McManus be­comes Wick­low’s first openly gay coun­cil­lor

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - NEWS - By MARY FOG­A­RTY

THIS ‘LIT­TLE BIT OF LO­CAL HIS­TORY’ DOES NOT BE­LONG TO ME. IT IS MY PRIV­I­LEGE TO REP­RE­SENT OUR MOVE­MENT, BUT IT BE­LONGS TO ALL THOSE WHO DID NOT HAVE IT SO EASY

WHEN Cllr Grace McManus dis­cov­ered that she is the first openly gay coun­cil­lor on Wick­low County Coun­cil, she said she was a bit taken aback by the news. ‘Then the fear kicked in,’ she said.

‘I came out at 16 years old, around six years be­fore mar­riage equal­ity,’ said Cllr McManus. ‘It was a dif­fer­ent time then. I did get abuse, I did get in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments di­rected at me, and it was very dif­fi­cult.

‘It is not easy to let those ex­pe­ri­ences go. In fact, I don’t think I ever will,’ she said. ‘Those ex­pe­ri­ences also taught me em­pa­thy; and the ab­so­lute need for sol­i­dar­ity and action when a group is be­ing op­pressed.’

While she felt some­what fear­ful, that fear didn’t last long for the 29-year-old Sinn Féin coun­cil­lor.

‘In the four years since that fab­u­lous ref­er­en­dum, I think most forms of ho­mo­pho­bia have be­come largely un­ac­cept­able. Sixty-eight per cent of our amaz­ing County Wick­low had my back that day. If any­thing, I think my be­ing gay is an af­ter­thought – if any thought at all – for most peo­ple!’

What has struck Cllr McManus is how many of those who came be­fore her lived their en­tire lives.

‘I’m only in the po­si­tion of be­ing so blasé about be­ing out and on the coun­cil be­cause of all of those who walked the track first – pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives or not. I’m only in this po­si­tion be­cause of all the fam­ily, friends and my party who stood proud with me when it wasn’t so easy to.

‘Just be­cause they couldn’t be out pro­fes­sion­ally doesn’t mean there wasn’t LGBT+ peo­ple on our coun­cil – it means they had to hide to do their work. So re­ally, this “bit of lo­cal his­tory” does not be­long to me. It is my priv­i­lege to rep­re­sent our move­ment, but it be­longs to all those who did not have it so easy.’

There are still sto­ries to be told about be­ing a young gay woman from Bray.

‘I know the stom­ach drop­ping panic that you feel when you first re­alise you are dif­fer­ent. I know the hyper aware­ness that kicks in when you walk down the main street hold­ing hands with a girl for the first time. I know what it’s like to pre­tend to be friends in night­clubs – just in case. I know too what it’s like to be called “sir” by ac­ci­dent in the su­per­mar­ket, or asked “are you a boy or a girl” by lit­tle ones (which is ac­tu­ally very cute).’

When Cllr McManus was fea­tured in a na­tional news­pa­per prior to the elec­tion, some of the com­ments posted on­line were abu­sive.

‘The abuse un­der­neath the piece in­cluded a lot about my ap­pear­ance, and my gen­der. It was dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially to watch those who love me read the com­ments, like my poor mam. It wasn’t the first time ei­ther; dur­ing Re­peal I was pho­tographed cov­er­ing graphic images, and the on­slaught of on­line abuse about me was de­rived only from my per­ceived sex­u­al­ity, and gen­der. I guess they were try­ing to hit me where they thought it would hurt.’

While Cllr McManus ac­knowl­edges and cher­ishes be­ing the first ‘out’ coun­cil­lor in Wick­low, she is also driven to share her ex­pe­ri­ences of grow­ing up gay in Wick­low.

‘I’m driven to show that diversity in pol­i­tics mat­ters in terms of shar­ing sto­ries, in terms of show­ing that women can and do look like me, and that our voices mat­ter. I do this while re­mem­ber­ing those who came be­fore who weren’t so lucky; and those oth­ers right now in Bray and Wick­low who are un­heard and un­rep­re­sented.

‘There are peo­ple, men and women, who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness, liv­ing in di­rect pro­vi­sion, Trav­ellers, new cit­i­zens, and many oth­ers who I would say are also un­der-rep­re­sented in po­lit­i­cal life right now.

‘Priv­i­lege is best when it teaches us some­thing, and that is what this “piece of his­tory” has re­ally given me. Hon­our those who have gone first, and let’s not leave any­one be­hind.’

Cllr Grace McManus.

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