As Arlene Foster, former Northern Ireland first minister, was made a Dame in the Queen’s latest honours list, it reminded me of a speech she gave at Stormont at a queer event a few years ago.
It was indeed historic, because until then the DUP had acted as if they would be sent straight to hell for even being in the same room as gay people, their own closet cases aside. So, for their leader to not only attend, but give a speech, raised eyebrows.
The following month, another event was organised in response, ‘Alternative Ulster,’ one that would allow actual queer people to speak. I was invited to be one of those to deliver my thoughts and you can read what I said, far too quickly as I was attacked by crippling stage fright, below:
A month ago, Arlene Foster stood in this hall and told a room full of queer people at a queer event that we need to respect her right to discriminate against queer people.
Nobody heckled her, nobody challenged her assertion.
She was afforded tolerance even as she disrespected us to our faces once again.
Time after time, the LGBTQ+ community stands, cap in hand, pleading politely for that same tolerance like we’re some sort egg-induced fart in a closed room.
Because that’s the sort of thing you ‘tolerate’. That and members of the DUP. But every time we limit what we ask for to just ‘tolerance’ we insult every queer person on the planet who deserves so much more than that.
We need to flip this script. Those who discriminate against us should be the ones having to ask for tolerance. We should demand that they earn our respect. They are the offensive gas, not us.
They are the ones who should seek tolerance and be happy with nothing more.
Not us. Not anymore.
For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve watched our community play by rules that the other side disregard for fun. No matter what they do, we are told by members of our own community, we should resist the urge to be anything other than civil.
They insist that we do things the ‘right’ way, believing this is the best way to obtain change.
When they go low, we, apparently, should go high.
A quick look around the world tells you that strategy isn’t working too well these days. It certainly hasn’t worked in terms of moving the DUP.
Democracy around the globe is in chaos as populist right-wing rhetoric takes hold in ways it’s always been embedded here in Northern Ireland.
Naomi Klein’s book, ‘No is not enough’ talks about political chaos and the unique opportunity it affords for radical change. In extreme times, extreme change can be pushed through.
If we’re brave enough.
Now is the time for us to stop waiting and start taking.
We need to find a way to inconvenience their lives the way they have with ours. Only when they start to feel some of the discomfort they insist we live with will we see change.
I’m not talking violence, I’m talking inconvenience.
We don’t rock the boat. We sit waiting patiently in the corner for them to spoon -feed us rights others are given simply because they were born a certain way.
We don’t agitate. We don’t make their lives uncomfortable and, if anyone tries to, they are nudged by other queers to keep their mouths shut lest we upset an apple cart the other side have already taken and sold to the highest bidder, all while we scramble for apple cores on the ground.
This is not the time for thinking small, for incremental changes. This is the time to seize what we want. But first we need to know/be clearer about what we are fighting for and stop fighting amongst ourselves.
We can only make a new world possible if we set down the differences they have amplified between us and focus on our common goals – not to be tolerated, but to be treated as human beings with full equal rights.
That is what we want, all of us, no matter who we love, or fuck or what lies between our legs.
It’s time to say no more!
No more allowing them to divide us. No more accepting ‘tolerance’ as a goal to be chased. No more showing respect to people who CHOOSE to hate.
When we come together with a baseline demanding that ALL people are treated equally, our numbers swell to such a size that they can’t stop us.
Your fight is my fight and my fight is yours because as long as one person is denied equality, then the opportunity exists for it to happen to everybody.
I will not spend any more of my life asking those people to tolerate me. I will no longer be civil to those who deny my basic right to exist.
I know I’m not alone. I know there are many who feel their voices are being silenced by both sides so they can play the game.
Well, that game is over.
It’s time we started playing by our own rules, not theirs.