Opinion: Ireland’s growing pride in LGBTQ community
2015-07-01 15:32:10 -

Shwetali Sapte


Dublin LGBTQ Pride – Ireland’s most popular celebration for the LGBTQ community – has taken place annually in June since it began as a one-day event in 1974. This year, however, marks a significant difference, as it comes in the wake of the successful marriage equality referendum in May. As such, it promises to be the largest, loudest, and most festive Pride in history. With a series of events spanning 17 days, the festival involves everything from art exhibitions to film screenings and even a dog show. 


One of the more significant happenings on this year’s calendar was the Sunday service on 21 June at the Dublin Unitarian Church, where festival director Ciaran McKinney lit the chalice candle. This simple but symbolic gesture is representative of Ireland’s changing society, which is slowly but surely moving towards a more open outlook on minority groups.


The Unitarian Church, historically a centre for liberal dissent, has depicted itself as vastly more tolerant that its Catholic counterpart, which has for so long been the biggest influence on Irish society. Due to Catholicism’s rigid stance against homosexuality, much of Ireland adopted a similar view. The Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform in the 1970s began a prolonged, difficult struggle to decriminalise homosexuality that only succeeded in 1993. But the years that followed have seen LGBTQ rights progress in leaps and bounds, with the 2011 Civil Partnership Legislation and the election of two openly gay TDs that same year. 


With the marriage equality referendum fresh in mind, the Unitarian Church hosted Ciaran McKinney at their service. In addition to lighting the chalice candle, he read out an excerpt from James Empereur’s 1998 book Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person, specifically from a chapter that focuses on harmonising one’s sexual orientation with their spirituality. “Homosexuality is one of God’s most significant gifts to humanity,” is one of the more memorable quotes. 


Furthermore, McKinney addressed a major issue that many religious LGBTQ individuals struggle with: the perceived incompatibility of their sexuality and religion. In his reading, he said that many believe “it is impossible to embrace spirituality because of their sexual orientation. On the contrary, it is a deep personal examination about the meaning of life… about how gayness can be celebrated.” In McKinney’s own words, the Unitarian Church has been “unequivocal in its support” towards the LGBTQ community. And what’s more, things are even progressing slowly within the  Catholic Church, too.


This event is an undoubtedly significant achievement for the relationship between Ireland’s religious and LGBTQ communities, and where they overlap. It has paved the way for further liberalisation, and shows just how far the country has come from the days when being homosexual was a crime. 


Still, Catholicism – which represents 85 per cent of the population, according to census figures, though it’s unclear how many are practising Catholics – remains deeply divided between believing in traditional marriage and respecting the gay community. 


The referendum’s results shook the foundations of Irish tradition, and in turn those of the Catholic Church. These social and political changes are welcomed by some, but not all. In comparison, Unitarianism has a small following; its views do not represent those of the majority. With its liberal history, the Unitarian Church’s role in this year’s Pride festival comes as no surprise. But would such an event ever occur in the future of the Catholic Church?



Shwetali Sapte, originally from India, is a student at Boston University.

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