for words! I didn’t think there was a lack of understanding for the word equal but now, come to think of it, that seems to be the biggest misunderstood word of all.

The word “equal” in the dictionary is defined as: “a person or thing that is the same as another in status or quality.”

How simple, but allow me to simplify this referendum further.

There’s an umbrella of protection offered to families within OUR constitution. I just want that umbrella to be extended, so my family can be sheltered too.

Yours will continue to be sheltered, but mine will not be left out to face the elements anymore.

- Pauline Burke

Day 2: "Ellie, got all her YES badges and is wearing them like an absolute boss"

Thursday, May 14th: Today I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should write for my first entry. I want to keep things uplifting and positive, but the reality is I’ve been feeling crappy about the constant discussions about my life.

It’s emotionally draining and I’m so afraid of how I’ll feel if my country rejects my family and friends Friday week. I’m looking forward to it being over and hopefully celebrating that we’re living in a country that accepts me for who I am and who I love.

On a lighter note, my dog, Ellie, got all her YES Equality badges recently and is walking about wearing them like an absolute boss. On her walks to Red Rock every day she's getting extra attention, people exclaiming “she’s a YES dog” coming over for a pet and to talk about the referendum. It’s nice to see the positive reactions from neighbours and people that live locally.

Alison's dog Ellie

While out on our walk today my mind drifted off to the first time Pauline met Ellie, we actually arranged a date where they could meet (slight doggie nuts!). Ellie got a little jealous and while we were sitting on the couch, she decided to kick Pauline off.

"Fear plays a big part in decision-making and, as humans, our default desires are to resist change, to protect what we know."

We've both spent a lot of time around dogs and know that a reaction like this is not unusual when a dog is unsure of a person or their surroundings. It took a few more meetings for Ellie to really bond with Pauline but you'll be glad to know that Ellie loves her now. They go off for walks together and Ellie gets really excited when she's around! 

My mind then drifted a second time while on that walk. I thought of all the people who oppose the possibility of Pauline and I getting married. I thought are they afraid of the unknown? Fear plays a big part in decision-making and, as humans, our default desires are to resist change, to protect what we know. 

If only anyone thinking of voting NO could come around and accept us like Ellie did. If only the no voters could see that all we want is the opportunity to be a family under the constitution; we want the reassurance that if one of us becomes ill, we are each other’s next of kin - I want what 90 per cent of this country can already have.

Please consider extending these rights to us…

- Alison McDonnell

Day 1: “NO campaign empowered me to 'come out' in work and on social media”

Wednesday, May 13thNine days to polling day and this emotional roller-coaster still has a long way to go.

In general, I’m far stronger now than I was the first time I saw the NO campaign posters. I walked around town feeling unsafe, insecure, hated and paranoid in the thought that everyone was judging me, but most of all, deeply hurt by my fellow citizens.

I’m so social, I get along with everyone, I perform on stage and people like me… or so I thought!  I’ve gone from questioning the loyalty of friends and acquaintances to feeling like almost everyone around me is fighting my corner.

In a strange way the NO campaign has empowered me so much that I have 'come out' in work and on Facebook. My sexuality was never a secret but I never felt the need to make an announcement to the world until now.

I feel like I can win votes by personalising my experiences with people who may not have considered the difficulties of being in a minority, and hated by many.

I feel like my being vocal about my sexuality will encourage others to be brave enough to come out too. Both the work and Facebook announcements were greeted with absolute sensitivity and positivity and it was one of my most humbling experiences to date.

I received messages from people I had not been in contact with for seven or more years congratulating me on my bravery. All of these well-wishers energised and motivated me... However, it doesn’t take much to upset me.

"I’m like a pendulum, swinging between confidence and fear"

I’m surprised at how uninformed people still are about the facts of this referendum. I get so frustrated when I hear people debate their reasons for voting no when voting no will not change or address their outlined concerns.

I get frustrated with the amount of air-time people are given to debate unrelated issues. I get frustrated when I see how much deliberate misinformation has surrounded this referendum, and how many people buy into it.

I have little faith in our country’s democracy when the majority determine the rights of a minority. I also feel the referendum has been unfair to date in allowing so much misinformation to be publicised.

I’m like a pendulum swinging between confidence and fear. I can’t relate this to any other life experience. I can’t predict how life will be if my country, that I love so much, votes NO.

- Pauline Burke

Alison and Pauline met each other a couple of years ago through mutual friends. As a couple they love socialising, travelling, music and the arts. Pauline is an engineer and traditional Irish musician. Alison is a photographer focusing on human rights issues and owns her own holiday rental company. They both love dogs.

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