“Daddy, I have something to tell you,” said 16-year-old Susan Donaghy from Foreglen. “I’m gay.”
Driving, Tony McCaul didn’t speak. He simply reached across for his youngest child’s hand and grasped it tightly until they reached home.
It was an emotional moment the father and daughter remember vividly.
“I wish I had of known sooner,” says Tony, “so I could have gone through that with her, so Susan could have talked to me and her mother.”
Coming out wasn’t easy for Susan.
“When I was 12 I started to think about it, but there was nothing in school, no advice, nothing,” said Susan.
Having lived in Belfast, Susan found herself drawn to an old friend she had grown up with who was gay and together they would attend the drop in service at Gay and Lesbian Youth NI (GLYNI). She felt comfortable there and found things easier in a space where she met other people who were gay.
After she told her family she was gay, Susan said: “I felt free to be able to speak to my parents about people I knew who were gay and about relationships and get advice from my parents.”
Susan, an accomplished musician well known in Derry performing under the name ‘Susie Blue’ (a childhood nickname thanks to her family), acknowledges coming out was a lot for her parents and two older brothers to accept.
“My family have been so supportive,” said Susan. “They’ve been amazing, but it was a lot for them. It was a lot for me. There was a lot of me I had to undo, to accept that I wasn’t going to get married and have a husband and have kids in the so-called normal way. There was a lot for my family to undo too, but I’ve been lucky. I know people who have come out and they’ve been kicked out of their home, or threatened. I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. It shouldn’t be seen as brave to come out.”
As for Tony: “I’m very proud of my daughter and everything she does. She’s my daughter and I love her to bits. At the time it was a shock, but we quickly accepted it. That’s what you do when you love someone. I think it was a very brave thing for her because living in a small country area where everybody knows everything about you, it’s not easy to come out and say ‘I’m gay’.”
Tony said by speaking publicly the family hope it will help others who feel trapped.
“I know people who, for whatever reason, are gay but can’t come out. That’s very sad,” he said.
Susan agrees, and said while things are “terrifying” to begin with they do get easier.
Occasionally, if she holds hands with a girlfriend she may get some derogatory abuse hurled her way, but she has learned not to let it affect her.
“There are people out there exactly like me, who are confused and who are scared, but the one thing I can promise them is that yes, it’s terrifying at the start but it does get better. It will be okay.”
Tony, a Sinn Fein councillor on Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, has submitted a motion to Causeway Coast and Glens Council in support of same sex marriage which will be debated on August 18th.
The motion states: “That this council believes that all couples, including those of the same sex, should have the right to marry in the eyes of the law.”
Derry City and Strabane District Council passed the same Sinn Fein motion in July in support of same-sex marriage in the wake of the landmark referendum in Ireland.
Tony said the motion is about equal rights, and “about what is right for all human beings”.
“Sinn Fein sees it as a basic right for everyone,” said Tony, “and progress has been made. When you look at the Alliance Party this week saying it will make a commitment of support for same sex marriage part of its manifesto for the next Assembly election, and Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn saying he would now support gay marriage. That’s an example of change.”
Susan said she feels hurt that people who have no involvement in her life feel they can decide how she should live. She said same sex marriage is a basic human right and she is optimistic about the future.
“I have the equal marriage tattoo - two red lines - on my wedding finger, and I hope that 20 years from now I will be able to tell my children that ‘back in 2015 you weren’t allow to marry the person you loved if you were gay’. I can’t wait until the day when I say ‘that’s how it used to be’.”