President Higgins: Respect for difference must be based not only on laws but also in words, actions

President Michael D. Higgins has issued a statement in support of the LGBTQI+ community.

He said so many of all our thoughts over recent days have been with our LGBTQI+ community and it is greatly heartening to see the outpouring of solidarity with them.

He said he knows this will have provided comfort to many people in what is a time of great distress, and he expressed his deepest support and condolences to all those who have been directly impacted by, what he described as ‘a number of appalling recent events.’

The president added that it was important to take this opportunity to reflect more deeply on the public space which we are creating as a society, and the freedom and safety within it.

‘When it comes to behaviour, freedom and the expression of affection, ask the question if it is an equal space for members of the LGBTQI+ community,’ he urged.

He recalled that seven years ago next month, the public voted in overwhelming numbers to extend full and equal marriage rights to members of the LGBTQI+ community.

This, he said, was an important and significant milestone and was a clear statement by the people of Ireland that all are entitled to equal legal recognition of their relationships, no matter what their sexual orientation is.

However, he said that yet, seven years later, we still hear far too regularly of members of the gay community being faced with homophobic comments and slurs, often unchallenged.

He continued: ‘Heartbreakingly, we hear friends or family members telling us that they do not feel comfortable holding the hand of their partner, of their husband or their wife, in public. This suggests an environment which somehow allows that while under the law someone’s sexuality will be tolerated, its expression must not be allowed. We must do better.’

He suggested that beyond the recent horrific events lies perhaps a challenge to address the lethargy which is impeding the fullest expression of themselves as citizens by members of the LGBTQI+ community in Irish society.

He continued: ‘As we go forward, it is surely necessary to address the roots of the assumptions that are sustaining these exclusions and such authoritarian actions in our communities and to consider what individual and collective actions we can take to provide a freer, diverse and inclusive space in our communities built on respect for equality and difference, not just in our laws but in our words and actions.

‘In doing so, we will all benefit from the delivery of such full participation of our shared lives by all our citizens,’ President Higgins concluded.