*Editor's Note: Journalist Lyra McKee, a native of Belfast, was killed during a night of violence in the Creggan area of Derry in Northern Ireland on April 18, 2019. McKee would have turned 31 today, March 31, 2021. In her honor, we look back at one of her most moving pieces.
Today I’ll be celebrating the life of @LyraMcKee, she would have turned 31, but instead she’ll forever be 29. Her killer gets to live his life, as small and pointless as it is, how is that fair?
Happy Birthday beautiful, blowing out your birthday candles in 2019 💜💜 pic.twitter.com/4X0OsAOiRl— Sara (@Teh_Woo) March 30, 2021
The following is Lyra McKee's amazing letter to her 14-year-old self which she published as a blog post in August 2014:
Yesterday, I tweeted a response to the hateful homophobic comments made by a Northern Irish pastor, James McConnell. Mr. McConnell said: “Two lesbians living together are not a family. They are sexual perverts playing let’s pretend.”
I said: “People like Pastor McConnell made 14-year-old me feel like I was better off dead, rather than deal with the shame of being gay.”
I rarely use this blog for anything other than professional work/journalism-related matters, but a number of people asked me to write a blog post summarizing what I said. Someone remarked that maybe some 14-year-old would read it and take hope. So, I decided to write a letter to my 14-year-old self, 10 years later, as a 24 year old looking back.
It’s going to be okay.
I know you’re not feeling that way right now. You’re sitting in school. The other kids are making fun of you. You told the wrong person you had a crush and soon, they all knew your secret. It’s horrible. They make your life hell. They laugh at you, whisper about you and call you names. It’s not nice. And you can’t ask an adult for help because if you did that, you’d have to tell them the truth and you can’t do that.
They can’t ever know your secret.
Life is so hard right now. Every day, you wake up wondering who else will find out your secret and hate you.
It won’t always be like this. It’s going to get better.
In a year’s time, you’re going to join a scheme that trains people your age to be journalists. I know the careers teacher suggested that as an option and you said no, because it sounded boring and all you wanted to do was write but go with it.
For the first time in your life, you will feel like you’re good at something useful. You’ll have found your calling. You’ll meet amazing people. And when the bad times come again – FYI, your first girlfriend is not “the one” and you will screw up that History exam – it will be journalism that helps you soldier on.
In two years’ time, you will leave school and go to a local technical college. Don’t worry – you’re going to make friends. These will be your first real friends in semi-adulthood, the people who will answer your calls at 4 O’clock in the morning. In the years to come, you’ll only keep in touch with Gavyn and Jonny, but you’ll remember the others fondly. When you’re 17, you’ll tell them your secret and they won’t mind. It will take courage, but you will do it. Gavyn will become Christian and you will fear that he will hate you but one afternoon, you’ll receive a text message saying: “This changes nothing. You’ll always be my friend.” Accept him for what he is as he has accepted you.
You’ll go to university, like you always planned to, but you’ll drop out because it reminds you of school where people were cold and you had few friends. The campus is just too big and scary. But this experience will be the making of you.
You’ll be making your way in the world for the first time. Through this, you will meet the people who become your best friends. They’ll help you replace all the bad memories with good ones. For the first time in your life, you will like yourself.
Three months before your 21st birthday, you will tell Mum the secret. You will be sobbing and shaking and she will be frightened because she doesn’t know what’s wrong. Christmas will be just a couple of weeks away. You have to tell her because you’ve met someone you like and you can’t live with the guilt anymore. You can’t get the words out so she says it: “Are you gay?” And you will say, “Yes Mummy, I’m so sorry.” And instead of getting mad, she will reply “Thank God you’re not pregnant”.
You will crawl into her lap, sobbing, as she holds you and tells you that you are her little girl and how could you ever think that anything would make her love you any less? You will feel like a prisoner who has been given their freedom. You will remember all the times you pleaded with God to help you because you were so afraid and you will feel so foolish because you had nothing to worry about.
You will tell your siblings. No one will mind. Mary will hug you in the food court in Castlecourt as you eat KFC together and tell you she’s so proud of you. The others will joke about how they always knew. They will all say some variation of “I love you,” “I’m so proud of you”, “This doesn’t change a thing.”
You will feel so lucky. You watched James get thrown out of his house after coming out to his parents. You were in Michael’s house the night his Mum said she would “beat the gay out of him”. You will feel guilty for being the lucky one and getting it easy in the end, even though you went through hell to get there.
You will fall in love for the first time. You will have your heart broken for the first time and you will feel like you might die of the pain. You won’t. You will get over it.
Right now, you’re wondering if you’ll ever be “normal”. You are normal. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not going to hell. You did nothing to deserve their hate.
Life will not only get easier, it will get so much better. You will walk down the street without fear. Teenage boys you’ve never met will not throw things at you and shout names. Your friends will be the best anyone could ask for.
You will be invited to parties. You will have a social life. You will be loved. People will use words like “awesome” and “cool” and “witty” to describe you and you’ll forget the times the other kids said you were “weird” and “odd” and a “lesbo”.
You will do “normal” things. You will spend time with your Mum. You will go to work and pay your bills. You will go to the cinema with your best friend every week because that’s your ritual – dinner then an action movie where things explode. You will fall in love again. You will smile every day, knowing that someone loves you as much as you love them.
Keep hanging on, kid. It’s worth it. I love you.
*Originally published in April 2019, last updated in March 2021.