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Conleth Kane: Why I'm proud to reveal my true self after the historic Yes vote on same sex marriage in Republic of Ireland

Lurgan-born West End star says childhood was torture due to his sexuality. Una Brankin reports

Published 25/05/2015

(left to right) Erin Reddy, Dee Campbell and Helen McCarthy at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
(left to right) Erin Reddy, Dee Campbell and Helen McCarthy at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
People gather at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill (centre), known by his stage name as Panti Bliss has his photo taken with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald (right) at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes continue to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
The sun shines as people gather at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Erin Reddy (left) and Dee Campbell at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
A gay marriage supporter kisses her rosary beads at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Bridget Hogg with a cardboard cutout of comedy creation Mrs Brown at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Paul Bonass (left) and Luke Hoare Greene share a kiss at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage Photo. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Jaime Nanci (left) and Michael Barron who were married in Cape Town five years ago at the RDS in Dublin, re-act as early patterns suggest that the campaign to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples will succeed in the referendum on same-sex marriage. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Sean O Tarpaigh, a yes campaigner and Irish language teacher, at the same-sex marriage referendum count centre at Dublin Castle. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill, known by his stage name as Panti Bliss arrives at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes continue to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill, known by his stage name as Panti Bliss arrives at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes continue to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill, known by his stage name as Panti Bliss kisses Senator David Norris (left) as Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams looks on at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Ireland is set to enshrine the right to gay marriage in a historic world first. Key campaign groups fighting the rights reform conceded defeat, with results from around the country indicating a two to one majority of voters backing the constitutional change Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill (centre), known by his stage name as Panti Bliss with with Senator David Norris (left) and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes continue to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Ireland is set to enshrine the right to gay marriage in a historic world first. Key campaign groups fighting the rights reform conceded defeat, with results from around the country indicating a two to one majority of voters backing the constitutional change. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill, known by his stage name as Panti Bliss arrives at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes continue to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Ireland is set to enshrine the right to gay marriage in a historic world first. Key campaign groups fighting the rights reform conceded defeat, with results from around the country indicating a two to one majority of voters backing the constitutional change. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
People gather at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Seven month old Belle Duffy, held by her mother Deirdre Duffy as counting of votes continues in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age at the RDS in Dublin. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
YES voter Deirdre Duffy and her seventh month old daughter Belle, with YES campaigners (from left) Kristina Vaughan, Mark Dempsey, and Ger O'Keeffe as counting of votes continues in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age at the RDS in Dublin. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Senator David Norris is welcomed by Andrew Hyland of YES Equality (left) as he arrives at the RDS as counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age gets under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Ballot boxes are emptied as counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age is under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Official tally Rhonda Donaghy and James McGrath wait for counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age to get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Sorcha Nic Mhathuna waits for counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age to get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Official tally Rhonda Donaghy waits for counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age to get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Ballot boxes are unlocked as counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age to get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning Saturday May 23, 2015Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age gets under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Official tally Rhonda Donaghy and James McGrath wait for counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age to get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Senator David Norris arrives at the RDS as counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015 Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Newly married couple Anne Fox (nee Cole) and Vincent Fox kiss to celebrate their wedding and also show their support for the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage before casting their votes at a polling station on May 22, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Newly married couple Anne Fox (nee Cole) and Vincent Fox celebrate their wedding day by showing their support for the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage as they cast their votes at a polling station on May 22, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Carmelite sisters leave a polling station in Malahide, County Dublin, Ireland, Friday, May 22, 2015.
A gay couple pose holding hands as they walk out of a polling station after voting in Drogheda, north Dublin on May 22, 2015. Ireland took to the polls today to vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legal, in a referendum that has exposed sharp divisions between communities in this traditionally Catholic nation. AFP PHOTO / Paul FaithPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Civil partners of four years Paul Higgins (left) and Richard Lucey, who have been in a relationship together for 19 years, prepare to cast their votes at their polling station in Cabra, Dublin for the referendum on gay marriage.
A homeless person lays beneath a billboard poster promoting the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage on May 22, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
A man walks past billboard posters promoting the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage on May 22, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
A man walks past a mural promoting the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage on May 22, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk past a mural in favour of same-sex marriages in Dublin.
Members of the Yes Equality campaign gather in the center of Dublin, Ireland. People from across the Republic of Ireland will vote in a referendum on the legalization of gay marriage, a vote that pits the power of the Catholic Church against the secular-minded Irish government of Enda Kenny.
16/5/2015.Marriage Equality Referendum. With just six days to go for the voting on the Marriage Equality Referendum on Friday 22 of May, the debate about margins continues with the Yes Vote appearing to be way out in front, particularly in the large cities, but with a fear that in the countryside there may be a large silent No Vote lingering in the long grass. Photo shows people passing a large Yes poster in Dublin City Centre.Photo Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland
USI (Union of Students in Ireland) launches 'VoterMotor' a campaign to get the student vote out for the Marriage Equality Referendum.
Sister Loreto Ryan of the Sisters of Charity casts her vote at a polling station in Drumcondra, north Dublin on May 22, 2015. Ireland took to the polls today to vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legal, in a referendum that has exposed sharp divisions between communities in this traditionally Catholic nation.
Sister Loreto Ryan of the Sisters of Charity leaves after voting at a polling station in Drumcondra, north Dublin on May 22, 2015. Ireland took to the polls today to vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legal, in a referendum that has exposed sharp divisions between communities in this traditionally Catholic nation.
Tanaiste Joan Burton arrives to cast her vote at St Joseph's National School in Cabra, Dublin for the referendum on gay marriage.
Tanaiste Joan Burton arrives to cast her vote at St Joseph's National School in Cabra, Dublin for the referendum on gay marriage.
Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald casts her vote at St Joseph's National School in Cabra, Dublin for the referendum on gay marriage.
Posters in favour of same-sex marriage sit in the window of a clothing shop in Dublin on May 21, 2015.
A mural in favour of same-sex marriage is pictured on a wall in Dublin on May 21, 2015.
Pedestrians walk past anti same-sex marriage posters in Dublin on May 21, 2015. Ireland goes to the polls tomorrow to vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legal, in a referendum that has exposed sharp divisions between communities in this traditionally Catholic nation. AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Pedestrians walk past a mural in favour of same-sex marriages in Dublin.
A Mural in favour of same-sex marriages in Dublin on May 21, 2015. Ireland goes to the polls tomorrow to vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legal, in a referendum that has exposed sharp divisions between communities in this traditionally Catholic nation.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny arrives to meet with members of the Yes Equality campaign during a photo call in Dublin, Ireland. The Irish Prime Minister is appealing to Ireland's voters to support the legalization of gay marriage in a referendum that pits the power of the Catholic Church against his government.
Declan Waters, owner of the Holy Love Information Centre, adjust his Irish flag as it flys above anti same-sex "Vote No" posters in Knock, west Ireland. In the village of Knock in the west of Ireland, support for a "No" vote in the May 22 same-sex marriage referendum is strong, as it is in many rural areas where the Catholic Church still holds sway.
A woman walks past anti same-sex "Vote No" posters in Knock, west Ireland. In the village of Knock in the west of Ireland, support for a "No" vote in the May 22 same-sex marriage referendum is strong, as it is in many rural areas where the Catholic Church still holds sway.
Comedian Oliver Callan takes part in A Noble Call for Marriage Equality, an arts event in support of a Yes vote in Ireland's Gay marriage referendum, at the Abbey Theater in Dublin.

