On May 22, 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. There are so many stories to tell about this event.
The date for the voting was announced in January or February. Initial polls showed a 74% approval rating for legalizing same sex marriage. If I remember correctly, these polls were of general public opinion, rather than just those registered to vote. This is because, in Ireland, very few people, especially people my age, are registered to vote. Perhaps it’s a result of the years of colonialism that still impact the culture today, a culture where the government does not serve you and it’s shameful to be involved in government. Perhaps it’s the fact that so many people intend to move to America anyway that they don’t bother to register to vote (Ireland doesn’t have absentee voting). Whatever it is, the fact remained that very few of these approving and tolerant people would actually turn up to vote. It would be a loss of apathy.
The concentrated panic began. Everyone had seen the polls and everyone knew that there would be people who wouldn’t show up just because they were so confident it would pass. There was a huge push to get people registered. Newspapers carried articles reading, ‘whichever way the vote goes, this will be a victory for Democracy,’ because this seemed to be the issue to finally get people involved in the voting process. I knew people who were telling all their friends ‘if you don’t go out and vote, we are no longer friends.’ We went canvassing door to door, hitting the neighborhoods in Galway, like Woodquay and Salthill, spreading information about when was the last day to register and offering up information about the movement.
The Catholic Church was urging people to vote no. Few people my age listened to them. After the scandals at the Vatican and the information still trickling out about the Magdalene Laundries, a lot of people are disillusioned with the Church. The Anglican Church was urging people to vote yes, but it’s only a very small proportion of the population that identifies as that denomination. All the political parties (and yes, even the more conservative ones) were urging people to vote yes. This includes Fine Gael, a conservative party whose sign, in Irish, is shown below. That didn’t seem to sway people much either, given how little most people were involved in politics.
Then started the nastiness with each side tearing down the signs of the other (with, of course, people only accusing the yes vote on this. Thanks, respectability politics). Some people tried to anonymously blackmail people on the yes side into silence.
We continued on, canvassing through the neighborhoods of Galway, getting abused and applauded in turn. One day, as happens often in Galway, it started hailing. And not just a little bit of soft hail. Large hail, blowing with the strong winds that had just picked up, bruising us, exposed outside strangers’ houses. As everyone frantically ducked to try futilely to find cover and to protect the flyers we were handing out, we suddenly glanced up, and saw the double rainbow filling the sky. I decided then and there that whatever the church said, clearly G-d approved of what we were doing.
Despite the college students who remained apathetic and the other students who refused to open the door to us because they thought we were inspectors and the homophobes in their various incarnations, the referendum finally passed, with a 62% yes vote. I was in the middle of the street in Cork City when I heard this, and collapsed without delay right in the middle of the street. Roscommon, one of the most rural and conservative counties in Ireland, was the only county which had voted no (51-49).
These events had taken their toll on everyone, especially those who spent their evenings and emotional energy canvassing, effectively coming out of the closet to total strangers each time, not knowing what the response would be. Bi, pan, and ace people had to continue to lie about their identities in order to be affiliated with the campaign, making equal marriage an easier pill to swallow for the straight population. This caused no small amount of frustration for myself and others who were forced to conceal our true sexualities under the guise of being gay or lesbian. I was just lucky that, however the vote turned out, I could always go home to California where (after a long hard fight which was begun by this same ‘no’ vote) I was sure to be able to marry whomever I loved. My friends in Ireland had a lot more riding on it than I did. Even so, when the news came in that it had passed, I knew what my friends in other parts of the country must be feeling, because I had felt it when Prop. 8 was finally repealed. It means so much to me that they now have the same rights as I do, living in California.
It was a long and intense process and after everyone helped each other through it, about a week later the Irish government quietly passed a law allowing trans people to legally change their gender on their birth certificate. The only thing that had prevented them from doing so before was the fact that same sex marriage was illegal. With marriage equality, trans people could legally change their gender while married without creating an illegal same sex marriage.
Ireland is changing so incredibly quickly, and I’m so thankful I was able to be there at such an important time.
Very, very early on a January morning, all the international students and I took a bus to Lincoln for a day trip. Lincoln itself is a very small town, only known for it’s massive cathedral, which happens to be the third largest in all of the United Kingdom. After learning that the cathedral was built in the twelfth century I was particularly amazed by the incredible size of it, as well as the intricate architecture and stained glass that made up the building. For as large as the cathedral is, the inside is quite modest. The most impressive parts of the cathedral were the stained glass panels that line almost every wall. currently, the Lincoln museum and castle are under renovations and closed to the public, which is where one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta is typically housed. Luckily, I was able to see the original in the cathedral and snapped a few pictures.
