This is the Speech I gave at St Annes Shandon for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 18th as part of Cork LGBT Awareness Week.
“On November 13th, 1895, I was brought down here from London. From two o’clock till half-past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction in convict dress, and handcuffed, for the world to look at. I had been taken out of the hospital ward without a moment’s notice being given to me. When people saw me they laughed. Each train as it came up swelled the audience. Nothing could exceed their amusement. That was, of course, before they knew who I was. As soon as they had been informed, they laughed still more. For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob.
For a year after that was done to me I wept every day at the same hour and for the same space of time.”
This is a statement by one of history’s and Ireland’s greatest playwrights Oscar Wilde, referring to his arrest for “gross indecency with men,” a charge for which he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. I use his poignant statement not only to illustrate how far the world has come in treating LGBTI people with dignity and equality, but also to show how far we still need to go and why it is important for Days like International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to exist.
The Collins dictionary defines Homophobia as an “intense fear or hatred of homosexuals or homosexuality”. To most of us it is through direct actions we see homophobia. Whether it is in direct discrimination, a beating, a mugging or even a murder. But as Oscar Wilde’s quote shows, it does not have to be a direct action, it can be standing on the side-lines and laughing as much as doing something.
We all have a responsibility, as an individual, as a community and more importantly as a community of faith in this place to be a place of welcome, to ensure we do not stand on that platform and laugh, that we stand next to that person being jeered and give them comfort. Is that not what Jesus would have done?
That is not an easy thing to do. Society and the church in many cases seem to be more interested in trivia then doing the work of God. Recently the Right Reverend John Gladwin, the retired Bishop of Chelmsford spoke of this in St Paul’s Cathedral.
“In 1933 Dietrich Bonhoeffer arrived in England to pastor the German church. His opening sermon in the Sydenham congregation was a response to the question on his mind, ‘why does the church seem so dull, preoccupied with trivia?’ This is what Bonhoeffer said:-
It is because we like too much to talk and think about a cosy, comfortable God instead of letting ourselves be disturbed and disquieted by the presence of God – because in the end we do not want to believe that God is right here among us, right now, demanding that we hand ourselves over, in life and death, in heart and body and soul and mind. (Bonhoeffer and Britain by Keith Clements. CTBI)”
I suppose this is where I lost interest in the church I was raised in. It did have a cosy, comfortable view on god. As long as you went to mass every Sunday, went to confession, abstained from meat on certain days, you would be ok. There was no challenge, there was no conviction.
This led me to stumble into St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in 2009 for an IDAHO, as it was then, service that included the Bishop. The welcome, the conviction and true belief shown on that night is what has led me to here before you on this Service for IDAHOT. A member of St Anne’s Congregation, it’s Select Vestry, a Minister of the Eucharist and representing it on Diocesan Synod. I feel very privileged to have been welcomed into this church, this place and this community as an equal and allowed to take on these roles within this Church.
St Anne’s has led the way on this Island as an inclusive church and has inspired many other churches to stand on its conviction and be inclusive and a welcome to “whoever you are, and where ever you are on your journey in faith”.
At the beginning of this LGBT Awarness Week, Bishop Colton, who was guest of honour at the opening reception backed this up by saying
Many of you see the Pride flag when you come into the church, some of you may have even spotted it on the tower – thanks Brian!, but I do encourage you to look at the back of the church on your way out and read the mission statement. The last few lines sum up to me so much of my faith
We are committed to a Church that conveys the Christian message in signs and symbols, especially in the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. We are committed to taking all people seriously – married and single people, gay and straight, those who have a natural faith and those who struggle with belief. We are committed to identifying and affirming what is good and identifying and opposing what is evil, and living as best we can in the confusion in the middle.
This is the last event of Cork LGBT Awareness Week, and the LGBT Community in Cork is very lucky to have such supportive agencies in Cork who come together once a year to raise awareness in our city and county about LGBT issues.
This along with Pride and the services here in St Anne’s mark us, as a city and church, quite different from anywhere else. We as a city and church should take pride in what we do. People do recognise this. Last November I had the honour of representing Loafers in the Mr Gay Ireland competition and it was very obvious how highly Cork is viewed across the LGBT Community in Ireland
While we can be proud of all the work done, we must not rest on our laurels as there is still a lot to be done.
I know, as do many of you, of people in this city or even ourselves, who have been shouted at, kicked and beaten here in Cork because of who they are and who they love. In 2014 this is no longer acceptable and needs a community response.
When we hear people belittling those in the LGBT community we need to stand up to them. When people within the LGBT community hate on those within the community we need to stand up to them. We as a community need to stand together, with our allies in the wider community.
We should not allow ourselves to squabble between Gays and Lesbians, between Queers and Bisexuals, between Trans* and Cis-gendered, young or old. Yes we all have different needs and issues but sometimes we do need to all come together, recognising our differences but acknowledging that working together we can make a difference to all of us.
Tackling Homophobia in schools and in our society, fighting for a yes vote in next years referendum, ensuring that Gender Recognition Bill is fit for purpose, making sure that supports exist for LGBT people in Rural Ireland, raising awareness of the Gay Blood Ban, making certain that older members of LGBT community will be treated the same way as their straight family and friends and in general being there for each other. As the American Christian Right would call it that is the Homosexual Agenda in Ireland. Not exactly the downfall of society, now is it.
This week ILGA Europe an Association of LGBT Associations in Europe published its Annual Review and Rainbow Index. In it Ireland was ranked 22nd of 49 countries. This may surprise some of you. What would surprise you more is some of the countries ahead of us. Croatia, Montenegro and Albania in the Balkans, and Estonia, Czech Republic and Slovenia in Eastern Europe are all ranked ahead of us.
While the UK, Belgium and Spain top the list it is no surprise to see who is at the bottom of the list, Russia is 49th on the list with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Monaco and the Ukraine. While we are fighting for more protections for our community here in Ireland, the LGBT Communities in those countries have little to no protection. I believe that we in Ireland owe a duty to them. To get involved in campaigns, to raise awareness of the situation in these countries, whether it is through All Out or Amnesty International or one of the many other Human Rights organisations. We cannot and should not remain completely focused on Ireland but show our solidarity with LGBT people in Europe and around the world who are in much greater danger then us.
The Church of Ireland is currently having a conversation on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief. This conversation looks set to go on and on according to the recent reports at this year’s General Synod. We in this Diocese will also be having a meeting at some stage, I am told, on the issue also. That is what makes this day and the events in Newry, Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Belfast and Derry/Londonderry so important. Its not that these services happen, but that they keep happening, is what gives me hope. The work of Changing Attitude’s Ireland and many individual LGBT Christians in Ireland constantly challenge and remind the wider Church of their responsibility to the LGBT Community.
Going back to the Bishops Speech at the beginning of this week, he made a point that resonated well with me and might with you also.
I want, therefore, to encourage especially those gay and lesbian people who are involved in church life, or who once were, to engage with the debates many churches are having at the current time. [As] Shirley Temple Bar tweeted: ‘Sharing LGBT stories is an important step on the road to equality.’ I agree with that, and I ask you not to give up on religion and religious institutions.
It is essential that your voices and experiences are heard and listened to. More important, it is vital that you do not let people drive you away. The loving welcome and inclusion of you is not theirs to take away: that love, that inclusion, that welcome, that belonging are God’s gift – God’s grace – offered to you as much as to anyone else.
I finish with some words from the Benedictine blessing which is often said in this place,
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world.
Because he has, and you can.