Tuesday, 10 October 2017

We're QUEER and we're HERE (to stay)...Part 3

Part 3 of 3 (Part 1 is here & Part 2 is here)

The YES campaign. 


To learn more about the amazing journey read this book - Ireland Says Yes - and even see a picture of me in it somewhere.

Around the country following the Noble Call, many groups were setting up (or re-energising existing groups) to fight. 

This was the only fight that mattered...
There was a sense of dread, anticipation and hope... 
But many had one thought in common... 
Let’s do this once, it might nearly kill us but let’s do it once... 
Get it right and WIN the first time... 
Lay it all out on the battle field... 
I could not have lived with myself if I didn’t do everything in my power to win this fight... 
The lives of all my LGBT friends and future LGBT people in Ireland were at stake... 
If we lost, there would be devastation...
It would precipitate a mass exodus of LGBT people...
It would send a message that Ireland didn’t care...
It would send a message that LGBT were NOT equal...
It would embolden bullies and homophobes to continue their actions...
No, too much was at stake and we couldn’t lose this time.

Looking back, I never thought of myself.  I never thought I would meet someone and get married, I was fighting for that fundamental, inviolable, inalienable right of Equality.  See at the end of my blog how ironic this was.

In Wexford we were a little slow to get going.  This, I’m sure is partly due to the work EAGLE had done about a decade before.  Outside of Dublin, Wexford had a huge LGBT population and it was a favourite place for LGBT people to visit.  As we know there has always been an acceptance of LGBT on stage so boosted by our popular Opera & Light Opera festival this provided a backdrop for LGBT people to gather outside of Dublin.

Everything kicked off in earnest on 29th March 2015 in the Riverbank Hotel in Wexford.  Patrick Morris, a native of Crossabeg working in Dublin set the ball rolling with a volunteer information evening.  He created and managed the social media channels for Wexford. He gathered support from all corners including political parties and the church.  There was a huge, positive response and things quickly gathered pace.  I had saved my energy and came on board at this stage knowing that there would be a 2 month marathon and lasting until 10pm on 22nd May was so important.  I’m not going to go into the whole campaign but there were a few moments that cannot go unmentioned...

·       The NO side on a regular basis threw out propaganda, lies and red herrings.  Our response, headed up by a fantastic team was factual and was always positive.  Our campaign from the outset was one of positivity and love.  I was so proud to be a part of the campaign.  A brilliant moment was touring Hook Lighthouse with the team, including Wexford man Colm O’Gorman looking out to the sea for red herrings.

·       Blocking traffic with the YES Equality bus on Castle Hill in Enniscorthy was funny.  We wanted the bus under the castle for the photo opportunity.  We ended up pushing a car up the hill as the driver couldn’t perform a handbrake start.  It could have turned into a bit of negative press but we didn’t let it.  Badges to all the people stuck in traffic and a smile soothed the massing crowd.  After the official photo op the amount of people who stopped to get their picture by the castle was crazy.

·       The turnout was amazing, the canvassing fun although harrowing.  It was the first time that straight people had a tiny window into the world of hate and discrimination LGBT people experienced.  It was really important to have a debriefing every evening after the canvas.  I always made sure to talk to newcomers, to thank them for their help and support.  It was very emotional. 


Taken in May 2015 at the Bullring, Wexford Town



Taken at Siptu offices in Coolcotts, Wexford


·       Myself and Shauna Scott knocked on every door in Castlebridge and spoke with people, we didn’t just put flyers in doors and run like our opponents were doing.  It was really important for me that my neighbours would see me & speak with me.  The personal touch was an important part of the whole campaign.

·       Social media was amazing and played a huge role in the campaign, for the first time energising young people to vote.  Remember the whole home to vote campaign.

·       The ballot box in Senator Jim Walsh’s village recorded one of the highest YES votes in Wexford.  I have the tally slip from that ballot box framed.  Vindication at last!


My favourite moment was this photo, myself and my dad just after 7am when we had voted on 22nd May.  We couldn't wear our badges inside the polling station but once outside we could. (Harvey Milk day, not by accident)

Proud father & son after voting in the Equality Referendum in May 2015

My favourite story also involves my dad.  Martin Ryan, now 73 is a man of strong faith and goes to mass every week.  I found out he told my mam “if the no side wins I will never go to church again”.  I still get a lump in my throat when I think about this.

But now to the best part of my story.  Remember I previously mentioned Conor Vaughan Buggy.  Well Conor was an amazing activist and campaigner in Dublin during the campaign.  He also has an OCD for organising and timetabling.  He had organised our day during Pride, where we were meeting, walking, eating and drinking.  What busses to take.  Everything.  The whole kit n’ kaboodle.

27th June 2015 my life changed.  I had finished my journey and fight for equality.  During the campaign I had learned to speak about myself and came to respect myself.  The campaign made me a stronger, better person.  And then I kid you not, over a crowded bar I saw someone with his shirt hanging open flying across the floor like a little hairy superman.  I thought to myself “I need to meet him and get his number”.  Ten minutes later after a snog, exchange of number and jumping onto the last bus on the quay Conor said something along the line “What the f$ck John!”

We were a steady item within weeks.  After about the 3rd date my mother asked me had I met someone.  My answer was yes and you will get to meet him soon.  Within another couple of weeks we had met each other’s parents and by November 2015, Noel had left his job in Cork and moved to Wexford.

And finally.  3rd November 2017.  I married Noel Cunningham.  We became John Cunningham-Ryan and Noel Cunningham-Ryan.  My best man was Val Scallan Walsh, far right of photo below who started the journey with me back in 2005.

Taken on 3rd November 2016, John Cunningham-Ryan & Noel Cunningham-Ryan

(left-right. Best man Adrian Lemon, Noel Cunningham-Ryan, John Cunningham-Ryan & Best man Val Scallan-Walsh

Fini.

John "The Captain" Ryan


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