After spending some time in the cathedral, I met up with the rest of the international kids who decided not to go inside of the cathedral. We walked down the main street, stopped in a few vintage/second hand stores, and tried to find a pub/bar large enough to fit all 13 of us. The pub we found was called Straight And Narrow and was actually quite cute! There were old books stacked all over the walls and despite the largeness of the bar, it seemed quite cozy. We spent a few hours hanging out and chatting in the bar before making our way back to the cathedral to wait for the bus back to Bradford. More than anything, it was really nice to have a whole day set aside just to bond with all the internationals and get to know each other a little better.
I used to think that when I grew up I would want to live somewhere warm and tropical, near the equator, where it’s sunny all year round and most importantly, the days don’t get shorter in the winter. Given that, I still don’t quite know why I ended up boarding a plane to Finland, in the dead of winter, arriving to days of maybe 5 or 6 hours of sunlight and temperatures which stayed below freezing for a couple of months. But out of all my experiences there, seeing the transformation from winter to spring ended up being one of the most beautiful. I discovered that 20-hour days in May make the 5-hour days in January worth it, and seeing the nature come to life in spring is infinitely more beautiful after such a cold and stark (yet peaceful) winter. Needless to say, I don’t think I want to live anywhere near the equator anymore when I grow up.
I took these photos at the exact same spot in Nuuksio National Park, Espoo, Finland, on January 31 and May 19, 2015, and they represent to me the incredible change in seasons I saw take place over those 4 months. The photos were postprocessed and combined in Photoshop.
It was spring break. After spending two and a half months in Galway, Ireland, I set off to Berlin. I spent four days in the city before I stopped and looked more closely at the metallic stones I glanced dotting the street as I rushed to and from the tourist spots. I was stunned as I read the stones, realizing that all over the city small memorials dotted the streets, markers of those taken from their homes in the Holocaust. I immediately snapped a picture, and found myself taking dozens more as I took the time to stop and read everyone I stumbled across. The memorials were incredibly moving, and taking the moment to stop, to witness the significance of such a seemingly small thing, a cobble stone in the street, gave me an entire new way of seeing the city. As I appreciated the incredible city that Berlin had become since WWII, walking over the stones was a constant reminder of the past, a subtle nudge, almost subconscious, that pushed me to think, “never forget, never again.” It was a moral statement that for those who stopped to look at the stones and understood what they walked across, was a constant reminder of how the city should be, and the moral values it must always uphold.
When I returned to Ireland, I found myself noticing and pursuing information on small statues and monuments that I had walked past in Galway, but never really thought to understand. I soon found that in and around Galway there were monuments to remember the women abused and mistreated in the Magdalene Laundries, and for those who had been victims to other horrendous abuses of the Catholic Church. Slowly, as I walked past the monuments every day, no longer with ignorance to their meaning, I felt my view of Ireland changing. I could feel how the monuments for those in Ireland who truly understood them and drove past them everyday, could provide the same subtle reminder as in Berlin, a constant undertone of morality that reminded the Irish to never forget about the wrong done by those who would claim moral authority over the country. Those monuments, even with the most subtle reminder, made their message heard when Ireland passed their referendum on Gay Marriage. The moral consciousness of Ireland had changed, due in no small part to the constant reminders, however small, that prompted the Irish every day to remember the moral failings of the past.
Pre-study abroad I’d always considered myself to be a meticulous planner. I like to be able to have a plan before jumping into anything, which can be a good and a bad thing. The travel partners I met in Germany definitely changed that for the better. There were days where I would take the bus to the Hauptbahnhof and jump on a train because I was bored and get off at a stop that looked or sounded interesting and because I could. I stayed with a girl that visited my high school for 4 weeks in Münich because it meant being able to go to Oktoberfest without paying an absurd amount for a youth hostel. One night at a party I was talking to someone I just met about going to Paris the next morning, and she enthusiastically agreed. It never happened, but the possibility of it was incredible. I felt like the entire world lay at my feet and I could get there from the bus stop outside my apartment. I definitely caught a case of the travel bug.
A phrase that really stuck with my in my adventure was “you can never get lost if you don’t know where you are going”. So when my friends and I would travel, we usually spent the first day wandering around a new city and we always stumbled upon really amazing things that we might not otherwise have experienced had we had a set plan. My friend and I went to Hamburg simply to eat good fish, and it was definitely a mission accomplished. In one weekend we had sushi/cooked fish 4 times. While we were there, we took a day trip to Lübeck, and we were looking for a coffee shop and ended up walking right into a Lübecker Mazipan store by accident. My mom bought Lübecker Mazipan every year for Christmas to put in my brother and I’s stockings. It’s the little things sometimes that make the most lasting impact.
The beginning of the biggest adventure of my life. All of the fear, excitement, adrenaline, confusion and curiosity had finally led me to the place I had dreamed of being for so long. In this photo I had just discovered that there was a castle in the center of my temporary home…Bienvenue a Angers!