Ruairí Holohan is a 16-year-old LGBTQ+ youth activist from Ireland who advocates for equality.
In 2020, he used his voice in a conversation with Ireland’s Prime Minister to raise awareness against bullying and discrimination. Read this blog for World Children's Day and discover other young leaders advocating for children's rights here.
"Last year on World Children’s Day, I had the honour of speaking to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin – Ireland’s Prime Minister - about societal issues members of the LGBTIQ+ community face because I was named UNICEF Ireland’s #KidsTakeOver.
I chose to speak about homophobia and the lack of education in Irish schools about LGBTIQ+ rights because it is a personal issue.
As a young gay man, I still fear getting the bus after a certain hour, especially if I am wearing anything too bright, or that would not be worn by the average ‘straight lad’. I still get anxious whenever my boyfriend tries to hold my hand in public, because of homophobia.
I speak up because young people’s voices need to be heard. I speak up because nobody else speaks up.
Societal issues don’t stop when there is a pandemic. A lot of us are distracted, but there are still social injustices happening. The LGBTIQ+ community may have received many new rights in Ireland over the last ten years, but that did not eliminate homophobia. It still exists, and not enough is being done about it.
For World Children’s Day, I was asked to re-imagine the world post-pandemic. I described a place where I could walk down the street being the person I am when I’m with my friends, in school, performing, because my sexual orientation may be different from others, but that doesn’t make me different from other people. I don’t want any young person to be the target of hate or disrespect. In a reimagined world I could be myself, every day would be Pride – there wouldn’t be a need for a Pride month, because in my reimagined world, there is no discrimination or any need to not be your true self. There would be no need to ‘come out’ because you would just be yourself. My message made headlines in newspapers and on Ireland’s national broadcaster.
An enduring impact
The Taoiseach said he supported me on the need to reform education in Ireland. I want information about LGBTIQ+ rights embedded throughout the curriculum and I want teachers to feel they have the government’s backing to build supportive and open school communities that respect all young people.
Micheál Martin promised me back in November that he would ‘affirm the rights of the LGBT community at a European Union level’, I found out months later that in an attempt to strike down the anti-LGBTIQ+ law in Hungary, he used my name and story at an EU summit in front of all 27 EU Member State leaders in June of 2021. The first I knew about it was when the press notifications started coming through. This came as a huge surprise to me. I am so honoured my story was used.
Weighing the pros and cons
Despite the many positives that come with being an advocate, there can be quite a few negatives. I am aware of the risks involved with gaining a platform at such a young age.
There are trolls online who will try to bring me down, and by having my story shared on national news, both my name and face were shared with them. But I just let the haters hate and did not pay any heed to them or their comments. They really just prove my point that homophobia is still an issue. I do this for me, I do this for the people who are still too afraid to speak about their sexuality because nobody around them feels comfortable talking about it.
Back in November, I felt ecstatic about the weeks ahead, but I didn’t truly know what would happen. I can recall being in the UNICEF Ireland office just before my Zoom call with the Taoiseach, already knowing that I had made a difference in society, regardless of how the interview went. I thought, if I could change at least one person’s attitude or help let someone struggling with their sexuality know that they are not alone, then it was a successful day.
My sexual orientation may be different, but that does not make me different from others. My story represents tens of thousands of people who experience discrimination, or even disrespect, on the grounds of their age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or body type. I hope to further advocate for LGBTIQ+ rights, as well as children’s rights for years to come."