A Power Worth Harnessing

*This post is a repost of a piece I wrote for the Ógra Fianna Fáil website – click here to see the original piece.  I like to keep my politics and my blog work separate, which is why I’ve made one or two changes to the piece below.

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It’s fair to say that LGBT Pride marches haven’t been as traditional in Ireland as they have been in other cities and countries around the world for the last number of decades.  Those Pride festivals most prominent in my memory were the ones I would see covered in newspapers, like San Francisco and London.  As a child, I remembered thinking how pretty all the colours were and how everyone taking part looked like they were having a great time.  Of course, it did not dawn on a child to think such a colourful and populated march would be intertwined with a community’s fight for their equal rights as citizens. It just looked fun!

Fast forward to Dublin Pride 2015.  My third or fourth Pride march in so many years. I can see a definite shift in the mood of 2014 and 2015 from both onlookers and those marching. During the 2014 Pride marches I took part in, there was a mixed feeling of, well, pride obviously, for our friends, co-workers, neighbours, parents etc.  But there was a definite underlying feeling of foreboding as well, a feeling I would attribute to the knowledge that a referendum on equal marriage rights was coming down the line.  Even in twenty-first century Ireland, a society that was largely (though not entirely) accepting of all lifestyles and communities, there was a distinct feeling of fear at the fact that those who stand both with them and against them in society were to vote on extending civil marriage rights to same sex couples.  A fear that those born with civil marriage rights by virtue of their heterosexuality, those who are somewhat oblivious to the difficulties and discrimination faced by LGBT people and their families, would soon be deciding on the rights of one group in society.  That would make anyone nervous – right?

My dear friend Arthur Griffin and I showing our support at Dublin Pride 2015
My dear friend Arthur Griffin and I showing our support at Dublin Pride 2015

There was a difference in Pride 2015, and the world in which we live could not be more different. Different yet exactly the same in many respects.  Different, because Ireland had voted to extend civil marriage rights to all her citizens, different because both our LGBT friends and their allies alike had come together to ask Irelands public to treat them all as one, and to help bring an end to discrimination and hateful attitudes towards LGBT people, families and couples.  And Ireland delivered on this call for equality – with a 62.07% vote to allow all her citizens equal marriage rights.  I like to think that even the United States delivered on Ireland’s vote for equality – that weekend, a little over five weeks since the Marriage Equality referendum, was marked by the United States Supreme Court declaring that marriage equality was a right befitting each and every citizen of the States. I like to consider our little nation a bit of a trail blazer in that respect, don’t you?

But in some respects things are the same: the same because our LGBT friends’ relationships are just as valued to us and them as they always were, things are the same because, well, hell hasn’t frozen over Ireland because of a Yes vote. And things are the same because a vote to extend civil marriage rights to same sex couples hasn’t led to the loss of legitimacy of heterosexual marriages as was warned by some – my parents happy marriage of 27 years wasn’t instantly invalidated just because my friend and her girlfriend now have the explicit right by law to become wife and wife!  We have a lot to celebrate as a nation during this Pride Month and beyond.

We assisted in mobilising a majority to help in the fight for rights of a minority, and no matter what the cause was behind it, we should take pride in ourselves for that too.  I hope that this fight can take place in other parts of society where there are still major inequalities to be dealt with; education, disability rights, children’s rights, parental rights… the list goes on.  If Ireland could mobilise itself again to fight these societal inequalities and to help put an end to them, well, that would be  a power worth harnessing.

Don’t Let Pride Get in Your Way

Flash back to the end of August.  I’d had a pretty jam-packed summer; trips to Dunmore East, Liverpool and Inis Mór.  And now I was settling down to start my masters in Government, back in UCC.  So I’m out shopping for the typical college stuff (pens, papers, highlighters) when I get a phone call.  Its from the Irish Guide Dogs Centre and they’ve found a place for me on one of their Independent Living Courses.  The course is taking place for the entire following week so I accept my place, pack a bag, and take all kinds of gear with me as its a residential course.  Sounds like I did it without even a second thought, doesn’t it? Except there was a second thought, plenty of second thoughts.

Sometimes, I find it really intimidating to partake in some of the workshops/sessions/fun-days that are run for people like me with vision loss or blindness.  I find some courses to be a total box ticking exercise – its a case of “ah sure we’ll run that course now and we’ll be done then for the year”.  Depending on the organisation of some courses, you can go in waiting to feel empowered and then come out totally deflated.  This was definitely a fear I had and kept thinking about all the way out to the Guide Dogs Centre in Ballincollig.  I had all these reasons in my head why I didn’t need to go/why I shouldn’t go:

 

– I manage grand at home, I can do some things

– I don’t really need help from anyone else, I can sort it myself, why does everyone think I need heaps of help?

– If this is a box ticker in any way, I’m high tailing it out the door.

 

Well, what a surprise I got!

 

Arriving on a Monday, I was given most of the day to settle in and meet the others in the group, as well as the course instructors and the other staff.  Together, we all got a tour of the building, and got to grips with the facilities that were there for us to use during our stay.  Then one of our instructors explained the structure of the week to us, which basically consisted of us learning during the day, and making our own fun at night.  The course was open for us to do what we wanted with it.  So as a group, we all came to a consensus about what we wanted to cook for lunch and dinner that week, made a list of what ingredients we needed, and decided on some extra household related things we wanted to learn too.  So we decided on smoothies, lasagne, casserole, curry, wraps, pittas, banoffee pie, and brownies.

Now, the whole point isn’t to learn how to make these specific foods, its really to equip us with skills we can use to make all kinds of meals for ourselves, and by extension of that, to make ourselves more independent in a safe way.  We learned how to use our other senses to tell how well our food was cooked (sound, smell, touch), what foods or sauces we were using (smell, touch), how to layer foods (touch, sound), how to use particular appliances safely (touch, sound), and how to make sure our area was clean after we’d cooked without necessarily using sight.

While we did have our instructors with us the whole time we were in the kitchen, it was still a case of “you must cook this – no one else will cook it for you”.  And that is exactly the kind of Independent Living Course someone like me needs.  Its about empowering ME to do something and finish a job MY WAY, no matter how different it is as long as its safe.  It is so daunting at my age to realise that in the next year to three years, I’ll be living on my own, cooking on my own, cleaning on my own.  And its daunting because I’ll be the one in charge of me, I won’t always have my parents or my brother to fall back on.  And I know they must wonder about it, as do I, thinking “Will she manage?  Will she cope?”.  So for me. getting these kind of skills was massively important.  It doesn’t just benefit me, it benefits those around me too.

Pride is a good thing.  But pride could have put a stop to me going out to the centre and learning all these fantastic, new, and badly needed skills.  Pride could have stopped me meeting new friends and us all sharing our experiences with one another.  I’m so glad I took that particular leap of faith and didn’t let my hesitation or previous experiences stop me – I would have lost out on so much.  I can’t speak highly enough of the training and empowerment I got from this course, words could never describe it well enough  It taught me a lot about not letting pride stand in my way too.

 

If you would like to support the work of the Irish Guide Dogs For The Blind, or want to find out more about their services, please click here where you can donate through their webpage or search through the different types of courses run.

 

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