WITH more reports of gay bashings in Dublin this summer and the Government’s frustrating tardiness on the legalisation of gay marriage, it was an issue that was waiting to explode. But it took Ryan Tubridy to, as he put it himself, “kick the hornet’s nest”.
In blithely wondering aloud whether there was really any need for a Gay Pride march in Sligo this weekend, Tubridy seemed to some to personify the smug indifference to the issues surrounding gay rights in Ireland. “It’s 2006 – they have their bars and clubs and Will and Grace”, his thinking seemed to go, “so what the hell are they still whingeing about?”
RTE was immediately inundated with calls and emails, and internet message board posters decried Tubridy as a homophobe. The broadcaster meekly responded that he was “only asking”, and for four consecutive days he allowed himself to be “educated” by everyone from Anna Nolan to the mothers of gay men.
Tubridy’s take on many aspects of human sexuality – gay and straight – was bizarrely out of touch. He expressed shock, for instance, that any 13-year-old could possibly be aware of his or her sexual preferences, adding that he himself was reading books at that age. He made sure tomention several times that he had several gay friends, so therefore what he said couldn’t possibly behomophobic.
His guests’ testimony was eloquent and moving, and highlighted once again that many of the most serious issues faced by gay people – rejection by the family and bullying in schools (where ‘gay’ remains the primary term of abuse) – are out of the reach of the law. Most people, it was correctly pointed out, are fine with the idea of someone being gay until that someone is their own child. Rather than being part of a support mechanism, they then get wildly upset in a misguided effort to ‘protect’ their child from the terrible life they imagine he or she will have.
It was also correctly noted that there are two Irelands: the affluent and somewhat tolerant Dublin suburbs where Tubridy lives and works and the rural communities in which being gay is not quite as acceptable as it is in a Little Britain sketch.
But the connection was never really made between all of these issues and the Pride march for which Tubridy had originally questioned the necessity. Once it had been established that there was indeed a ‘gay rights problem’ and that people had suffered prejudice, it seemed to be taken for granted by all sides that one of the solutions to this pageant of grievances was a parade of gay people.
Homophobia, especially the underhandedly discreet Irish version of it, is simply too slippery a disease to be truly challenged by taking to the streets. Pride marches are a mass for the converted. They don’t encourage those inside the closet door (when you’re young and not yet out, the banner-waving, badge-wearing brand of homosexuality is actually fairly intimidating) and they certainly they don’t deter bullies from daubing houses of gay couples with graffiti. Much as in the North, marches always seem more like insecure theatrics from an embattled minority than any true expression of empowerment. Real security in oneself isn’t bellowed through a megaphone or shouted from a podium once a year. It’s lived in what Yeats called “the little round of deeds and days”.
In a gay rights context,it’s in making neither a secret nor an issue of one’s sexuality.
But, of course, there is a double standard there. Gay people are frequently accused of “shoving it in people’s faces” when actually they’re just going about their business as anyone else would. An organiser of the pride parade in Sligo rightly pointed out that many of the things that straight people take for granted – holding hands in public, for example – would constitute “making a big deal out of one’s sexuality” if done by gay people. And she’s right. But holding hands is not comparable with marching.
No straight person would ever feel the need to march to show how ‘proud’ they were of being straight. As tennis champion Martina Navratilova (who suffered her own fair share of bigotry) once said, “sexuality is not an accomplishment, so what’s to be proud of?”
There is also a sense of unease among many gay people that Pride marches, with their drag queens and butch lesbians, reinforce tiresome stereotypes that most gay people spend a lifetime privately battling. Even if those people (who, of course, have their place in the gay community -if such a thing can be said to exist), are not all there is to a march, that’s what the media will focus on and that’s generally the only image that’s sent out.
Ryan Tubridy got it badly wrong when he wondered whether there was any “gay issue” in Ireland in 2006 and some of his ideas of human sexuality seem almost quaintly old-fashioned. But it would be wrong to describe him as a bigot and by Wednesday, he was still sheepishly apologising for “the ideas in my naive little head”. The debate was good-natured and to their credit, he and his producers allowed more space to the discussion of gay rights issues than any RTE programme in recent memory.
And though by the end of the week he seemed convinced otherwise, in questioning whether there was actually a need for Gay Pride parades, he may not have been so naive after all.