Brian Finnegan: Gay bashing on Brendan reminds us streets aren't safe
One of the statements Brendan Courtney made after being gay-bashed on South Great George's Street last weekend rang out loud and clear to me. "I have lived in Dublin city for a long time and I'd be very careful," he said. "But how do you prepare for someone running up to you out of nowhere and hitting you straight in the face?"
Courtney is an Irish celebrity who has never cared about being perceived as gay in the public eye.
He was out and proud from the moment he hit our screens, and has grown to be one of RTE's most popular presenters. As such, he might be seen as a symbol of how far this country has moved in its attitude to homosexuality.
Nowadays, nobody in Ireland, except the extremely right wing, seems to be really bothered if someone is gay or not. Add to this the introduction last month of civil partnership legislation, which will see same-sex unions recognised under law, giving them most of the rights that married heterosexual couples take for granted, and you've got one of the more progressive countries in the world when it comes to gay rights.
Yet Brendan Courtney, a gay man, lives in our capital city and has to be "very careful".
He's not alone. I've already been invited to four civil partnership ceremonies this year, but I would venture that none of those couples would feel safe holding hands on the streets of Dublin, or anywhere else in Ireland for that matter.
My partner and I don't even display affection in public places such as straight pubs and restaurants.
We're uncomfortable because we don't know who will be looking and what verbal or physical violence it might lead to. So what lies in the gap between a country that seems to accept homosexuality and gay people being so vulnerable to attack?
Often, spates of violence against gays, particularly around South Great George's street (which is home to the city's two biggest gay bars), come in peaks and troughs.
It may depend on the particular gang of youths that's hanging out in town at any one time, or the latest anti-gay vitriol from the Vatican, which always spurs on a few assaults by giving homophobes permission to hate.
But one thing lies at the foundation of every attack: ignorance.
The same kind of ignorance that spurs on racist attacks.
The only way to counteract ignorance is through education, but the Irish school system, largely Catholic run, is slow to introduce messages about normality into the curriculum. In the secular UK, children are educated about gay people in just about every subject, from maths to geography. The aim is that they will grow up thinking gay people are every day human beings, just like themselves.
In Ireland, under a shameful exemption to our equality legislation, Catholic-run schools have the right to fire teachers for being gay. This measure filters down from the school hierarchy to tacitly endorse a playground culture where gay kids are beaten up and verbally abused every day.
Civil partnerships will improve the lives of gay and lesbian people, but until our schools start to educate about understanding and acceptance of sexual minorities from day one, there will always be a threat to gay people on our streets.