Homosexuality is a family matter – (Sunday Independent)

In the print edition, a graphic accompanies the article below and it shows two pie charts, with the following text.

Would you be concerned if you had a child who was gay?
Not concerned: 53%
Concerned: 37%
Don’t know: 10%

Would you be concerned if you had a brother or sister who was gay?
Not concerned: 56%
Concerned: 35%
Don’t know: 9%]

Sunday Independent, 10 February 2008

Homosexuality is a family matter

How would you feel if a close relative invited you to their same-sex wedding, asks Donal Lynch

By Donal Lynch

Most polls that have asked about gay issues in Ireland in the last five years reveal ever-growing levels of acceptance of gay people. It has been variously shown that people overwhelmingly don’t have a problem with homosexuality, are in favour of gay marriage and wouldn’t care if a member of their favourite boy band turned out to be homosexual.

But this is all in the abstract, involving other people. When you ask people what their attitudes would be if someone in their own family turned out to be gay, people are far less positive.

Over a third of people surveyed in the Sunday Independent’

s Millward Brown IMS poll said that they would be ‘concerned’ if their child or sibling turned out to be gay. Now there’s a number of ways of interpreting that word “concern”. The first would be to read it as being synonymous with “worry”.

This is perhaps understandable. Most parents would wish the easiest lives possible for their kids. Anything that they think is going to get in the way of their progeny’s success, love, happiness or their ability to fit in, is of course going to make them fret a bit.

The memory of our former age of bigotry is still strong. Anyone old enough to have adult children who grew up in Ireland during an era when homosexuality was illegal, when gay men could be beaten up with impunity on the street and when Supreme Court judges were still speaking of “unnatural acts”.

The poll bears this out, showing that people in their fiftieSeand sixties are more likely to be “concerned”. But even much younger people would have some cause for concern, as parents.

Anyone my age or older can clearly remember the HIV hysteria of the 1990s. Even today the word “gay” is the slur word of choice in most playgroundSeand gay people still do not have full equal rights under the law. Whatever else you can say about being gay it’s certainly not easier than being straight. So perhaps the families are right to be fearful.

But there is, I would suggest, another dimension to the “concern” that is shown towards gay children or siblings. Having an embodiment of an issue up close and personal forces people who consider themselves middle clasSeand impeccably liberal to confront their own prejudiceSeand discomfort.

The most vehement discrimination that most young gay people will ever encounter will be within their own families.

You might think that gay marriage, as a sort of general concept, can’t do any harm but how would you feel about attending your own son’s wedding to another man? You might not care that your sister is in a relationship with another women but will you feel comfortable explaining that to your own children?

If you felt your child was the victim of homophobic abuse at school, would you feel confident enough to support them? Issues like these are so much easier to feel smugly right-on about when they involve characters in a television programme.

Bearing out this interpretation, is the finding that we are concerned about siblings as about children being gay (35 per cent).

In general, siblings do not fret about each other’s well being to the same extent that their parents worry about them.

So it’s a fairly safe bet to say that what they mean by these responses is not that they are fretting that a gay brother or sister might end up unhappy. It’s “concerned” as in “disturbed” or “made uneasy”.

The poll breaks down responses by background, age and geographical area, but it is also interesting to see them broken down by gender.

Women are in general more comfortable with the idea of someone being gay than men.

Most gay people would feel far more comfortable coming out to their mother or sister than to their father or brother. And where there iSean issue, it is the female members of the family who are usually the ones to broker a truce.

Overall though, I take this poll as a hopeful sign. Over half of all respondents in the Millward Brown IMS survey said that they would have no concern with their child or sibling being gay.

Just ten years ago the pie chart showing these response would have looked very different.

But there is a way to go before the polls show that parents will give the same benefit of the doubt to their own offspring that they give to other people’s kidSeand remember that tolerance begins at home.

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Cathal Kelly

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