There is still more to do to support the gay community in Britain, Ireland and beyond
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There is still more to do to support the gay community in Britain, Ireland and beyond

HISTORICALLY Irish people have been renowned for the stereotypical ‘one hundred thousand welcomes’. 

When an unprecedented 1.2million Irish voters took to the polls on May 22 to vote by a 62 per cent majority to grant LGBT couples the same equal benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples, they welcomed members of the LGBT community into a more inclusive, equal Ireland.

Ireland became a world leader as the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote.

Many LGBT individuals from every facet of Irish have contributed enormously to Irish society over the years; such as Oscar Wilde, Senator David Norris, 71, the Rose of Tralee - Maria Walsh, 27 and former Cork Hurler and president of the GPA Donal Óg Cusack, 38.

The referendum result shows the overwhelming desire on behalf of the majority of Irish people to have LGBT members rights recognised, respected and treated equally under Irish law.

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The result in Ireland starkly contrasts with the recent readers’ poll in The Irish Post on the Marriage Equality Referendum which reflected the exact opposite result showing 62.31 per cent of voters in Britain against the referendum and only 36 per cent in favour.

It raises the question how do we as an Irish community in Britain welcome, support, include and celebrate our LGBT members?

While LGBT members in Irish society are valued, respected and seen as equal now it hasn’t always been the case.

Much work still needs to be done to fight the stigma around sexual diversity within the Irish community in Ireland, Britain and beyond.

By voting Yes in this referendum Irish people did what for generations they have always done, recognised the humanity in other people’s suffering and supported them.

My sister-in-law who is in her late 30’s was leaving the polling station after casting her vote in Galway and bumped into her 82 year old neighbour.

He asked her how he should vote.

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He was concerned that while it conflicted with his religious beliefs he knew that his decision would have a far greater impact on her and her children’s lives and those of future generations than on his own life.

Irish people listened to each and the heart wrenching and courageous stories from individuals such as Ursula Halligan – TV3’s Political Editor who spoke about being plagued by fear growing up in Ireland knowing she was gay.

Marianne Williamson described how ‘we are all meant to shine...it’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others’.

Ursula Halligan had the courage to let her light shine by telling her story and in doing so has liberated herself from fear; the response to her story has been overwhelming positive.

By voting Yes in the referendum Irish people have made a statement of intention to liberate current and future generations from any further fear and discrimination and in doing so have acted as a beacon of light for equality and diversity for the rest of the world.

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Olivia Cunningham is a psychotherapist living and working in North London.  Galway-born she moved to London in 2007 where she is a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.