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← The power and tension of authenticity | Fergal McFerran | TEDxStormont

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Showing Revision 12 created 01/29/2020 by Leonardo Silva.

  1. In 2015,
  2. at the age of 23,
  3. I had what I consider still today
  4. to be one of the single
    most profoundly intense
  5. and equally terrifying
    experiences of my life.
  6. I’d returned to Belfast
  7. after having been in work
    in London for a few days,
  8. and I decided that the next morning
    I’d make the journey back home.
  9. So I got up,
  10. I made the way to the train station
  11. and I got on a train in Belfast
    and got off in Ballymoney.
  12. And no, being in Ballymoney
    is neither the terrifying
  13. nor the intense part of the story.
  14. (Laughter)
  15. But my brother was waiting for me,
  16. and I got in the car and we made
    the drive back to the family home,
  17. where my mom and dad
    were surprised to see me.
  18. I hadn’t told them that I would be there.
  19. And the moment that followed
    probably only lasted for a few minutes,
  20. but at the time,
    it felt like hours were passing.
  21. And in that moment, I told my parents
    something that had been consuming me.
  22. In that moment, I told
    my parents that I was gay.
  23. Now,
  24. I was met by a response of nothing
    but unconditional love and acceptance.
  25. And to this day,
  26. it was the greatest sense of relief
    I’ve ever experienced.
  27. It felt like a physical weight
    being lifted from my shoulders.
  28. And I remain conscious of two things:
  29. the first, that not everyone
    is as lucky as I am
  30. from the response that they get
    from their loved ones when they come out,
  31. and the second, that up until that point,
    and even in moments since,
  32. I’ve led an existence of variations of me.
  33. And it’s funny,
  34. because despite knowing, really knowing,
    in my head and in my heart,
  35. that my family loved me
  36. and that of course
    they'd accept me for who I am,
  37. it was the world around me
  38. that had told me to expect
    a very different response.
  39. LGBT people are conditioned
    to expect the worst,
  40. while holding on to a little bit
    of hope for the best.
  41. When we think about
    the experiences of LGBT people -
  42. I now work for Europe’s
    largest LGBT rights organization.
  43. I often joke that that allows me to say
    that I’m a professional homosexual now.
  44. (Laughter)
  45. That doesn’t mean there are amateurs;
    it just means I’m better at it.
  46. (Laughter)
  47. But the reality is
    that in every new interaction,
  48. with every new job or every new boss,
  49. with every new colleague,
    in every new social situation,
  50. or in every new introduction
    to a friend of a friend,
  51. LGBT people make decisions.
  52. We make conscious, pragmatic decisions
    about who knows what.
  53. We make split-second assessments
    about what we disclose.
  54. And I’m not talking about
    anything particularly intricate.
  55. I’m talking about things that are
    everyday interactions for other people.
  56. If I get into a taxi and the driver asks,
    “What are you getting up to this weekend?”
  57. do I say, "I’m going for dinner
    with my boyfriend"?
  58. If I do, do I say
    “boyfriend” or “partner”?
  59. If I say “partner,” is that as obvious
    as saying “boyfriend”?
  60. So if I choose not to say anything at all,
    what do I have to make up instead?
  61. You might be surprised
  62. by how often we go through these things
    in our head and in our life
  63. because the world around us
    has told us to expect the worst.
  64. But when I came out,
  65. that sense of relief
  66. was one of the single most empowering
    feelings I’ve ever experienced.
  67. And so, I want you to imagine
  68. if the choices we face on a daily basis
    range from being entirely open and honest,
  69. and the vulnerability
    that comes with that
  70. to offering a redacted
    or edited version of ourselves,
  71. to withholding our truth entirely,
  72. are any of those things
    more or less authentic than each other?
  73. Probably.
  74. But I want you to imagine
  75. what it must be like to be faced
    with those choices every single day
  76. for an individual.
  77. I want you to imagine
    what it must feel like
  78. to be faced with those choices
    every day of every week
  79. of every month of every year
  80. for an entire community of people.
  81. Earlier this year,
  82. the UK government published the findings
    of the first-ever national LGBT survey.
  83. Spoiler alert: it was pretty grim reading.
  84. Around a quarter of all LGBT people
  85. have accessed some kind
    of mental health support service
  86. over the course of the last year.
  87. Forty percent have experienced an incident
  88. of something like either
    verbal harassment or physical violence
  89. in that same period.
