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Ireland  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  

Glbtq people were long a largely invisible segment of the population and absent from the public discourse. A rare exception came when the government banned a novel, The Land of Spices (1941), by lesbian writer Kate O'Brien (1897-1974). At issue in the case was the depiction of gay male rather than lesbian desire. O'Brien did write of lesbianism in other works such as her 1958 novel As Music and Splendour.

In many countries the 1960s were a time of considerable social and political activism, but for gay men and lesbians in Ireland little changed. Emigration, often to England or the United States, was the choice of many glbtq people seeking to escape the of Irish society.

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Post-Stonewall Organizing

A watershed event for the Irish gay rights movement occurred not in the Republic but rather in New York City. The riots at the Stonewall Inn in June 1969 proved the catalyst that led to the formation of gay rights organizations in Ireland. According to activist Kieran Rose, the "gay liberationist values [of American organizations] were to provide the ideological bases of the first generation of Irish gay rights activists."

Among the earliest of the Irish gay rights groups to achieve a certain visibility and prominence was the Irish Gay Rights Movement (IGRM), founded in Dublin in 1975. In addition to providing social activities for gay men, IGRM had a telephone help-line, a women's group, and a law reform committee. Branches were established in other cities around the Republic including Cork.

The law reform group had the goal of expunging the repressive 1861 and 1885 statutes from the books. To this end David Norris, an activist and James Joyce scholar, mounted a challenge to the constitutionality of these laws. Begun in 1977, this action initiated an odyssey through the courts of Ireland and Europe.

Faced with financial difficulties and divisions over mission and direction, IRGM disbanded in 1983. Meanwhile other gay and lesbian associations had organized, including the Cork Gay Collective and the Gay Defence Committee, which evolved into the Dublin Lesbian and Gay Men's Collectives (DLGMC).

Murders of Charles Self and Declan Flynn

The Gay Defence Committee formed in response to the actions of the gardaí (police) after the murder of Charles Self, a gay man.

Self was stabbed to death in his Dublin home on January 20, 1982, perhaps by a man whom he had met in a gay cruising area that night. The gardaí, who had a description and sketch of the suspect, interrogated, photographed, and fingerprinted nearly 1,500 gay men, almost none of whom resembled the man sought. The interrogations often centered on the private lives of the men questioned rather than the solution of the murder.

The Gay Defence Committee spearheaded the effort to end the harassment. They organized a picket of the main gardaí station on Pearse Street (ironically, named for the writer of homoerotic verse). Support from other civil rights groups--including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties--and media coverage of the gardaí's practices eventually brought a halt to the wholesale interrogations.

The gardaí never arrested anyone for the murder of Charles Self.

A few months after Self was killed, another man, Declan Flynn, was beaten to death by a homophobic gang of youths in Fairview Park, a gay cruising spot. This time the assailants were brought to trial and found guilty, but the judge suspended the sentence and released the convicts, whereupon they held a "victory march" in Fairview Park. The DLGMC countered with a second march calling for an end to violence inspired by homophobia and violence against women. The march, which had the strong support of feminist groups, drew a large crowd but unfortunately did not lead to any improvement.

The Irish Lesbian Movement

The Irish lesbian movement had its roots in the wider campaign for women's rights. Lesbians were prominent members of the short-lived Irish Women United (1975-1977), an organization that focused on equal pay for women and issues of reproductive rights but did not take on specifically lesbian concerns.

Liberation for Lesbians (LIL, 1978-1985) addressed this need. LIL ran a telephone help-line and held discussion groups and conferences as well as offering social events.

The 1980s

The decade of the 1980s was a low point for the glbtq movement in Ireland. The political climate was generally conservative. AIDS was taking a toll among gay men, which only added to the stigma already imposed by the Catholic culture.

Nevertheless, David Norris's case challenging Ireland's repressive laws was moving through the courts. Norris's lawyer, Mary Robinson, initiated the case in November 1977. It was eventually heard in 1980, at which point the presiding judge found for the state despite acknowledging that there was significant discrimination against gays. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 1983.

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