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13 January 2000 Edition

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Respecting all sexual identities

BY MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN (Sinn Féin National Chairperson)

     
A truly independent Ireland is one where all the children of the nation have the freedom and resources to determine their own future - politically, economically, culturally, socially and sexually.
For republicans, the Ireland of the 21st century must celebrate our diversity and see all of our people going forward as equals. And we advance this philosophy within our party, within our communities, on the streets and in political life.

Sinn Féin was the first Irish political party to campaign against the criminalisation of homosexuality, following a resolution at our Ard Fheis in the early 1980s. We were the first Irish political partiy to develop a comprehensive policy document on lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. And since then we have consistently advocated, at every level of political life, the rights of all people to live their lives free from homophobia and prejudice as a result of their sexual orientation. Sinn Féin is still the only major Irish political party to take part in Gay Pride marches throughout the country.

Of course, our support for lesbian and gay equality has not been a one-way street. Throughout the years, many within the lesbian and gay community have stood shoulder to shoulder with republicans in the fight for justice, equality and freedom. From Bloody Sunday to the Hunger Strikes and beyond, the presence of lesbian and gay rights solidarity banners at republican marches has been a constant feature.

Our party has also developed close working relationships with a number of lesbian and gay support organisations throughout the country. Sinn Féin's Minister for Education, Martin McGuinness, has publicly endorsed the Rainbow Gay Men's Health Project anti-bullying campaign launched at the end of last year. Sinn Féin Deputy Mayor Marie Moore had the honour of being the first Belfast civic leader to host a reception from the community during the launch of Belfast Pride in 1999.

At a more local level, Sinn Féin assists support organisations in a range of day-to-day issues, from housing matters to violence against the lesbian and gay community. We have consistently campaigned around health issues such as HIV/AIDS, safer sex, rural isolation, drug and alcohol misuse, and the psychological impact of homophobia, often resulting in suicide, especially among young gay men.

This is not to say that there still isn't much to be done. We have a long way to go before we fully realise the responsibilities and obligations contained in our 1996 policy document, Moving On.

In recommending this document to our Ard Fheis in 1996, I said: ``It is not good enough to simply adopt this document. We need to absorb the arguments and then project and implement them. We need to continue to educate ourselves and others. We need to become conscious of implicit exclusion as well as explicit exclusion. We need to become aware of ignorance and prejudice within ourselves and our own party as well as within society in general.''

We need to continue with this process both inside our party and among our broader support base, but we are committed and we have shown leadership on these issues over the years.

It is important to remember that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are not a community set apart. In every community, in every locality and in every political party, there are lesbian, gay and bisexual people who are denied equality. Sinn Féin has a responsibility to ensure that, within its own party and the wider community that we represent, second-class citizenship is not acceptable, and that the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people are not negotiable.

As a republican party, our core demand is Irish independence. But independence for the Irish nation means independence for the citizens of that nation, both as individuals and as specific communities. A truly independent Ireland is one where all the children of the nation have the freedom and resources to determine their own future - politically, economically, culturally, socially and sexually. The basis of this philosophy is contained in the 1916 Proclamation and the Programme of the First Dail. It has been the foundation of our political thought and practice ever since.

Ours is a struggle for equality, as a nation and as citizens of that nation. All those struggling for equality, in whatever way, in whatever field, are our comrades in struggle. Together we will achieve our long fought for dream - an Irish republic which cherishes all of its children, not in spite of their sexuality but because of it.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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