  90. Over two-thirds have said
  91. that they have avoided holding the hand
    of their same-sex partner
  92. for fear of the response
    that they will receive.
  93. That is still our lived reality today.
  94. But what can you do
  95. other than continuing to be
    decent human beings?
  96. Well, I want to tell you another story,
  97. and it might seem a bit odd,
    but there’s a point to it, I promise.
  98. I want to take you back
    to November 3, 2008,
  99. the night before
    the US presidential election.
  100. The then soon-to-be president,
  101. Barack Obama,
  102. was addressing his final rally
  103. before votes would be cast
    the following morning.
  104. And with the crowd gathered
    in front of him in Virginia,
  105. he recounted a story
    of an experience he’d had
  106. at a much earlier stage of his campaign.
  107. He talked about getting in his car
    with his staff really early one morning,
  108. in the pouring rain,
  109. to make a trip to an isolated part
    of South Carolina.
  110. He was in a bad mood.
  111. They arrived.
  112. It was an hour and a half
    away from anywhere else.
  113. And when they arrived at the venue
    and opened the doors,
  114. lo and behold,
  115. there was about 20 people
    there to greet him,
  116. a small crowd.
  117. But Obama is a professional.
  118. He smiled, he shook hands,
    he made his way around the room,
  119. and as he was doing that,
    he heard a voice from behind him.
  120. “Fired-up!” the voice said.
  121. “Ready to go!” it continued.
  122. And Obama turned around,
    confused, of course,
  123. and saw that the origin of this voice
    was a small, slightly older lady
  124. wearing what he called a big church hat.
  125. And Obama looked at her,
    and she looked at him,
  126. and she smiled and continued.
  127. “Fired-up!” she said to the room.
  128. “Ready to go!” she continued.
  129. And to his surprise,
    the room responded to her.
  130. At this point, he looked at his staff
    and the staff looked at him,
  131. and they all shrugged their shoulders
    as they had no idea what was going on.
  132. But as this continued -
  133. “Fired-up!” the crowd responded,
  134. “Ready to go!” they responded again -
  135. Obama admitted he was starting
    to feel fired-up.
  136. By the end, as this went on
    for a few minutes,
  137. his mood had gone and he felt ready to go.
  138. And the point of that story,
    for anyone who follows US politics,
  139. you’ll know that that had an influence
    in how Obama engaged with his crowds,
  140. with his rallies,
  141. and he learned lessons to keep
    in his toolbox for further campaigns.
  142. But there’s another point to that story,
  143. because at that rally,
    the night before the election,
  144. he told the crowd in Virginia
    that that woman taught him something.
  145. That little woman with the big church hat
  146. taught him that there’s
    power in one voice,
  147. that if one voice can change a room,
    then one voice can also change a city.
  148. And he said if one voice
    could change a city,
  149. it could also change a state;
  150. and if one voice can change a state,
  151. it can also change a nation.
  152. And Obama believed that if one voice
    could change a nation,
  153. then one voice could
    also change the world.
  154. And so, I want you to think
    about authenticity,
  155. and I want you to think about the scale
    of the challenges that we face today,
  156. both locally but also
    as a global community.
  157. And I want you to imagine:
  158. imagine a world where
    people aren’t conditioned
  159. to expect the worst.
  160. Imagine a world where people don’t need
    to be given permission to be themselves.
  161. We’re not there yet.
  162. Arguably, we’re quite far
    from being there.
  163. But what if the voices
    that we’re not currently hearing
  164. are the ones that could help us to deal
    with the challenges that we face today?
  165. What if the voices
    that we’re not currently hearing
  166. are of the people who are most impacted
    by the challenges that we face today?
  167. Because then we all have a responsibility.
  168. We all have a responsibility
    to elevate those voices.
  169. And it’s fitting that we’re here today,
  170. in this building, in Stormont,
  171. in the home of power-sharing,
  172. because that is exactly
    what I want to ask of you today.
  173. When you leave,
    when you return to your life,
  174. I want you to take stock
    of the power that you hold.
  175. I want you to reflect
    upon the spaces that you occupy,
  176. where you have power
    and authority and influence.
  177. And in those spaces,
    I want you to make space.
  178. I want you to elevate the voices
    of the people that we hear from the least.
  179. Because here’s my hope:
  180. that if we believe that one voice
    can change a room,
  181. imagine the possibility of that one voice
    that can also change the world.
  182. Thank you.
  183. (Applause)