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'Gay cake': It's a ruling to rejoice in, but gays are still very afraid

Lyra McKee, a gay freelance journalist living in Belfast, gives her views

My Facebook feed was flooded with triumphant statements yesterday.

Friends, gay and straight alike, were rejoicing at the judgment in the Ashers case. In a country where same-sex marriage has been continually ruled out by politicians, it felt like a victory.

When you've lived life afraid of who you are, moments like this are validating. Gay young people, coming to terms with their sexuality, go through a special kind of hell, one only those of us who've been through it ourselves know. When comments from politicians like Jim Wells send out the message that gay people are not welcome in Northern Ireland, yesterday's ruling signals the opposite, confirming that we're every bit as valuable as any other citizen.

When Gareth Lee told the court the McArthur's behaviour had made him feel "unworthy", I understood. It's a feeling I - and every other gay person - have felt a thousand times.

I felt it on a 3am taxi run to the airport when, during a conversation about football, my driver declared it was better for George Best to have been an alcoholic than to have been gay. I felt it when my childhood best friend had to leave the area we grew up in after the home he lived in with his partner was repeatedly attacked by teenagers.

These are not even the worst examples. I could tell you about my friend James, made homeless when his 'Christian' family threw him out, aged 16, because he was gay. Or a story, told to me by a unionist MLA, about a young woman whose 'Christian' family locked her in her bedroom for weeks because she admitted she was a lesbian.

"They acted as if she was suffering from an illness. I can't censor the family's views," he said, "but when the application of those views damages people to the extent they've damaged her, I can't understand it."

For the LGBT community, the Ashers case wasn't about persecuting Christians or violating their right to freedom of conscience. It was about protecting ourselves. So many of us have suffered at the hands of people who claim to be Christian. The issue at stake in this case was not freedom of conscience but what, if Ashers won, the next battle would be. Today, the argument is about a cake. Tomorrow, will it be about criminalising homosexuality?

For those of us with evangelical Christian friends, this has been a tough case. In a fit of anger one day I tweeted that those who were against same-sex marriage were bigots.

Then I wondered how Will, a Christian against same-sex marriage and one of my dearest friends, would feel as he read it. I thought of other friends like him.

Continually, I am stuck between wanting to respect their beliefs, even though I disagree with them, and wanting the same rights as everyone else. My anger isn't at Christians like Will, who is against homosexuality but treats gay people with the same love he treats everyone else, but against fundamentalist extremists, those who use the word of God as a vehicle for their hatred.

Above all else, I dread what the conscience clause supporters of the world, given free rein, will do to people like me.

It's 2015. Can I stop being afraid yet?

Read more:

Tesco reviewing Ashers 'gay cake' judgement 

Everyone a loser in 'gay cake' row

Ashers verdict may be right in law, but it leaves deep unease  

Ashers 'gay cake' decision is a threat to our freedom of conscience 

'Gay cake': It's a ruling to rejoice in, but gays are still very afraid

Gay cake case: Branded law breakers by a court, but beaming McArthurs insist they have no regrets  

Gay cake verdict shows laws needed to allow for differing views, says DUP's Sammy Wilson  

Ashers 'gay cake' case made news all around the world  

By elevating icing on a cake to a major issue, gay rights activists won battle but lost the war  

Gay cake case: Churches united in criticism of 'dangerous' Ashers bakery decision

Ashers bakery couple: Guilty by law, but we're innocent in God's eyes  

Verdict was particularly disappointing for Christians, whose prayers weren't answered  

Ashers' customers divided on outcome of case  

Ashers Bakery lose 'gay cake' case: 'We will not be closing down, we have not done anything wrong' says boss  

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