Published date24 June 2023
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
On June 27th, 1974, the first Dublin gay rights demonstration took place at the British Embassy and the Department of Justice, with a dozen people protesting laws against homosexuality in the south and north of Ireland. Around the same time, the Irish Gay Rights Movement (IGRM) was formed

David Norris: When we got up to the Department of Justice, the secretaries were all up on the first floor with their eyes out on stalks looking at us. We had placards and mine said "Homosexuals Are Revolting".

Edmund Lynch: There were people bringing in furniture into the Department and the guys saw us picketing outside and they wouldn't pass us.

Norris: A lorry drove up and the minister's carpet was heaved out onto the side of the road. And the helper got out and took one look at us and said "f**king queers"... and the driver got out and said "I don't give a b****cks. A picket's a f**kin' picket mate". And he took up my picket and marched around with us for half an hour.

Lynch: It wasn't like they were supporting gay rights. They just had the attitude that they never passed a picket.

Norris: It was to show we were ordinary people and weren't a threat. When I did an interview [on RTE's Last House in 1975 at first they said, "We'll put you in profile, in shadow" and I said "If so, I'm not doing it. The whole point is to show that we're not monsters."

The LGBTQ+ rights movement was growing. In 1977 Norris and Lynch left the IGRM to form the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform (CHLR), Norris initiated his High Court challenge against the laws that criminalised sexual acts between men in Ireland.

In the North, Jeffrey Dudgeon began the legal process that would lead to decriminalisation there in 1982. Liberation for Irish Lesbians (LIL) was founded in 1978. Lesbian activists had strong connections with the Irish Women's Liberation Movement, founded in 1970, and Irish Women United, formed in 1975.

Norris and Lynch were among the founders of the National Gay Federation (NGF) in 1979, establishing the Hirschfeld Centre in Temple Bar, with a community centre and disco. There were conferences, symposiums, helplines (such as Tel-A- Friend) and pickets throughout the late 70s and 80s.

Dr Patrick McDonagh: There was a Gay Association International conference in 1981 and Ireland had three gay organisations represented. Italy had one.

Bill Foley: I was a founding member of the Dublin Lesbian and Gay Men's Collective [initially the Dublin Gay Collective] formed in around 1981... Rather than just looking at, for instance, law reform and social spaces, we felt there was a need for social reform - changing people's attitudes. We were deliberately trying to do that by forming links on the broad left.

Joni Crone (LIL): The members of these groups often overlapped. We attended meetings, marches, pickets, protests, fundraising events, letter-writing campaigns before the internet, mobile phones, and before newspapers or magazines would accept notices or advertisements from lesbian, gay or left groups.

Foley: To us it was very clear that having bodily autonomy for women was very close to what we were looking for in terms of LGBT rights, to love or have sex with whoever you like. But it was a controversial topic in the scene itself.

Early Pride events

There were Pride celebrations prior to the 1983 parade. From 1979 they became more ambitious in scale. In 1980, Pride Week, run by the NGF and LIL, coincided with the opening of Norris's High Court case and featured high-profile guests: George Weinberg, the psychologist who coined the term "homophobia"; activist and film historian Vito Russo; Fr Micheál Mac Gréil, a Jesuit who supported Norris's case; and Dr Noel Browne, the first Irish parliamentarian to call for decriminalisation. Tonie Walsh (NGF): [Browne] came down to the Hirschfeld to unveil the [centre's] plaque. I was 19, and I was looking after the brass plaque - it cost £40. I was so scared of losing it, so I put it somewhere safe and then couldn't find it. Edmund Lynch got the RTÉ props department to make a plaque from white perspex, wrote "Hirschfeld Centre" on it, and taped it to a wooden plinth. I found the brass plaque a little while later. It's in the Little Museum of Dublin now. After the unveiling, we trotted into town and gave out four-page leaflets... There was a pink triangle on the front... The day before we went down to the flower market in Smithfield, and bought boxes of pink carnations and gave them out on the street...

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