So June is coming to a close and I couldn’t let it go without doing a post about the theme of the month, Pride. But in particular, I wanted to take the photo above (yes, that is me, and yes, technically it’s a selfie) and to tell a story about what pride means to me.

I’m not ashamed to say that when I was younger I struggled quite a lot with certain aspects of who I was. It led me into quite a dark place, which thankfully I managed to fight back from. And I know that people give out about ‘letting the gays parade up and down O’Connell street in their dresses‘ and why does there even need to be “Gay Pride?”. I’m sure those passing by on the side of the road, looking at it coldly, will see it as that, a day of debauchery, but without question Pride helped me a lot on my journey! I’d like to tell that story, because I believe that what happened me is not a unique experience. I’d confidently bet that it happens to a new generation every year, and I’m all for inspiring youth to accept and celebrate their own uniqueness.

I moved to Dublin for college when I was 17 (for the naive among you, that was only 6 years ago) and I spent most of my 4 years there on a journey of self-discovery. I’ve never shied away from the fact that I tired of the mental challenges I faced while I was on that journey and wound up in total denial and fighting depression. As anyone with depression knows, it’s a very challenging time and takes something big to break the downward cycle. For me, that something was when I eventually plucked up the courage to go to my first pride parade. Here’s that story.

June 28th, 2008. It might be weird that I remember it but really what I remember most is how I felt. I was absolutely petrified.

What if someone I knew saw me? Would they tell my family or friends? Would they judge me for being seen there? What if my Boss saw me? Would I be fired? Would I never be promoted? What if someone from work saw me? Would they gossip? They probably don’t sound like rational questions but they were some of the immediate thoughts that went through my head when I’d arrived at O’Connell St. I had agreed to go along with some friends and I remember coming close run back home (imagine a cartoon me leaving a Ciarán shaped hole in the door.)

At first we watched the parade from the sidelines of O’Connell street. The street was a see of  rainbow flags and people from every walk of life stomp down O’Connell St with nothing but delight on their faces. I distinctly remember how those marching paid no heed to the elderly Dublin lady beside me whose hands repeatedly blessed herself every time a man in heels or woman in a suit walked past.  I also remember how, in that moment, she wasn’t just any elderly lady. In my head she was my mother, my father, my grandparents, my sisters, my brother and everyone who didn’t yet know. I imagined that her reaction was what lay ahead for me.

After 20 minutes of happily watching from the sidelines my friends turned to me and suggested we join the parade.  Thankfully (I can say that now) before I could even consider saying no, they grabbed my hands and pulled me into the parade. In that moment I felt that every single eye was on me.

I remember nervously scuffling into the middle of the road, thinking that the people watching the parade would find it more difficult to spot me if I was hidden by the crowd. Once there, I marched. I slowly took in the sights and sounds of the parade through my sunglasses, which I threw on in haste to further hide myself. All the while scanning the sides of the road watching out for anyone I knew. This definitely wasn’t pride for me. This was fear.

In recent years the parade route has changed but back then it started out at Parnell St, and marched down O’Connell street, along Dame street and up towards the Civic Gardens at Dublin City Council offices. It was nearing the end of the parade on June 28th 2008 that my journey to acceptance and pride started.  While walking passed City Hall on Dame St, I remember that I managed to pull my eyes away from the side of the road and look back on the parade behind me. Next time you’re walking down Dame street, stop and look at the road just outside City Hall. You might notice that there is a slight incline in the road. From the top of the incline I had a clear view all the way down Dame Street and onto College Green. It was spectacular.

Having been standing watching the parade for quite some time, I had convinced myself that we were marching near the back of the parade. What I saw in that moment made it very clear that I was wrong. Behind me the sea of people, floats and flags continued all down Dame Street. It went back so far down that it twisted around the corner at College Green hiding the end. Thousands of people marched behind me, and thousands of people had marched before me.

Before that moment I’d spent my time loooking only at those watching, but in that moment, for the first time, I saw the people marching around me. I saw young and old, embrace who they were and not hide it. I saw people who danced and sang with delight, celebrating anything and everything that made them unique. Gay, Straight, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender…. ginger and depressed…. whatever! It didn’t matter and that was unbelievably empowering. I stood there looking back over the crowd and let the energy wash over me. I remember feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I remember feeling like I had nothing to be ashamed of, and if someone had a problem with me then it was their problem not me. I remember feeling…. happy… for the first time in a long time.

It’s funny for me to look back on this almost 10 years later. It is without doubt a turning point for me in not caring about what others might think, and embracing my uniqueness. This has followed me through the rest of my years. And yes, while Pride is traditionally a celebration of LGBTQ, it should no longer be just that. The message of acceptance and love should resonate with everyone and it be should be a celebration of uniqueness. The rainbow flag represents all of us; me, you….. Even The Pope and Donald Trump.

So I would ask you all to not look at the parade as ‘the gays walking down O’Connell St in dresses‘ but instead as a celebration and acceptance of everything that makes us unique. This year more than ever it’s clear that there are people in the world who run in fear of this message. They cause hurt because they do not understand it and they want to destroy what it has built. For these reasons it’s more important than ever to march. Embrace who you are. Show your true colours.

I will be there on Saturday, I’m happy to meet anyone else who’s in town. Please let me know theough insta or twitter (@maguirc5 on both)

Happy Pride Dublin.

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