Brendan Courtney has opened up about growing up in Ireland when being gay was a crime.
The 47-year-old hit headlines earlier this week, when he called out our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for not inviting him to a special 25th anniversary event, celebrating the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland.
The RTÉ star said that his lack of an invite was an “oversight”, and he promptly received an invitation in the post. Now, he’s opened up about living in Ireland as an openly gay man back in the 80s, when homosexuality was still considered a crime.
Speaking to Independent.ie Style, Brendan said, “Cast your mind back: I was bullied really badly at school because I was camp, because I was different.”
“When you were camp, they pushed you onto the football pitch. I was called a fa***t every single day and society agreed with them. The teachers agreed with them and so did their parents.”
He continued, “I was lucky that I had really lovely parents who took me out of that school when I was 14. I had the confidence their support afforded me and a lot people didn’t have that.”
“At the age of 19, 50% of the people I knew had no relationship with their Irish families because they kicked them out for being gay. They didn’t have that same foundation of support and so they stayed in the closet.”
Brendan, who came out at the age of 17, explained, “If someone attacked you, you couldn’t bring charges against them for harassment on the fact that you were gay.”
The fashion stylist admitted that he’s been attacked and harassed numerous times over his sexuality.
“I was punched to the ground in the street for being open and out. I was the first openly gay TV presenter in Ireland and I was working in an industry that treated me harshly for it,” he said.
Brendan also pointed out that there was a number of people that were overlooked for invitations to the 25th anniversary event at Dublin Castle last Sunday, which was hosted by Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s first openly gay Taoiseach.
“The point was that lots people who should have been there, weren’t. The deeper issue is that people of a certain political persuasion didn’t come out until it was safe, a path which was paved forward by people like me,” he explained.
“We didn’t see it as a choice or a campaign, we were just out. When someone was taking ownership for the decriminalisation of homosexuality… when one of those people wasn’t one of the people who came out in time… they must acknowledge those who did.
“I wasn’t a drag queen, so I couldn’t hide behind my costume. People recognised me on the street because I was on television and there were very few people on that level at that time. Graham Norton wasn’t even out at that time.
“I’ve seen a lot of change and one of the main elements is that we don’t look back and only look forward, but this is really important to me. I am really proud of the work I’ve done,” Brendan said.
Speaking about celebrating Pride this weekend in Dublin, Brendan said, “My life is a living Pride march because I’ve been out and on TV for 22 years.”
“I was a trailblazer and showed young people they can have a successful career and be yourself. I have always gone on the march on the Panti float because it’s great fun.”
“Pride is more than just gay men and women, it’s about inclusion. It’s very important to make a big, positive noise and it develops into Mardi Gras eventually.”