Son of running legend Eamon Coghlan on marriage referendum: 'I hope we'll have a future with less hate, less cover-up, more freedom'
Two physical attacks, years of bullying about his sexuality, and a feeling that he didn't fit in made Michael Coghlan's mind up for him - he wanted to leave Ireland.
The son of former world champion athlete and current Fine Gael Senator Eamonn Coghlan now lives in Los Angeles, and he is urging everyone to vote 'Yes' in the same-sex marriage referendum on May 22.
Last March Eamonn touched the hearts of parents all over the country when spoke at a party meeting about Michael being a gay man, giving an honest account of how he struggled with his own thoughts and fears for his second-youngest child's future.
It was his way of addressing the debate on the referendum, his way of letting the country know why he would be voting yes, and his way of showing support for his son.
Across the Atlantic the ripples from that small Fine Gael meeting, held in Portlaoise, were also being felt.
Michael is 28 today, and now it's his turn to speak about his life, love, and how comedian Brendan O'Carroll took him under his wing during a time of confusion and told him everything was going to be okay.
"I didn't fit in in Dublin, and I knew this from early enough in my teens, but I didn't really know why because I wasn't sure of myself and who I was," he says.
"I was getting teased at school for being different, but my parents had always encouraged me to be an individual and express myself in my own way, and I didn't want to be a chameleon trying to blend in.
"I always knew there was a bigger world outside Ireland. Through holidays abroad I got to see there were places where I felt more comfortable - where attitudes were different."
Like any young man growing up, school left a massive imprint. For Michael it would be no different.
"When I was at school in Dublin I was picked on and felt vulnerable," he explained. "There was a pressure to be one of the lads. It was difficult, but I don't want to paint myself as a victim either."
But if every cloud has a silver lining, that silver lining for Michael came in 4th Year.
"It was Transition Year, and I was 16 or 17 and really starting to question myself, when an amazing opportunity came my way," he explains
"I got work experience with Brendan O'Carroll and all of his crew, and I got to travel to the UK with them. It was just brilliant to see so many people in that theatrical world being able to express themselves so freely.
"I remember thinking 'this is a comfortable place to be' and just feeling at home with them all.
"Then Brendan's daughter brought me out one night and there were drag queens on stilts and everything, and I thought 'these people are living'," he says.
"Brendan took me under his wing. That was a turning point. I started identifying more people like me. I felt comfortable for the first time.
"Brendan was the first to give me a platform. There were three gay actors in his group. I went over to the UK confused, but when I came back I wasn't confused about my sexuality anymore," he adds.
"It was Brendan said to me 'go home now and keep your head down for your Leaving Cert, and then the world is yours, you can do what you want and be who you want'."
When Michael came home there were two particular violent incidents that helped him make up his mind that he was going to emigrate.
"A bouncer on a pub door refused to let me in one night and he wouldn't tell me why. I'm pretty persistent and I knew my rights.
"I was well-dressed and a I wasn't drunk, so I kept asking why he wasn't letting me in. In the end he just said 'because you're a f***ing faggot' and boxed me in the head," Michael says.
The other incident involved a taxi driver who also physically assaulted him.
"I went through 5th and 6th year and it was during the mocks for the Leaving Cert that I was kind of forced into a situation where I had to tell my parents I was gay," he explains.
"I had already come out to some close girlfriends, but then my mother found a receipt from The George in my pocket and I think she was worried about me, and asked me about it. That's when I told her," he says.
"My mother and sister told me they were shocked by the news, but I had spent ages helping my sister pick out her outfits for nights out, and I was like 'how could you not know?'," he says, laughing.
"Dad says somebody else told him that they had seen me on a night out, or that he had an inkling for some time."
Michael has been living as an actor in LA for more than three years, and says it was his wish to live somewhere where he would not be judged that made him choose the city as his home.
"The weather helps as well," he smiles.
Michael says that once his father spoke about why he was urging people to vote Yes the reaction was extraordinary.
"There were people getting in touch with me who would have been part of the problem in school, and they were apologising for their actions saying it was youthful immaturity and they were now wishing me well. It was great. Ireland is changing and growing," he says.
"I was back in Dublin in September and I could sense the change in the air.
"The more people talk about this referendum the better. It's all evolution.
"I hope that in years to come people will wonder why they had to vote on same sex marriage at all, that it will be so normal people won't bat an eyelid," he explains.
"I'm excited about the younger generation, and I hope we can achieve a future where there is less hate, less cover-up, and more freedom."
Although he lives in LA, the referendum in Ireland will mean a lot to Michael, he says.
"A 'Yes' vote would be the icing on the cake.
"I'd like getting married in Ireland to be an option for me, to be able to plan a wedding there if I wanted to."
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