Murders of two gay men in Ireland serve as brutal reminder that LGBT+ people still aren’t safe
In September 1982, a gay man called Declan Flynn was brutally murdered in Dublin’s Fairview Park by a group of teenage boys for the simple crime of being gay.
At that time, being gay actually was a crime – homosexuality wasn’t decriminalised until 1993 in Ireland. The five teenage boys, who ranged in age from 14 to 19, walked away with suspended sentences.
It is almost 40 years since Declan Flynn was killed, and in some ways, Ireland is a radically different country for LGBT+ people. We have equal marriage, relatively progressive gender recognition laws – we even have a gay tánaiste (deputy prime minister). But in other ways, it seems that things haven’t changed all that much since 1982.
That fact came into sharp focus over the last few days as news broke that two men had been killed in their own homes in Sligo, a town in the north-west of the country. The body of Aidan Moffitt, 42, was found badly mutilated in his home on Monday evening (11 April). The following evening, Michael Snee’s nieces discovered his body at his home, according to the Irish Independent.
An Garda Síochána, Ireland’s police force, believe that both men were killed by the same person. A 22-year-old man has been arrested and is being questioned.
The murder investigations are still in their early stages, but as of now, Gardaí believe the killer targeted his victims after meeting them on Grindr. According to The Times, detectives are investigating the killings as potential hate crimes.
Anti-LGBT+ violence never happens in a vacuum
There’s still a lot to be uncovered about the Sligo murders, and the investigations are still in their early stages, but what we do know is that killings like these never happen in a vacuum. The truth is that Ireland, like most European countries, has spent the last decade patting itself on the back for all the progress it’s made on LGBT+ rights – but queer people still aren’t safe in their communities.
Queer people have always known that to be true. Since Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee were killed, Twitter has been flooded with stories from LGBT+ people about the abuse they’ve received on the streets. For the most part, these incidents go unreported – queer people are more than used to such treatment, something doubly true for those queer people who are also women, trans and/or people of colour. It’s easier to pick yourself up and brush yourself off than to make a fuss, so most of us roll with the punches, hoping we can blend in that bit easier the next time.
Every now and again, hateful incidents make it into the media. Last year, there was a flurry of activity when Pride flags were torn down and burned in Waterford. A man in his 40s was later arrested and charged in connection with the incident.
Most people probably stopped following the story there, but that’s not where it ended. Over the following months, a Pride flag was torn down and set alight in Carlow, and more Pride flags were torn down overnight in Claremorris in Mayo. In the background, more and more reports of violent, hateful attacks on LGBT+ people started making it into the news.
What became increasingly clear is that this wasn’t just a one-man crusade – anti-LGBT+ hate is a movement, and it’s gaining ground every day. To some people, we are the enemy. They see us as something to be feared and, whether they would admit it or not, they want us pushed back to the margins of society where we existed for so long.
Today, LGBT+ people have more rights and greater social acceptance than they did 40 years ago when Declan Flynn was murdered – but that doesn’t mean we’re safe. For most of us, that’s all we’re asking for: the opportunity to go out, be ourselves, and to not have to look over our shoulders.
Advice on how to stay safe is nothing more than a stopgap measure
After the bodies of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee were discovered, the Gardaí issued general advice to people on how to stay safe when meeting others online. Get a face picture, try going on video call first, ask for social media handles, let friends or loved ones know where you’re going, and meet in public first were just some of the tips they offered.
The advice was undoubtedly well-meaning, and perhaps it was even helpful to some people, but it also raises the question: why is the onus to not get attacked always put back on the vulnerable communities who are facing violence in the first place? We could be talking about ways to eradicate homophobia and transphobia from our communities, but few people seem interested in having those conversations.
The reason for that might lie in the fact that genuinely tackling such hatred is a mammoth task, one that looks insurmountable – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
The reality is that homophobia and transphobia are ingrained into people’s very being from the time they’re small children. Rigid gender roles mean that boys are routinely shamed for expressing an interest in anything that might be perceived as feminine, while girls are trained by a misogynistic society to be passive and subservient. Women are often given tips on how to avoid getting murdered by a society that seems intent upon ignoring why such violence is happening in the first place.
At some point, we’re going to have to get off this unsteady carnival ride and take a look at ourselves. We need to ask difficult questions about how we can stamp out homophobia and transphobia in our communities. Finding the answer to those questions is going to require the government and wider society to come together in a new way. We need better hate crime legislation, but we also need education. If kids are learning how to hate LGBT+ people at an early age, then we need to counter that message at an even earlier age.
Combating anti-LGBT+ hate is a tall order, but it’s necessary if we we want to honour the memories of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee and ensure that other queer people can be kept safe.
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this story you can contact Ireland’s National LGBT Helpline for free on 1800 929 539.
Readers in the UK affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans free on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org) or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.