Actor and singer Conleth Kane is calling for equality of marriage rights in Northern Ireland, after receiving thousands of messages of support when he posted a message on Facebook about being proud to be gay.

The Lurgan-born West End stage star, who stole the show as Dandini in a recent Grand Opera House production of Cinderella, changed it to support a Yes vote in the Republic's referendum on same-sex marriage.

Actor and singer Conleth Kane
Actor and singer Conleth Kane
Conleth Kane with Liam Neeson
Conleth Kane with Pamela Anderson

"I'm blown away by the response; my Facebook page has been shared to thousands of people and I have receiving calls and texts ever since," said the 31-year-old, who's based in London.

"I didn't expect it at all but now, with Ireland having such a victorious result in the referendum, and England, Scotland and Wales already having passed this law, I feel it's time to speak up for the first time as a young gay man who wanted out of Northern Ireland from as young as I can remember, all because I was 'different'.

"It shouldn't be like that any more. Northern Ireland needs to follow the rest of the UK and Ireland. We need to think about the kids of the future."

Conleth survived years of beatings and vicious taunts before leaving home at 16 and moving at 18 to London, where he has appeared in television series such as Casualty. He has received excellent reviews for his stage performances, with one critic describing him recently as "the new Alan Cumming" (the acclaimed Scottish actor).

