Say YES to Families! – A Story of Empowerment in Ireland

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Some people hate ’em, others adore ’em – ‘families’ as the poet Philip Larkin says ‘they fuck you up don’t they?’
Perhaps, is my response to that. During the Yes Equality campaign in Ireland in 2015 families became a central element of our struggle for social justice for lgbt people through a referendum on the right to marry. Who would have ever thought that in conservative, Catholic Ireland it would be families who would play a leading role in changing hearts and minds of the voting public so that 62% said Yes to marriage equality for lgbt people and our families.
I grew up in a relatively small family (for Ireland) with just 7 of us, I had 4 brothers and 2 sisters and while we fought as kids we are a close family – supporting each other and looking out for the next generation as they make their way in the world. My partner of 30 years and I were co-parents to one son and we became grandmothers in 2015. Though we had been feminist activists for decades and I had been chairwoman of Marriage Equality since 2007/8 the birth of our grandson Harry made us even more passionate about trying to build an Ireland, so that whatever Harry’s sexual orientation or gender identity might be, he could live comfortably in a future Ireland. The traditional human rights and social justice activism which was framed around relationships between individuals and the state – had shifted – missing from that frame was families, a fundamental building block of all societies – Yes Equality capitalised on this and asked our families to vote yes.
At the launch of the Yes Equality campaign I said that we were ‘the family values’ campaign – we took back from our opponents the idea that they owned the definition of families and widened that term to include a wide variety of families who required and should have equality – including the diversity of lgbt families. We redefined family for the public and acknowledging that some family spaces are oppressive and damaging, many of our family spaces – self created and alternative perhaps, were spaces defined by love and liberation – this tapping into a new set of family values is what drives the movement that uses family as a frame in social justice activism, I am delighted to see that movement gather speed through IDAHOT’s theme for this year. Let’s make all our families matter – diversity is our strength.
Dr Grainne Healy
is Chairwoman of Marriage Equality, former Co Director of Yes Equality and a member of the IDAHOT advisory group

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