A 15-year-old Transition Year student from Drogheda spoke of how he reimagined the world as a place where he could walk down the street and be who he was without the fear of experiencing a homophobic attack.
Ruairi Holohan spoke to An Taoiseach Micheal Martin on Friday, as part of World Children’s Day. Ruairi was UNICEF’S #KidsTakeOver 2020 competition winner and won the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with the Taoiseach on Friday morning.
During the wide ranging conversation, Ruairi recounted some of his experiences of homophobia and they also discussed what can be done to increase respect for LGBTQ+ youth throughout Ireland.
“My reimagined world is a place where I could walk down the street being the person I am when I’m with my friends, in school, or performing – when I’m happy,” he told the Taoiseach.
“I could be myself, and every day would be Pride – there wouldn’t need to be a Pride parade. There would be no need to ‘come out’, because you would just be yourself. My sexual orientation may be different to others, but that doesn’t make me different to other people. I don’t want any young person to be the target of hate or disrespect, or to fear being attacked verbally or physically.”
World Children’s Day is a day of action for children, by children, and this year’s focus is on how to reimagine a better future. Ruairi was the overall winner of the #KidsTakeOver competition, while two other young people had the chance to speak with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.
The Taoiseach told Ruairí, who was speaking from UNICEF’s Dublin offices, “What you are doing now is very important. You may not even realise it. Through life, we all change things, we have opportunities to do the right thing. You are doing the right thing. You stood up, you are affirming issues, you are raising them.
“That is so important for your peers. When you look back, you will have changed attitudes. We all can be agents of change in our lives and in our behaviour.”
“The most important thing in life is education and learning. Where I think we can do better into the future in Ireland is in improving the quality of early childhood development. We learn more from the age of 0-3 than at any other time in our lives. Our brains are like sponges and attitudes form.
Mr Martin continued: “At the earliest years you can inculcate the values we cherish, of tolerance, of diversity, of difference. That’s what I would love to see us do at the UN and at the European Union.”
Among the topics discussed during Friday’s video conference, was LGBTQ+ relationships in schools.
Ruairi came out at aged 13 and has experienced homophobia in various guises and locations throughout the last three years. In an interview with RTE (see below), he described how he had been called “a queer, a gay, a fairy and the ‘f’ slur.”
“There are people who are afraid to walk down the street, get on a bus, or express themselves. I know personally that it’s hard to feel so free and be yourself without a group of lads being really disrespectful and saying derogatory slurs,” Ruairi said.
He recalled one example in second year in school where a video of him kissing another boy was circulated around students at the other schools in Drogheda. “I just felt so vulnerable and so scared. I didn’t want to be myself.
“We as a society need to learn more. And it’s quite difficult to learn from the home. So, why don’t we speak more about it in a classroom from a teacher you trust?”
Ahead of the call with the Taoiseach on Friday morning, Ruairi spoke to another former UNICEF #KidsTakeOver initiative winner Joella Dhlamini, who gave him some words of advice.
Then 16-year-old Joella is also from Drogheda and she shadowed then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for the day to mark the 2017 edition of World Children’s Day.
Joella is originally from Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa but moved to Ireland in 2013 to escape violent crime, and to benefit from Ireland’s education system. Among the issues she raised with Mr Varadkar was racism.