Why gay men must support women and March for Choice
By Paul Jennings
Between 4 and 10% of Ireland’s population describes itself as LGBT. In recent years the country has evolved, affording gay citizens the same rights at their straight counterparts - most recently in 2015 when the country voted to legalise same-sex marriage.
The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar recently claimed that it was only a matter of time until the same rights were achieved in Northern Ireland. While his optimism is heartening, this push for equality is somewhat contradictory. Back across the border a much larger group of citizens are being denied very basic rights of their own, under the Taoiseach’s watch.
The Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution denies women and trans-men access to free safe and legal abortion in their own country. Instead women must travel, in their thousands, to British clinics for treatment.
Following mounting pressure from reproductive rights campaigners, Mr Varadkar announced earlier this week, that a referendum on this archaic piece of legislation would be called in May or June next year. He failed to provide a specific date.
These issues are linked
While the Taoiseach campaigned diligently for equal marriage in 2015, he has been remiss in stating a clear position on repealing the Eighth Amendment. He has also neglected to offer the any details about the wording of the promised referendum, instead preferring to leave that up to an Oireachtas Committee to decide.
It seems that he has forgotten that these issues are intrinsically linked, as both involve the denial of human rights based on biology.
Women have fought for gay rights for decades. As a gay man from Northern Ireland I will reciprocate for the duration of the Repeal the Eighth campaign. I will also be joining the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign on Saturday at a pro-choice rally at the Irish Embassy. Women were the strongest allies of gay people in the decriminalization of male homosexuality in Ireland and the UK. They have been our closest friends in equalising the rights of gay people in society in terms of marriage, military service, and any other inequality between gay and straight people.
The Republic has been outsourcing women’s healthcare to Great Britain for decades. Nine women a day travel to British clinics for abortions, at great emotional and financial expense. This needs to be rectified. The argument is over. The Taoiseach cannot continue to deny anyone's autonomy over their own body. And for this reason, he cannot be neutral on this referendum.
'Shaped me as a feminist'
Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the incredible women at the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign. If any of these women needed access to an abortion for whatever reason, they would be able to do so as British residents. It’s a far cry from the care they’d receive back home. This does not make them any less concerned and involved with the rights of their mothers, sisters and friends back in Ireland.
Since I have started campaigning with them, it has truly shaped me as a person, and a feminist. To see such an amazing bunch of people shape policy in the UK and influence the debate in the Republic of Ireland is inspiring and heartening.
The moment gay people, and gay men in particular, forget that women have been standing behind us from day one is the moment our campaign for equality loses any form of legitimacy or dignity. I think it’s very important for us to remember this.
Join the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign at the #205ktravelled demonstration on Saturday at the Irish Embassy in London. The event begins at 2pm. I implore you all to take part. Gay, straight, male or female we must all stand together and fight for change across the island of Ireland.