Growing up in Ireland we didn’t have to worry about evil legislation like Section 28 marring the lives of young LGBT people. You see, right up until 1993 even being gay in Ireland was still technically illegal and teachers in schools could no more support being gay than they could any other illegal activity. The eventual decriminalisation of homosexuality came far too later for us, and it can be traced back directly to one man: Senator David Norris.
I knew of Norris long before I knew I was gay; he was instantly someone you knew deserved your respect. He’s a slightly camp and hugely intelligent man, who would often be asked on to Irish TV shows to talk on or about all manner of things. Not only this, but he wasn’t afraid to send himself up on unheard-of cult TV programmes in a way unlike any other politician; think of him like the Irish Stephen Fry. Norris has been an independent elected member of the Irish Parliament’s upper house, the Seanad, since 1987, and when he first took his seat he was Ireland’s first out elected official.
By that time he had already achieved notoriety by bringing a case against the Attorney General of Ireland stating that the criminalisation of homosexuality impinged on his right to privacy, as enshrined in the Irish Constitution. Unfortunately, in 1983 the Irish Supreme Court held that the law was consititutional, but Norris was undeterred and took his fight to the European Court of Human Rights. It took a further five years for the ECHR to rule in favour of him, and then until 1993 for Ireland to actually repeal the legislation.
It’s hard to think that Ireland has yet to celebrate 20 years of decriminalisation, but we have come so far since then – and in a very short time. Last July President Mary McAleese signed the Civil Partnership Act, and in January this year the law finally came into effect. This is in addition to workplace LGBT discrimination being banned, the introduction of adoption by LGBT individuals, and even our national sport, hurling, having at a national level an out gay player in Donal Óg. As with anywhere there is still more to be done, but without Senator David Norris who knows just how much longer it would have taken.
Since winning his case, Norris has worked tirelessly in the Irish Parliament on LGBT rights and wider human rights. His brief within the Seanad covers not just foreign affairs but health, road safety, the economy and more. So it was no great surprise that in 2010 he announced his intention to stand for President at the next election in October this year. In an increasingly turbulent political environment, being an independent he actually stands a very good chance of winning.
It’s hard to believe that in such a short time Ireland could go from lagging so far behind in LGBT rights to having an openly gay President. It’s for this reason that Senator David Norris is my LGBT hero.