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REPRO FREEThe pride flag pictured in Patrick Street at the Cork Pride 2016 parade in Cork City on Sunday.Picture. John Allen
REPRO FREEThe pride flag pictured in Patrick Street at the Cork Pride 2016 parade in Cork City on Sunday.Picture. John Allen
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

Cork Pride 2017: Four people talk about their experience of coming out 

As Cork Pride Festival continues, four people told Roisin Burke about their experience of coming out to their friends and family.



COMING out is a rite of passage for the LGBT community, but it is a different experience for everyone.

For the week that is in it, with the Cork Pride Festival in full swing, four brave souls spoke to the Evening Echo about their own personal experience with telling their closest about their sexuality.

Mr Gay Cork 2017 Oakleigh Weekes said coming out lead to a huge change in his personality, going from an introvert to an extrovert.

Chambers DJ Jules Walsh said her parent's acceptance made her more at ease with herself and more able for life, while student Joanne Hegener said having her mom tell her she will always be her daughter was a great moment.

Transgender woman Davina Staunton said coming out was like a weight lifted from her shoulders and said she struggled with her inner demons before reaching out to the LGBT community and telling her family how she felt inside.

According to Oakleigh the internet really helped him to discover who he was and to find a community of people who were going through a similar experience to himself.

Cork Pride Committee member JP McCarthy said he thinks it is getting easier to come out in modern Ireland.

"On the back of the marriage referendum and the Yes vote, I think people realise that Ireland is a more accepting society.

"Also people are more open about discussing their sexuality." 

Mr McCarthy recognised the struggle that some people still face, but said in general terms, it is easier than it used to be.

"I know some people still find it hard due to family values or maybe they are living in a very rural location, but the younger generation is a lot more open about their sexuality.

"You see a lot more people coming out in secondary school than you would have seen a few years ago and that is because there is support there nowadays." 

Mr McCarthy said social media and the accessibility of the internet has also made things easier.

"The internet has made it easier to find support and information about various things and the LGBT community is stronger for it.” 

He said when he was 16 and growing up in Waterford, he did not have the kind of information that is now available to young people.

He added that people are becoming more accepting as the issue is becoming more mainstream and the Cork Pride Committee member praised soaps for including story lines that reflected the reality of coming out.

"Aaron Dingle in Emmerdale is a fantastic example of a real life situation an LGBT person would experience.

"They really showed the struggle he went through, feeling like he was doing something wrong, not knowing what was right. Raising the profile is always helpful to make people more understanding and aware of the LGBT community." 

The 12th Annual Cork Pride Parade takes place this Sunday, August 6, on Grand Parade from 12-3pm.

For more information on COrk Pride events log onto their Facebook page: Cork Pride.

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Marketing and Business student Joanne Hegener

MARKETING and Business student Joanne Hegener, 21, came out to her family and friends when she was 14 and was delighted with the reaction she got from her nearest and dearest.

"I told my sister Christina first, I told her crying one day and she hugged me and said 'sure half the time I don’t even know what I am'."

The next person to know was Joanne’s best friend Edel.

"My best friend Edel knew before my family. She came out to me in Biology class in school and I was so jealous at how at ease she was with her sexuality.

"A few weeks later, I came out to her and she just said she knew." 

Eventually, all Joanne’s friends knew, but her family didn’t.

"We all used to hang out in town and we formed a community and helped me to figure out who I am," she said.

Before Joanne was ready to tell her she was forced to tell her family.

"I thought a family member knew and I was afraid she would tell my parents, so I had to tell them.

"I was bawling crying talking to my sister because I wasn’t ready to tell my family.

"My sister said to me ‘come one we will go and tell mom, we’ll do it together." 

At the time they were getting ready for Sunday lunch with their granny.

"I went down stairs and I broke down, my mom asked me what was wrong, and eventually I said ‘I like girls’."

Joanne’s mom was completely accepting of the revelation and just said: “Yeah, so?” 

Joanne started crying even more while her mom hugged her and told her she will always be her daughter and her sexuality didn't matter to her.

"My mom is such a strong figure in my life, it was amazing to get her support."

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Oakleigh Weekes, Mr Gay Cork 2017

COMING out as a gay teenager at just 15 was a brave move for Mr Gay Cork 2017, Oakleigh Weekes, but he said he was just sick of hiding who he was.

Originally an Essex boy, Oakleigh grew up in Clare, where he lived rurally in a GAA-centred society.

"I didn’t really take to the community that well, it wasn’t even the gay thing, it was before that. Firstly being English and living in rural Ireland was a bad mix. I wasn’t sporty either if you weren’t part of the GAA, you weren’t part of the click. 

"My mom was lovely, she has been my rock since as I can remember, but my dad’s side were more conservative.

