Tuesday 25 September 2018

'John had just been to three debs in a month... I thought he'd got a girl pregnant'


Labour TD John Lyons recalls the moment he decided to tell his parents he was gay when he was an 18-year-old student.

His mum Josie (67) also clearly remembers how the conversation went.

"He always calls me 'mother', he never calls me 'mam'. He said: 'Mother, I've something to tell you'.

"I said: 'Oh John, you didn't get anyone pregnant?'

"That's exactly what I said, and he said to me 'I'm gay.' I said: 'You're what?'".

Josie admits that the news came as a shock as John was popular with girls - he had just been to three debs within a month.

"Black Tie said to him, keep the suit and just change the waistcoat. Do you remember that?" she asks John laughing, as she sits at the table of his Poppintree home.

The close-knit pair decided to open up about their personal story to the Herald in advance of the same-sex marriage referendum. It's only the second interview that Josie has ever done, but she feels strongly about the issue.

Labour TD John Lyons pictured with his Mother Josie at his Ballymun home yesterday.
Labour TD John Lyons pictured with his Mother Josie at his Ballymun home yesterday.

She admits that it did take her a while to get used to the idea, when John told her initially.

"I think I cried for a week," said Josie.

But she explains it was because she was worried how her beloved son would be treated.

"Would people be talking about him, would they slag him? If he was hurt, I would be hurt," she said.

Josie said that she feels fiercly protective of her seven children.

"I love them all the same," stressed Josie.

That goes to the heart of why Josie is urging people to vote 'Yes' in the upcoming marriage referendum, so that everybody is treated equally.

"I just want John to be happy. The other six are happy. He is my son, and I love him. I was always proud of him," she said.

John (37) has been in a long-term relationship with his teaching partner Darragh for a year-and-a-half now.

He was elected to Dail Eireann on his first attempt in the 2011 general election. Before his life in politics, he worked as a secondary school teacher for 13 years.

John said he knew he was gay when he was around 14. He attended Trinity Comprehensive, which was then known as Ballymun Comprehensive.

He said that while there are supports in schools today, back then "you kept it all to yourself".

"There are so many years of my life to a certain extent, if one was to look back on them, where I couldn't be who I was, or who I am," said John.

Like his mum, he also remembers the evening he finally broke his news to his parents. He was a student in Maynooth at the time.

"What I was trying to do was to pick a moment to tell them both at the same time. So I decided, this is going to be the day," John said.

Unfortunately, his dad went up to take a bath and was going onwards to bed, and John could only face saying it once.


"The hardest thing to talk about is yourself. At that stage I would have been much less comfortable talking about myself," he said.

So he ended up telling his mum. His dad John Senior came into his bedroom the next morning.

"Straight away, he says: 'Your ma told me last night.'

"Then he says, 'sure I always knew'. He kind of gave me a kiss on the head and he was great," said John.

He feels passionate about the need for same-sex marriage.

"I get really frustrated when I hear people say 'but we will strengthen civil partnership'. It's still saying, 'look we will give you something more but you just can't have what we have'," John said.

He argues against "boxing" gay and lesbian people off into another category because of their sexuality.

"It's not even that it's the same, it's a lesser legal recognition of what marriage is," John said.

"When you grow up not feeling the same, when you grow up in a society where sometimes you are airbrushed out from the beginning, whether it be the first books you read in primary school - Ann and Barry in my case.

"There was never just an Ann and an Ann, or a Barry and a Barry. So my life was never out there as something that was part of society."

When asked if he could ever see himself getting married, he said, "without a doubt".

"If you were that in love with somebody, why wouldn't you want to? Whether you are gay or straight that comes into your head. You imagine the situation in your head, you dream it, you see it," he said.

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