In 1993 the then-Minister for Justice, Maire Geoghegan Quinn, fast-tracked legalisation decriminalising homosexuality through the Dáil, after the mother of a gay man asked the minister how she would feel if her own son was gay and criminalised.
The love of a parent is often the difference between a young gay person making it or not. We sometimes underestimate the desire of a child to meet the expectations of their parents, but often we don’t think about the parent needing to meet the expectations of their kids. Some parents make a very conscious decision to make sure they are what they need to be, to parent their children well.
In my line of work, I never thought I would ever have needed to know anything about the support of parents for their children. I was working to support gay people.
One of my very first consultations as a support worker for gay and lesbian people was from a straight man. He was a father of not one but two gay children: he wanted, needed, to know how he could best support his kids. He had a lot of questions he needed answering, ranging from “Why me?” and “What was my role in their turning out to be gay?” to “What can I do? What do they need?” Big ask from someone who had never had such a conversation with her own parents.
We just had to put our experiences out there: he asked the questions as a dad, and I answered as a daughter. I realised then, and many times since, that in order to do some parts of this job you didn’t need a lot of expertise: it’s about sharing of experiences, being honest and open to hear, and trying to UNDERSTAND.
I am sitting writing this in a week that marks a phenomenon that we do not fully understand, for which we do not have answers. However, what we do know is that it has taken so many gay lives from us. It’s Suicide Prevention Week here in Ireland. I can’t help but think of the many LGBT people who took their own lives because of the lack, or perceived lack, of support from the ones they loved.
I can say in confidence that the love, understanding and acceptance of a parent to let their child spread their rainbow wings and look on with pride at how they fly is the secret to keeping our gay kids safe and helping them grow into the people you know, and they know, they can be.
Peter was a dad who so wanted not only to see his kids meet their potential, but wanted to know how he could support that. He wanted to make sure his children had a positive, safe and equal shot at whatever they wanted to achieve. But more than that, in a time when it was not cool to do so, he wanted other parents to support and talk about their gay kids and to celebrate the gift they had been given.
Now, with the untimely passing of Edel to breast cancer, it is so obvious the gift she was to us all.
I tried to think of a way to end this letter, and I think the best way to do it is to say that I think Peter’s dream is becoming a reality as more and more parents come to our door wanting the same questions answered.
As more and more young gay people “come out”, I see a change in Ireland. I hope wherever Peter is today, he sees the same, and he sees how his son not only met his potential but far surpassed it. That he sees the road to full equality for LGBT people gets easier to travel.
I have never forgotten Peter’s visit to our centre; it has enhanced my learning as well as, I hope, his.