"It was little things like if he saw something intimate happening on TV, he would make a slur or something. He didn’t like that kind of thing."

Oakleigh said this had a negative effect on his relationship with his dad. 

Speaking about his school years, Oakleigh said he enjoyed the academic side of things but did not have much of a social life.

Back then, Mr Gay Cork said, he was the total opposite of the extrovert he is now.

"I was a complete introvert. It was only after I came out that I snowballed. I was very quiet in school, I hated school projects or speaking up in class."

The internet was a big help to Oakleigh when he was coming to terms with his sexuality.

He said, "The internet was a great help. Chatrooms were a great help, even if it was anonymous, it was just good to hear from someone who was experiencing the same thing I went through.

"It got to the stage where I had to tell someone and my mom was my first port of call, I was trying to find the right time and one day she asked me if I wanted to walk the dog and I said yes." 

Oakleigh said it was the most stressful walk of his life and just before the end he said he had something he wanted to tell her.

"She thought there was something wrong, that I had done something wrong, but then I told her I was bisexual, which is wrong, I am gay, but I thought it would be easier if she thought I still liked girls."

The 19-year-old said his mom took the news well. 

"She had a few questions, but she accepted it." 

The next day at lunch, Oakleigh’s mom asked him did he prefer men or women.

"I just told her I was gay," he said. 

Oakleigh never told his dad, but the realisation was made through his actions over time.

"I started to stick up for the people on TV, whenever he said something and by the time I was 16, he knew. Over time he accepted who I am and we get on great now."

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Jules Walsh, Chambers DJ

RESIDENT Chambers DJ Jules Walsh, 31, came out to her parents as a lesbian when she was 18 and she said their acceptance was a huge support.

"I was raised in an extremely Catholic family. My mother was heavily involved in the church and growing up I just knew that I always developed crushes on women and never found myself infatuated with a boy. I went along with it because all my friends went out with guys and it was a popularity thing." 

Jules said she started seeing girls when she was 16 and when she was 18 and doing her Leaving Certificate, she felt I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore.

The DJ said she came out to her aunt Janet first, who she was very close with.

"She was quite surprised but encouraged me to come out to my parents. She knew it was weighing heavily on my mind, so I arranged to meet with my parents back home." 

Jules said she found it very difficult to tell her parents she was a lesbian.

"My mom was saying, ‘come on, what is it?’ but I couldn’t get it out. I started crying."

Her mother asked Jules if she was pregnant and eventually she said she didn't like boys.

At first, her mother didn’t quite grasp the situation. She asked what was wrong with that, so Jules told her she was a lesbian and she had been seeing someone.

Her dad was nonplussed by the situation.

"Is that is, is that all you have to say? You are still my little girl, I love you anyway," he said.

Jule’s mom took a little bit more convincing but she got there in the end. 

"For a while, she thought I might grow out of it but, after a few months, she was fine with it," Jules said. 

The support of Jules parents was all she needed to express herself.

"Once you come out to your parents, everyone else is secondary. For me that is the way it was, once my parents I accepted me I didn’t need anything else." 

Jules said she has never had an issue with her co-workers or the people in her life.

"If I did encounter a person who had a problem with me I just wouldn’t bother with them."

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Davina Staunton, 43

DAVINA Staunton, 43, has had a tough battle to discover who she is and find acceptance as a transgender woman.

"I knew from a young age, I was attracted to men. I have six brothers and two sisters and I always related to my sisters more.

"I used to dress up as a girl, in high heels and dresses and play games like cleaning the house, play school and house. I was always the mammy figure." 

Davina said secondary school was tough and she often had thoughts of suicide.

"I had no one to talk to and I just felt different." 

Leaving school at 15 was a big move for Davina, but she felt it was the right thing to do.

"I wanted to be independent so I started working." 

Davina said by the time she was 18 she realised she was deeply attracted to men.

"I did date girls, but there was no intimacy, just holding hands." 

When Davina was 23, she told her parents she was gay. 

"That is what I thought I was at the time, but deep down I knew a lot more." 

Davina’s parents were shocked, but said ‘you are still our son.’ 

This was a relief for Davina, but she still knew she had things she couldn’t tell her family and it lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.

When Davina was 30, she told her parents she was transgender, they were shocked. 

"I told them I was on hormones and I wanted to have a sex change.

"I felt I sprung things on them and I felt disowned. I wasn’t allowed to talk about my transgender issues around them.” 

Thankfully everything has worked out for the best.

"Everything is very good now, I have very good support, they are the best parents." 

Davina said realising who she was and telling her parents was a like a weight lifted off her shoulders.

"I am proud of who I am." 

Offering advice to anyone who may be struggling with their sexuality, Davina said it was important to talk to someone.

"Talking helps to reveal who you are and you shouldn't be afraid of who you are."