Published date04 March 2023
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
The presentation featured a year of headlines from Gay Community News. "If you look through GCN over the last year," Rice says, "at least once a month there's an account of a horrific homophobic attack."

A number of recent attacks have not just had an impact on the individuals involved, but on the LGBTQ+ community more generally. In 2021, a man pleaded guilty at the Dublin Circuit Court to assault causing harm in a knife attack against a trans woman in Dublin city.

In April 2022, two murders in Sligo sent shock waves through the LGBTQ+ community when Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee were killed, and another man, Anthony Burke, was stabbed in the face. A man in his 20s was arrested and charged with all three offences.

The same month, a gay man, Evan Somers, was attacked and assaulted on Dame Street in Dublin, sustaining multiple fractures to his ankle and eye socket. Somers was enjoying a night out in Ireland's biggest and most well-known LGBTQ+ venue, The George, before the attack.

In May 2022, a lesbian couple were attacked while waiting for a bus in Dublin. In August 2022, Mark Sheehan was also returning home from a night out in The George, when he was verbally abused with homophobic slurs and assaulted.

In November, a Dublin drag queen, Alexis McQueen, was attacked on Dame Street, hit with glass and sustained cuts to their head. Last month, David Babington, a gay man celebrating a friend's birthday in Cork city, was attacked and assaulted by another man shouting homophobic abuse.

On one level, these attacks feel at odds with a more inclusive tendency in Irish life. Ireland has one of the most progressive legislative contexts for LGBTQ+ rights in the world, and the evolution has been rapid.

For most of the 20th century, Irish society was a cold place for anyone who was different. Social norms, honed by the Catholic Church, demanded a strong adherence to "traditional" morality. Same-sex activity between men was decriminalised only in 1993, following a long legal campaign fought by Senator David Norris.

In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to pass marriage equality by popular vote. It was carried by 62 per cent of the voting electorate, and the national conversation the marriage equality movement provoked also did a lot to neutralise societal homophobia.

That same year, following a 20-year battle by Dr Lydia Foy to have her gender recognised, the Gender Recognition Act was signed into law, allowing people to change their gender on government documents. Simultaneously, the visibility of LGBTQ+ people in Irish society has grown across politics, media, sport and the arts.

Welcoming attitudes

The progressive, welcoming attitudes of the majority of Irish people have not changed in recent years. But fundamental to the optimism after the 2015 marriage equality referendum was a newfound sense of safety. As the eighth anniversary of the referendum approaches, a number of factors - not least violent attacks - have contributed to a growing unease in the community around safety and hate speech. "Before I would have held my husband's hand walking around the streets," says Rice. "But now I wouldn't, or I'd look over my shoulder ... There's definitely been a change in the mood ... I'm part of an LGBT running club and we even had a chat last night about how we need to look out for each other and care for each other's safety when we're out and about ... We can't have that person walk alone."

Why is this happening? Since 2015, a global pattern has emerged in which long-fought-for LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms are being targeted. "Strongman" leaders in many countries have targeted the LGBTQ+ community with draconian legislation.

In Hungary, a law was passed making it illegal to provide information about LGBTQ+ issues to under-18s. In Russia, a similar law was passed banning...

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