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“Balanced” Homophobia

On the approach to the Marriage Equality Referendum, Ruth Murphy looks at the media’s place in homophobia in Ireland

Homophobia is a word that has gained strength in the last year. It simply means fear or dislike of homosexuals. Some may add in the phrase “unreasoned fear” or add “hatred” to the mix. There seems to be great discussion in the Irish media surrounding the term. With a referendum approaching it is more important than ever for us to stand together to fight homophobia but this is becoming more of a struggle.

Ireland is not the most liberal country in the world. Homophobia is almost bred into us. It is passed down from generation to generation. This homophobia is often unintentional, it is more a discomfort associated with LGBTQ+ people, rather than downright dislike. Nevertheless, it is there all the same. It is the reason so many fear to tell people about their sexual orientation. It is a fear that we as a nation can overcome but it seems that despite the approaching marriage referendum the Irish media has taken two steps back in helping to defeat homophobia in Ireland.

As we all know by now Rory O’Neill, who performs as the drag queen Panti Bliss, named people as homophobic on the Saturday Night Show on RTÉ. These people include journalists John Waters and Breda O’Brien as well the Iona Institute.The journalists and this organisation have expressed strong views opposing gay marriage, generally saying that they want to uphold “family values”.

Breda O’Brien who stated in her own article in The Irish Catholic that equal marriage would be “dissolving a child-centred institution like marriage which is designed to bond parents with biological children, and replacing it with an adult centred institution designed primarily to act as a state-sanctioned approval of romantic sexual relationships”. John Waters has been quoted saying “Gay marriage is really a satire on marriage.”  While The Iona Institute has actively campaigned against equal marriage stating “Changing the definition of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples logically leads us to say that being raised by their own mother and father does not matter to children or society” and that “it is not discrimination to treat something that is unique in a unique way”.

So all these people would rather not give marriage rights to the LGBTQ+ community, therefore giving a minority fewer rights than the rest of the population. It seems perfectly fair then to describe these people as homophobic. However, RTÉ issued these people a monetary apology for their misfortune at being called this word that is in no way derogatory or rude.

Then came the BAI ruling. In this case Tiernan Brady of GLEN, Michael Murphy of RTÉ and Derek Mooney said on Mooney’s show on RTÉ Radio One, that they supported equal marriage with Mooney saying to a guest “I hope you do get gay marriage …I hope it does come in”. This simple expression of personal views was deemed by the BAI as “not fair, objective or impartial” as on the approach to a referendum debates such as this must feature people speaking from both sides. This show is a light entertainment, family programme, not a place of passionate, political debate but once again the voice in favour of equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community is deemed unfair.

It seems that now, as Panti Bliss stated in her speech in the Abbey Theatre, we are being told that “gay people are not the victims of homophobia, homophobes are…” The word “homophobic” and “homophobe” have gained this huge weight. People are protesting that it is downright rude and unfair to call someone “homophobic” even when that person’s actions can be defined as homophobic.

It seems that many who argue against equal marriage believe that this is not a homophobic action. Some people who are being described as “homophobes” believe they are being bullied in the matter and want their side heard. After the BAI ruling Brady said “The real worry that arises from the ruling is whether it means that any lesbian and gay person will not be able to talk about their lives or aspirations on the airwaves without the producer of the programme feeling that they have to bring someone in to challenge that”. Those in support of LGBTQ+ rights fear being silenced by broadcasters and broadcasting authorities while those against fear being described as “homophobic”.

What does all this mean for the future? What does this mean for the marriage referendum? All of this debate about equal marriage and about homophobia in the media proves that there are plenty of people against equal marriage. This demonstrates exactly why people need to vote at the referendum encouraging more people to vote. These obvious ‘no votes’ may therefore help equal marriage to pass. We know now that people will vote both ways and so we need to vote to help the referendum reflect the view of the majority of the Irish people and not the minority.

It seems homophobia is not about to leave Ireland. Homophobia may exist in smaller and smaller doses for years to come. At the moment, RTÉ seems to have its hands tied and is allowing “balanced” debate so that they won’t be sued. Therefore homophobia may be allowed to circulate in the Irish media but it doesn’t mean that it is the way of the Irish population. Even with some voices silenced there are still plenty of people who are passionate about LGBTQ+ rights and the BAI won’t stop them from speaking out.