Love is the Law: Peter Sztal & Frank Kavanagh


Posted May 5, 2015 in Features, More

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We wanted to follow up the article last month’s Totally Dublin, ‘How To Win Your Referendum’, with a simple reminder of who the referendum is for in a very immediate sense, people in long term same-sex relationships. We realise of course, the referendum is also (all going according to plan) there to enshrine marriage rights for everyone in perpetuity, for today’s young gay community and beyond, but the aim here was to put a concrete set of faces onto an abstract question about love and the law as an effective way of presenting why people should being saying Yes come May 22nd.

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How long have you been together and can you tell me a little of how the relationship began?

Peter: We met in the summer of 2005 so nearly ten years ago. I moved in within two weeks knowing that Frank was the man. I kept up the appearances paying rent in my own place for the next few months until I hijacked Frank’s plans and we went travelling in December. We travelled for six months across South East Asia and Australia. As amazing and beautiful as it was, it was also demanding and a bit scary at times. I had never been in a same-sex relationship prior to it, but I believe that that time travelling made us the best of friends and somehow gave us a purpose for our future life.

Frank: We met 10 years ago in Dublin on a Saturday night in a club called Crawdaddy just off Harcourt Street. My mother always said, ‘Ye’ll never meet your love in a nightclub’, but hey! It was August 13th, I was just ‘out’ and Peter yet to follow. We had both just finished our college degrees in June and the world was welcoming us with open arms and life was fun. I was living in a ground floor apartment in a house in Rathgar with my college friends. All was normal, damp walls, cold nights clinging to my quilt and the added extra of our own faeces coming up through the shower… Oh the joys of D6 apartment living! But that didn’t stop my Polish Peter. Within one week his toothbrush was beside mine and he was charming my house mates with his cooking skills! Within two weeks he told me he loved me! I have always loved his spontaneity, it’s something my mother would agree with! We travelled, we laughed, we worked. Now having left our ‘steady jobs’, we have two businesses, Cloud Picker Coffee Roastery and Science Gallery Cafe. We’re lucky people who work hard. I do find it more than weird that we pay taxes, create jobs and yet our relationship is open to public vote… it feels unjust.

Ireland was extremely conservative in the 1980s and 1990s and somewhat less so now. When do you feel that real strides for recognition of gay rights began to happen? Were there key, big moments, or is it a case of more slow and steady improvement?

P: Being Polish, it’d be difficult for me to express my opinion on this. I left Poland and moved to Ireland in 2002 and I have to tell you that attitudes towards gay people in Dublin really encouraged me to come out and become who I am. I’m not sure what the situation in Poland is like right now, but after coming out to my mother ten years ago she was bullied at work for having a gay son.

A big moment for me was when I was working for a big bank here in Dublin and I found out that the manager was a lesbian. I remember thinking, you can be gay and successful. It was naïve but coming from a warped post-Communist attitude, I found it refreshing, encouraging and inspiring.

F: I have to be honest, this is not something I had ever concerned myself with. I was straight for god’s sake! I was deep in denial, so why would I have ever recognised key moments. Gay rights was for people other than me! That said, I don’t think ‘improvement’ is something that has a blanket effect. There are pockets of yay and nay thinkers in all corners, be it Donegal, Cork, Rathgar or Tallaght.

Do you still encounter homophobia, and how do you find it affects you? Is it something you can very easily rise above?

P: We still do encounter homophobia. It’s the usual dirty looks from people on the street when holding hands or hugging. I would say I can rise above it, nevertheless when I do hold Frank’s hand in a public place I internally get assertive and ready for defence. It creates a sort of high alert situation which is unfair and shouldn’t happen.

F: Unfortunately the answer is yes, we do still encounter homophobia. Peter and myself have made a conscious decision on a couple of occasions to hold hands on a night out or on our way home and we have been met with ignorant remarks. I guess the important part here is the fact we made a conscious decision to hold hands to see what would happen and the opposite of this is that we also make the conscious decision not to hold hands as we feel it could spell trouble. It is something we can rise above but if I was younger I might find it tougher. I guess what annoys me is the fact that a guy and a girl can hold hands and it’s no problem, yet we have to be aware at all times. We can’t just go to our local pub and hold hands at the bar. To dig a little deeper, I wouldn’t be rushing back to settle in my home county of Donegal as I feel our sexuality would be an issue. The majority are great but its the odd few that stick in the brain – unfortunately.

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Have there been any particularly difficult barriers to overcome – in relation to societal or familial pressures? Or has support been present throughout?

P: Loads! If I stayed in Poland I would probably be married with three kids by now. Moving to Ireland was an escape. I cherished the fact that I could fall in love with another man and be upfront about it. The consequences of it are definitely lesser in Ireland than back home. In terms of my family, I had huge support from my older brother. Without any judgement he understood my wish to come out and supported me all the way. It was somewhat a different situation with my mother though, initially she wanted me to travel back to Poland to get cured. Now I know that she was simply scared. She didn’t think it was wrong to be gay. She was afraid of being vindicated. After meeting Frank and seeing how happy and solid we are, she stood proudly next to us during our Civil Partnership ceremony on a sunny day in Donegal in 2011.

F: I am the son of former Brother Fabian and a former Sister Columba, my parents met and then left their orders and as a result I am the youngest of five children, of course there was going to be barriers to overcome. Luckily for me though, my parents had experienced the cold man-made walls of the church and were free in their thinking. I still grew up in a very Catholic household and until my early twenties I was very much under the church’s spell. I struggled to come out for this very reason. I was riddled with Catholic guilt. I didn’t believe in myself, and I should have, which annoys me now. Why wasn’t I braver, why didn’t I grow a pair of balls before the age of 28?

I sometimes drift back to my coming out times, it may be a smell or a song on the radio that brings me back. What a lonely place. Where was my church then? It was my close friends and big brother Joe who were just amazing. They were my church.

If the referendum passes this May, how do you plan to celebrate?

P: I’d say few pints of Guinness will be had… And maybe a wedding…It’s my turn to propose this time!

F: When the referendum passes we will take our dog, Henry, for a walk on the beach and then go hold hands at the local bar.

Words: Ian Lamont

Photo: Killian Broderick

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