For most of the 20th century, LGBT Irish citizens were forced to live in a kind of exile in their own country, with the laws, the church and public opinion all working in concert to make their lives invisible or intolerable.
So what happens to a history that is not written down? What happens to a history that is censured or overlooked?
These questions are familiar to every Irish historian, but they possess a particular urgency for Irish LGBT historians, who know that out of sight means out of mind.
Finding your voice in a land that labors to silence you is the work of a lifetime, of course. On Saturday, February 16 the New York Irish Center will host Outing the Past: A Celebration Of Irish LGBTQ History, where a series of academics, activists, politicians and writers will reflect on the very long journey taken by the Irish LGBT community to find their voice and full citizenship in their own Republic.
Speakers will include Dr. Brian Lacey, the archaeologists and medieval historian who specializes in the northwest of Ireland (County Donegal and Derry) in the period A.D. 500-1600. He is the author of 14 books and was a well known gay activist in Derry in the 1970s through the 1990s where he wrote the celebrated book Terrible Queer Creatures: Homosexuality In Irish History, a study of queer lives in Ireland from the fifth century to the present. Originally from Dublin, he now lives in Dun Luiche in the Donegal Gaeltacht.
Dr. Lacey will speak on the long and eventful history of homosexuality in precolonial Ireland (to wit, before the Brits) in a 20-minute talk that will conclude with a 10-minute audience discussion.
We were there all the time he reminds us, long before Queen Victoria and her criminal law amendment act of 1885 condemned almost a centuries worth of Irish and British consenting adults to infamy and ruination.
Academic and activist Marie Mulholland will follow with a discussion of the hidden contribution of Irish lesbians to the Easter Rising, focusing in particular on the lifelong couple and comrades in arms Dr. Kathleen Lynn and Madelyn French-Mullen.
A former member of Women Against Imperialism, Mulholland worked as a community worker in Belfast whereas an active trade unionist, she co-founded UNISON Northern Ireland's first LGB advisory group in the wake of the HIV/AIDS crisis. In 1987, she was given the Constance Markiewicz Award by the AFL-CIO in recognition of her activism.
Mulholland later worked for Ireland’s Equality Authority, where she had responsibility for LGB issues, and produced the Authority's first national report: Equality and LGB Rights. Marie currently lives in West Cork with her partner where she is Coordinator of West Cork Women against Violence, the regional domestic violence support service.
Jeff Dudgeon, MBE will then speak about his landmark 1981 case Dudgeon vs. the UK, where the European Court of Human Rights finally ordered the British government to decriminalize homosexuality in the six counties in the North in 1982, against the backdrop of Ian Paisley's remarkably unsuccessful campaign to Save Ulster From Sodomy.
It was a decision that set an international precedent, leading to the eventual victory in the Norris case which led to decriminalization in the Republic eleven years later. It was further cited in landmark Lawrence vs. Texas ruling in the US.
Then longtime NYork-basedsed writer and activist Anne Maguire will discuss the long and critical battle for Irish LGBT groups to be included in the city's St Patrick’s Day Parade, focusing on “the lesbian leadership of the campaign in the context of the times (the 1990's), the immigration status of Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) members, the closet, and Ireland.”
In the concluding talk, Irish Voice Arts Editor Cahir O'Doherty (this columnist) will discuss my forthcoming memoir about growing up gay in the 1980s in Inishowen County Donegal, then the most conservative part of Ireland, and the lessons that it taught me. I will ask how do you forge an identity in a nation that toils ceaselessly to deny it?
Entitled “the journey from silence and shame toward queer joy in 1980's Ireland and America,” in my talk I will discuss the longstanding use of silence and shame to oppress the marginalized in Ireland, and I will reflect on the outbursts of unabashedly queer joy that gleefully defied it.
The evening will conclude with a presentation of the Lifetime Recognition Award to Irish American activist Kathleen Walsh D'Arcy for her decades long work in pursuit of Social Justice. There will be ten minute questions and answers session with the audience after each speakers. Drinks and refreshments will be served at a networking event at the conclusion of the afternoon.
The event will be held at the New York Irish Center on 1040 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City from 1-5 P.M. This is a free event.