Not very surprisingly, as the debate on the 22 May marriage equality referendum rages on, and messages compete, many of them totally disingenuous (such as the NO campaign highlighting the role of mothers and thus essentialising women’s caring and nurturing gender roles as if men cannot be caring and nurturing), one voice has been left out: LGBTQ people of colour and people from the migrant communities are not represented or visibly included in the YES campaign. It is as though they don’t exist, reflecting not merely the exclusion and discrimination of LGBT people in Irish society, but also of LGBT minorities in mainstream queer culture. However, this referendum is crucial to the migrant justice movement.
As Luke Bhuka, founder member of the Anti Racism Network Ireland (ARN), a group committed to supporting the YES vote, says: ‘The debate to date, and in particular the YES campaign, has been totally white and single-issued at the expense of a full representation of queerness in Ireland, which includes gay and lesbian migrants and refugees’.
ARN has recently staged a multicultural picnic in the Phoenix Park to broadcast its firm support for a YES vote because the YES campaign has completely ignored the existence of gay migrants, reinforcing Irishness as white supremacy. Moreover, as Bhuka reminds us, the campaign has not mentioned gay asylum seekers who seek refugee status in Ireland because of their sexual orientation. Many are still living in the Direct Provision system, where, together with straight migrants, they have been living for years in the shadow of deportation orders in what even the Department of Justice admits are ‘inhumane conditions’, though without committing to closing the system and allowing over four thousand asylum seekers, many of them children, and some of them gay, the right to reside and work legally in Ireland.
According to Bhuka, ‘members of ARN believe that supporting the Yes vote will push the agenda of the most regressive and intolerant elements of Irish society and government that has brought us Direct Provision, the 8th Amendment, the X case, the Y case, the discrimination experienced by Travellers and migrants in Irish schools, and the harassment of the Roma community. Taking a firm YES position in the marriage equality campaign and working alongside many other groups campaigning for a Yes vote, allows us to share our views on what we believe real equality means’.
Anti racism activists believe that the referendum is not really about marriage, children, surrogacy, or the role of mothers and fathers, but rather about equality. Luke Bhuka again: ‘This is an opportunity for activists to engage in much-needed solidarity building across queer, anti-racist and migrant movements in Ireland. It is believed that there are more than 30,000 young people registered to vote for the first time and hundreds if not thousands of them are out campaigning for a YES vote and knocking on doors campaigning for the very first time in their lives. We believe that this is an important opportunity for us: our anti-racism networking and our campaign for dismantling Direct Provision and stopping deportations can reach broader publics in times like these; our campaign is not a single-issue campaign and our definition of equality includes all other issues such as sexual orientation. This referendum must be won!’