The week of a college referendum on whether or not the Students’ Union should support gay marriage has seen hundreds of NUI Galway students take a stand against anti-LGBTQ bigotry and fear-mongering. Last Wednesday, hundreds of students crowded around an anti-gay marriage stall set up on the main campus canteen, standing there for hours and showing the homophobic campaigners behind the display that they weren’t welcome in the college.
The stall was run by the Burke family of Castlebar, members of a small Protestant sect based in Mayo. They’ve gained notoriety over the years by campaigning outside the Dáil with placards quoting anti-gay verses from the Bible and stating that AIDS was a curse from God onto homosexuals. During the Presidential elections in 2011, they were behind a website that pleaded with the Irish people not to vote for David Norris and elect a gay President. This week, these fundamentalist reactionary bigots were handing out leaflets on the NUIG main campus stating that gay marriage is on the same level as child-rape, and the students should vote no in the referendum and oppose gay marriage. As well as this, one of the older Burkes, Enoch, ran in the SU elections this week for the position of Equality Officer, on a platform of opposing gay rights and abortion.
But this spreading of vile hatred did not go unnoticed by the college’s students. Within an hour, a small protest had developed around the table with students denouncing the Burkes as ‘fascist scum’. Over the next hour, the protest swelled to engulf half the canteen area. Over 300 students crowded around the Burkes’ stall for a sit down protest, holding placards denouncing their attempt at disseminating prejudice.
The referendum itself today saw well over 2,000 students vote, with 95% voting Yes to the Students’ Union supporting marriage equality. Enoch Burke’s laughable campaign for Equality Officer was crushed, receiving 113 votes with 2090 going to his pro-gay marriage opponent.
The establishment, the government and the media, have refused to take on homophobia. Often they are even too scared to use the very word. We’ve seen from the likes of RTÉ and their dealings with the Iona Institute that the current power structures are helpless and all to ready to bow down to the Catholic-right and their dirty money. But while the authority figures of the day may be fine holding hands with the country’s most reactionary scum, ordinary people, students and workers, have shown that this kind of thinly-veiled discrimination has no place within a truly equal society. As is always the case, progress is coming from the masses, not those at the very top.