Thursday 27 October 2016

Anna Nolan: Ursula Halligan's story is one of sadness... but your vote can turn it into one of hope

Ursula Halligan
Ursula Halligan

My sister and I were talking on Sunday. We were glugging some wine in my brother's house and she said to me: "This referendum has become so sad." She said that since the campaign had begun she couldn't believe the number of stories she had heard of people who were too afraid, too old, too married or too homophobic to come out.

I had never thought about it like this. But then, when I heard TV3 reporter Ursula Halligan talking to Anton Savage, I knew what she meant.

Ursula spoke about falling in love at 17, with a girl. This didn't result in a conversation with a family member or friend. It didn't evolve into her opening up about her sexuality and having relationships in her 20s. It resulted in her hating herself, closing down that side of her being and living a life without love, the in-love type of love. That is sad.

But Ursula is not alone. There must be thousands of people up and down the country who married, became nuns and priests or remained single, because they weren't happy to accept who they truly were.

What made Ursula disconnect from who she truly is was how homosexuality was viewed in this country. She heard the name-calling, she knew how her fellow Catholics in the church spoke about gays and lesbians. Now, at the tender age of 54, after years of denial, Ursula has come out.

That is so sad, because this good Catholic girl listened to the church and listened to society in the 70s and 80s. She never listened to her heart, the heart of a 17-year-old girl who fell in love with another girl.

My story is slightly different. I was part of the Catholic church, but I left when I was 21, never to return again. I left this nation when I was 22, to explore who I really was. I needed to leave all that this country stood for so I could accept myself.

I told my family before I left and every single one of them was supportive. Just like Ursula told her family and they too were supportive.

In my time away I learned that my feelings and the love that I felt for another woman was equal to those of my straight friends. I learned that two men could have long, fulfilling and good relationships and so could two women.

I learned that two women could bring up children and two men could bring up children. These families were equal to heterosexual families.

Now, 22 years after I left these shores, we have a chance to make every single citizen in Ireland equal. Gay people are here to stay and families with gay parents are here to stay. They just need to be protected.

My sister is right. This referendum has brought up so many sad stories of how Irish citizens were ashamed of who they were. There is a cost to so many gays and lesbians - those who stayed silent and those who fought and campaigned over the years.

A 'Yes' vote is for equality and love. A 'No' vote is for inequality and sadness. Please vote 'Yes'.

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