As a child I wanted to be the sixth Spice Girl and as a teen I wanted to be the leading actress in a popular West End theatre production or, failing that, a cruise line entertainer, singing my way around the world. As a young, working woman, climbing the professional ladder, I wanted to be a senior manager and as a twenty five year old, I committed myself to fighting injustices wherever I see them, poverty, housing, cultural expression, women’s rights, education, unemployment, health and human rights. Now as a twenty eight-year old woman, I want nothing more than to be a mum.
As I aged, I evolved and so too did my hopes and ambitions. They became more realistic, or so you would think. No, I’m not infertile. In fact tests determine I’m producing enough eggs to grow my own football team but I happen to be a gay woman. My friends in England, Scotland and Wales will no doubt be asking themselves, “and what? Is she stable?” Yes I am and I am also in a stable relationship too, referred to as a civil partnership here in Northern Ireland, *rolls her eyes, but that is beside the point. Here in Northern Ireland, same-sex couples do not have the same eligibility to publicly funded specialist fertility treatment as those of the opposite sex… or those in England, Scotland or Wales, despite our shared constitutional identity. Consultations, counselling, scans, drugs, procedure and more scans all come with an unaffordable price tag in the region of six to seven thousand pounds.
The subject is emotive and quite difficult to write about but I promise I will try to keep my outburst to a minimum. The words “many heads, many minds”, which I often utter in response to controversial situations lay sour on the tip of my tongue. I pride myself on being diplomatic (a majority of the time) which by definition is the ability to avoid offending others or hurting their feelings. However in doing so, particularly on this subject, the only people hurt, are my wife and I, or the thousands of LGBT couples across Northern Ireland who are fed up with being treated less favourably than citizens living elsewhere in the U.K. It is we that hand our nieces and nephews back to their parents with a lump in our throats and it’s we that write another congratulations card and wish we were receiving them but it is we, along with our families, our friends and our neighbours that hold the power for change.
The reason why I’ve decided to put my thoughts out there on this subject is because of my unshakable belief in humanity and in its ability to be compassionate and open-minded. And more importantly because I believe in what is the very best of Britishness- pluralism, diversity, civil and religious freedoms, equal citizenship (based on a political union that transcends, nationality, religious, culture and language) tolerance and the freedom of conscience to be whoever and whatever you want without fear or favour. This is the type of progressive society and unionism that I believe in and fight for, every living minute. So as a principled unionist, why should I or any other citizen living within Northern Ireland have to suffer the indignity of not having access to the same services and collective benefits and rights as that of my fellow countrymen & women within the rest of the United Kingdom?
When considering whether to support this campaign, remember the words of a civil rights campaigner who taught us the power of compassion and solidarity: “It is not possible to be in favour of justice for some people and not be in favour of justice for all people”. Change can happen through campaigning and protest but there is nothing more powerful than the power of people. Together on the 5th May we have a unique opportunity to deliver our verdict on those who stand in the way of building a modern, inclusive and progressive society. Let’s exercise the power of citizens and vote for those who stand for the best of British tradition- equal citizenship
By Councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnston