Sometimes you don’t realise things until it’s too late. Unfortunately for me, this was realising that I apparently lived in 1930. After unintentionally coming out, I quickly began to discover that the world around me was seriously lagging behind. To quote Derry Girls, I was the (not-so) “wee lesbian.”
Northern Ireland; a place still deep rooted in the past and the tight grip (yikes) of Arlene Foster, is not a place that an LGBTQ+ youth can be allowed to flourish. For example, Gay marriage has only just been legalised. This culture is the same culture that allowed me to grow up thinking that the LGBTQ+ safe-space in school was embarrassing, or that I had to get with as many members of the opposite sex as I could on a night out, as to not appear “suspicious;” instead to appear “normal.”
In Northern Ireland, the percentage of people identifying themselves as lesbian/gay/bisexual in 2018 was 1.2%. The UK average in 2018 was 2.2% – England (2.3%), Wales (2.4%) and Scotland (2.0%). Between 2012 and 2015, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted five times on same-sex marriage, and although it was passed by a majority on the fifth attempt, it was vetoed by the Democratic Unionist Party by using the “petition of concern.” It wasn’t until parliament took control in 2019, that same-sex marriage was passed, and then legalised in 2020. To be honest, Arlene, I wish I could use a petition of concern against your astounding lack of empathy.
The North boasts the attractive title of “The Least LGBTQ+ Friendly place in the UK.” Great job, lads. Depressingly enough, you can sometimes come to realise that those closest to you can fall under this umbrella. Family, friends. Suddenly you were a different person to them; unnatural, not you anymore. I couldn’t even watch Fifth Harmony’s funniest moments in my living room without getting ripped into. Good times.
My first pride was even ruined by the sound of so-called “Christians” shouting anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda over loudspeakers from various platforms all over Belfast. It was hard to dance and be proud with such a pit in your stomach.
So, I had to get out. Looking back, I now realise that absolutely crashing and burning in my Queen’s University medical school exam was a blessing in disguise. At least, that’s what I tell myself. It definitely wasn’t from me drawing a blank at every question that was asked.
So what did I do? I did the rational thing, and took the first offer that would get me away; a Biomedical Science degree in the formerly-known Dublin Institute of Technology. I packed up four suitcases, and off I went. I left my family home, and never looked back. I was going far enough to leave a lot of toxicity behind, but close enough to pop to my Granny’s for tea.
My first night out was The George. After necking a shoulder of the cheapest vodka I could find (I had just been introduced to Huzzar,) I approached the bouncer nervously, my UK provisional driving license shaking in my hand. After assuring them that this was a real ID, and that I actually wasn’t trying to fool them, I made my way in. I then tripped going up the stairs.
Long story short – it was a new world. Which I enjoyed far too much, as anyone on my snapchat stories would tell you.
The stark contrast between my two homes was clear the first Christmas I returned home. On a Christmas night out, one of the first things I heard was “go on back to Dublin.” Fast forward to the summer, and the terms that were now associated with my name are something which I can’t write here. Whilst Dublin still has a lot of work to do, it quickly became the main place where I could be myself. Don’t get me wrong – I had an amazing support system at home, between friends, and other close family members – I couldn’t ask for better. But being around people who understood what you were going through, and had similar experiences? That hit different.
After successfully hyping myself up for a few weeks in college, I decided to finally throw all caution to the wind, and attend my first LGBTQ+ Soc meeting. I remember going home straight after, slightly overwhelmed. There were so many people just like me? So open? Who I could be myself around? I needed a while to digest the information.
A couple of meetings later, I was finding my feet. I gradually started talking to more and more people, but before I knew it, the year was up.
In my second year, an unexpected opening for Secretary turned up. As someone who wouldn’t exactly be defined as an “extrovert,” I was nervous, but also wanted to push myself, and go out of my comfort zone. After nearly vomiting in the Aungier Street bathrooms before my speech, I got elected. I’ve now been the secretary for almost 2 years, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I’ve met the most amazing people within the society, including some of my best friends. Some of my best college memories stem from the soc. The different events and support system has given me the confidence to truly be myself, and be proud of who I am. I go home to the North occasionally, confident in myself and who I am. I have the most amazing Girlfriend, and can be confident in holding her hand in public.
SO, what to take away from this inspiring tale? If you’re someone who is considering joining the society, but have doubts, are shy, etc, don’t be afraid to message me, or another committee member! Ask Brian, I could hardly speak without stumbling over my words when I first joined.
All of our details are on our Instagram, @tud_lgbtq! We have several events per week, including our weekly coffee morning, and upcoming Netflix parties. Other events include Niche PowerPoint nights, terrible fanfic reading, and games nights! #shameless plug. You’ll be welcomed with open arms. It might just be the best decision you’ll make all day.