A tale of two role models
Just over a week ago – last Sunday – we heard that Boyzone star Stephen Gately had died while on holiday with his civil partner Andrew Cowles in Majorca. A sad and untimely death for the young man of only 33 years old, who had brightened up the adolescences of so many teenage girls (including this one) with his sweet face and sweeter voice.
While most of the Irish media were at pains to tell the story sensitively, with respect for Gately's family and friends, some of the tabloids took the tacky approach. Finding that he died of natural causes should have been case closed, but I stopped reading after one journalist repeatedly, insistently, questioned whether Gately had vomited in his sleep. There are certain things the public needs to know, but that is not one of them.
However, the Irish media can hold its head up high in comparison to the vitriolic, bile-filled column of the Daily Mail's Jan Moir which caused outrage over the weekend in Britain, and engendered the largest amount of complaints ever to the Press Complaints Commission there. Moir's article insinuated that Gately died because of his homosexual 'lifestyle', and further hinted that there was something sinister about his death; something police have absolutely refuted, backed by the post-mortem results. Of course Moir has the right to free expression of her opinions, but facts are facts, and Gately died of natural causes.
It's against this background – one in which there still exists hateful, disgusting views about homosexuality and homosexuals – that Cork hurler Donal Og Cusack has come out as gay.
It's purely a coincidence that Cusack's revelatory autobiography is to be released this Friday, just in the wake of the death of one of Ireland's gay icons. But the timing isn't important.
What's important is that Cusack feels secure enough as a GAA player to do what would have been unthinkable just ten years ago, when Gately came out. The GAA is highly traditional in its ethos, and sport as a whole is notoriously homophobic – there are very few openly gay players in any men's sport.
In a sign that even this most traditional of Irish institutions is moving with the times, there has been no negativity since Cusack's declaration. Far from it. His team-mates and GAA officials have been quick to come out in support of his decision, and the Cork public has backed him too.
I always think it's unfair to suggest that somebody famous is a role model solely by virtue of their fame. A talent for sport, or music, or singing, does not mean a person wishes to be looked up to, or seen as some kind of example. However, in coming out publicly and facing down the homophobes, Cusack has become a role model. He is a shining example of the marriage of old Ireland with post-Celtic Tiger Ireland – of one of our greatest institutions and of our new openness.
Cusack's move will be especially important to many young people throughout Ireland, especially rural Ireland. Rural villages are the hardest places to be gay; 'the only gay in the village' is not just a TV character. Now that rural Ireland has its own gay role model, perhaps it will make life easier for those who have yet to take the step out of the closet.