Kiernan Gildea, former Chief Commissioner of Youth Programme, former Provincial Commissioner of Dublin and recent candidate for the office of Chief Scout, spoke exclusively to theirishscouter earlier this summer.
Kiernan, thank you for speaking with theirishscouter.
A lot of members in Scouting Ireland will be curious to understand the chain of events that led to you deciding to withdraw from the election for Chief Scout, at National Council in April 2015.
As you possibly know, you are a very well-known member of the association and someone who is well-regarded, so it was all the more unexpected and indeed shocking that you withdrew from the race so close to the election.
IS: Can you provide some background?
KG: When I decided to seek the position of Chief Scout, I made a commitment to participate in the campaign and indeed the role of Chief Scout, by pursuing a number of principles. The first of these is Transparency.
This is the toughest principle to live up to. Many people will know that I am gay. Some may not. However, I’m also a man of my generation. I grew up at a time when to be gay was both a crime and a sin, so I have tended to be very low key about it. Like many gay people, I have lived pretty much a double life as a result. I don’t wish for it to define who I am in the minds of others – and of course I fear that some people still believe that to be gay is to be bad or perverse. I also suffer with depression since the death of a colleague in Kenya in 1997.
IS: Why did you withdraw your candidacy?
KG: Something happened on the eve of National Council. On the Friday afternoon I received an anonymous email. I was at home on my own. (My boss had told me to take the day off!) Whatever the intentions of the sender of that message my response to it was to immediate collapse. I was both in shock and having a physical and mental breakdown. All the years of repressed fear around being gay alongside a deep sense of guilt and responsibility for what happened in Kenya flooded over me. The message triggered a flood of bad feelings about myself and convinced me that I was letting everyone in my life down in the most hurtful way and that the principles that I strive to live by were all a lie.
IS: What was in this email that made you react in this way?
KG: Insinuations and threats were made in the email, which put into question my suitability to be an adult in Scouting. There was even a reference to my professional life. I have revealed all (and more) to the relevant people in Scouting Ireland, to my boss at work, and indeed to family and close friends. In every case I have completely accepted their judgement. I sit here now wearing my neckerchief.
I’m not Chief Scout as I felt I had to withdraw from the election to both protect Scouting Ireland and myself. I had no time to think straight – I had collapsed – and it was only a few hours to voting.
IS: Clearly an individual (or individuals) were very determined to stop you taking on the role of Chief Scout. You were the favourite to win the election by quite a margin. Do you think you were perceived to be posing a threat to some vested interests in Scouting?
KG: I am not sure how anyone could perceive me as a threat – and to what in any event?
I’m an ordinary guy. I am gay. I am also 58 years of age. I am a lifelong Scout. I live alone – indeed I am often lonely. I like motorbikes and mountain biking. I like hill walking. I love Scouting, particularly with my own local Scout Group (Aughrim Street).
I have a few close friends and it would appear that I have some enemies. I’m nothing special – we all have a story to tell and live with all sorts of traumas and difficulties. I’ll be doing what I can to find some equilibrium over the next few weeks and months and I’d like to think that I’ll become a better champion of inclusivity in Scouting along the way.
IS: Do you believe that homophobia and misogynistic behavior are widespread in Scouting, just hidden by a thin veneer of tolerance?
KG: No. I believe the overwhelming majority of people in Scouting are kind, decent people who believe in fairness, inclusivity and openness. There are clearly a small minority – a tiny minority – who do not. In the grand scheme of things, these people cannot influence the overall direction of Scouting.
IS: Well, could it be argued that they did in fact influence the direction of Scouting – they sabotaged a democratic vote by ‘taking out’ the lead candidate for the top job in Scouting?
KG: There are many other people in Scouting Ireland who can take on the job of Chief Scout. There will be an election in September and National Council will choose the best candidate. In the long run, the association will get the right Chief Scout.
IS: Democracy can be delayed but not prevented?
KG: Something like that I suppose
IS: Are you going to seek election in September?
KG: I have thought long and hard about this, but I have decided not to do so. There may be other opportunities in the future. For now, it is up to others to seek election and, if successful, set out a vision for Scouting that can restore some core values into national scouting and facilitate a vision that can unite everyone behind a common purpose
IS: Is Scouting divided?
KG: I think we have veered away in recent years from some of the core principles that were behind the original vision of Scouting Ireland. The Scout Group, not National Office, for example, needs to become the centre of Scouting once again. That will require leadership.
But Scouting also needs a vision. I don’t mean a document drafted by the NMC that nobody else gets input to or even reads. I mean a vision that is widely discussed, agreed upon and understood by everyone. A true vision for Scouting in Ireland will be brought to life by local Scout Groups. National Office has a role to help facilitate this, but if its driven centrally, it won’t gain the momentum needed.
IS: What next for Kiernan Gildea?
KG: Perhaps some good will come out of the trauma that I’ve experienced. I feared at the time that people would give up on me because I was letting them down by withdrawing from the Chief Scout election. I have struggled with two social stigmas – being gay and suffering from depression. Perhaps I can better help others to deal with similar issues in their lives. I can at least show that despite everything I can carry on and be happy with who I am – and while not being Chief Scout, to strive to act like one.
IS: How have the past weeks and months been, as you’ve sought to put these events behind you?
KG: I have been very lucky to be surrounded by friends and family who have shown me copious and unconditional support and love over the past weeks. Without this, I would have really struggled to cope. I am not yet fully back on track, but I hope to be at some stage. I just need a little bit more time to recover.
Kiernan Gildea was talking to Garrett Flynn from theirishscouter.