Although Conleth's working-class parents, Gerard and Priscilla, have been wholly supportive since he came out at 15, he endured a "tortured" childhood and teenage years in Lurgan and Craigavon at the hands of homophobic bullies.

"I knew I was gay from I was seven or eight and as I was always very, very close to my mum, it came to the point, in the midst of horrendous physical, mental and verbal abuse on the streets, where I had to tell her - and my dad and my siblings - why I had become so withdrawn," said Conleth, a columnist with the LGBT magazine, GNI.

"Their response was brilliant; my dad said, 'You're still the son you were two minutes ago', and my mother told me that I was still young and to go out and live my life, and that if I still felt the same way in a few years, then that was fine by her."

Brought up Catholic, the charismatic performer still has his Christian beliefs and occasionally attends a "beautiful" church beside his home in Chiswick. He is greatly encouraged by the example shown by former Irish President Mary McAleese, who urged a Yes vote to same-sex marriage in the Republic despite her devout beliefs.

Said Conleth: "I believe God created us all and He meant me to be born this way. It would have been easier to have been born straight; it wouldn't have been such an uphill struggle. But the point about equality of marriage is that it's not about marriage before God - it's about equal rights, legally and socially, for everyone. It's not just about gay rights; it's about human rights - and that includes people of all beliefs.

"I was so hurt by what Jim Wells said about the children of same-sex couples being more at risk of abuse," he added. "What about the risk with heterosexual couples? I have worked with children often and I love my nieces and nephews, and I would never, ever dream of (abusing a child)."

The rapturous response Conleth received during the 2013-14 Grand Opera House panto in Belfast has earned him another starring role in the 2015-16 extravaganza, opposite veteran performer May McFettridge.

Belfast holds bittersweet memories for Conleth, having been mugged and robbed by homophobic thugs on his way home from the Odyssey one night. But his worst experiences were endured in his home town of Lurgan and at Lismore Comprehensive School in Craigavon.

"I was suicidal at age 11," he admitted. "I got picked on because I liked the Spice Girls instead of Oasis and didn't want to play football because I was no good at sports. I had to be taken out of Lismore after a year and moved to St Paul's, where the teachers looked out for me.

"But it was bad on the streets. I got beaten to a pulp one day when I was walking to my granny's with my sister, who's three years younger than me. All I could hear above them shouting 'faggot' and 'queer' was my sister screaming. She ran to get help. I wasn't able to walk home.

"But experiences like that made me stronger in the long run. I'm no longer this fat little kid from Lurgan with no friends, who spent all his time comfort eating in his room. I'm someone who wants to change the future, to save kids having to endure what I went through. I just want to give them hope."

Single for the last six years, Conleth doesn't see himself getting married in the near future, and doesn't want to adopt or have children via surrogacy.

"As much as I love kids, I like to hand them back at the end of the day," he laughs. "I'm happy with my dog. But, as I was saying to my mum on Skype after the vote yesterday, if I ever met the guy of my dreams, wouldn't it be wonderful to have the option to come back and get married in my home town?

"She agreed, and she's a little woman from Portadown who has never really left the area. You don't need to be widely travelled to have a broad mind.

"I just hope those in power in Northern Ireland will one day listen to people like her and give us all the equal rights we deserve."

The Facebook post by Conleth that went viral:

"I'll tell you why I want Equal Marriage in Ireland after today. Growing up was torture. I was teased, beaten, assaulted by groups, taken out of one school and put into another, constantly taunted, afraid to be who I was and at points felt there was no point in carrying on in life. Why? Because homosexuality was viewed as 'wrong' and 'disgusting'. I was always different. Do you think if I could choose my sexuality I would have chosen to be gay considering the constant battle for equality I've had to face my entire life? I was born this way and I wouldn't change myself for the world. It's not just about equal marriage. It's about an equal life, an equal future. To think the kids of the future won't be bullied in school anymore because it's 'ok to be gay', because their next door neighbours are two married men, or women. I pray for equality today. Then Northern Ireland will be next."

Further Reading

Why I'm proud to reveal my true self after the historic Yes vote over the border

Public vote will not change our stance, say the Churches

Yes vote shows Churches have lost hold of nation's conscience

Pressure growing for a referendum to take place in Northern Ireland  

Irish gay marriage referendum: Pressure to build on Northern Ireland's politicians to allow vote on gay marriage

 

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