What is life like for gays and lesbians in Ireland today?
Susie: We are still looking at the implications
of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, but there are a lot of
things about to happen. A new refugees bill is being introduced
which will allow lesbians and gay men from countries where they
are being persecuted to seek asylum in Ireland and that they
will be granted it.
C.M-S.: But it is only a bill at this
Yes. The words sexual orientation may possibly be mentioned
as well but they are actually looking at social groupings and have
assured us that they will include lesbians and gay men but
they are even thinking of going so far as to stipulate this within
the legislation. Equal status legislation, thats full anti-discrimination
in non-employment areas will be passed within six months. It went
through the cabinet last Tuesday. We already have the Unfair Dismissals
Act which prevents lesbians and gay men from being dismissed in
public and private sectors of employment.
C.M-S.: So now you want to move into the
non-employment areas with the anti-Discrimination law...
Yes. That includes accommodation, services, education, and not only
for lesbians and gay men, but travellers, people with disability,
women, different parental status (children born out of wedlock,
children of single parent families) and ethnic status. We have a
cabinet minister for equality and law reform. He has been doing
a lot of work getting this ready. It is a very difficult piece of
legislation. The other departments in the government protested because
of the implications (of extra work) for each of their departments
but he got it through last week.
Campaigning for changes
C.M-S.: How has it come about that Ireland
is becoming so progressive in this field when you think what the
catholic church is doing elsewhere ?
Susie: I think the first thing to remember
is that the Irish people themselves have been discriminated against
for 800 years. The time had come after so many years lobbying by
David Norris, for example. And then, when our alliance was built
by lots of groups including GLEN (G ay and
LE sbian N etwork) Irelands only (LGBT) lobbying
organisation which is supported by all lesbian and gay organisations,
plus people of disability organisations, womens organisations,
and we got the backing of a wide range of Irish society, from non-governmental
organisations, different churches and the Catholic Church
in the end didnt protest all that much.
They are well known for their work in fields of social-justice,
in missionary work, development aid, unemployment. It was made clear
to them that decriminalisation was a question of human rights. I
also think the Catholic Church is losing its influence.
The only thing they really control directly are the schools
and theyll lose control of that in the next few years. They
decided they couldnt fight on this issue any more because
the government were so determined that they were going to decriminalise
homosexuality. We have a very effective coalition Government with
a traditional centre-left party (Fianna Fail) and the Labour Party.
It was a promise by the Minister of Justice, M.G. Quinn, who said
that it would be the first thing she would do when she came into
office, - and it was. People saw she was determined and wouldnt
be fobbed off, so
The other legislation which has come in hasnt just happened
because of decriminalisation. It was being planned at the same time.
Evidence was produced that lesbians and gays were sacked for being
themselves and the Minister Mary ORourke, who took over that
legislation, stood up and said why she was doing it. The Government
now has a cast-in-stone commitment to equality. Thats
very important. They also know that they are dealing with professionals
when it comes to the representation of lesbians and gay men
in terms of GLEN. There have been strong links built and we said
if we didnt get equality we would call for MPs to break
the Whip to defeat the bill. They understood the threats and
We have had a huge back-up from around the world ILGA, and
the letter-writing campaign called by ILGA. The last one which was
carried out was amazing. The Taiseochss (PM) office was fed
up with the number of letters which came in. I can remember the
one from your association (Laughs. Perhaps because we wrote that
Sir Roger Casement, the Irish Patriot, who had exposed the machinations
of the imperial rulers in the Belgian Congo, and later was executed
for by the British, would leave his grave if he knew how gays and
lesbians were treated in Ireland.) It was very effective. Ireland
always wants to be seen as as a good European country because
we get a lot out of Europe to help us come into line with the levelling
up with other countries.
Because the Court of Human Rights was so insistent and every
six months at the Council of Europe Ministers Committee, the Irish
question came up. Why hasnt Ireland changed the law?.
They would make some excuse. Paidric Flynn is (= was 2000) now the
European Commissioner for Social Affairs and a part of his agenda
is gay and lesbian matters. He refused so often, but the embarrassment
became great. Now England is embarrassed because the Irish legislation
is so much better. Other elements of change have been that we are
now able to do prevention work in terms of AIDS, Because the sexual
act of sodomy was illegal, the Department of Health would not fund
any prevention work specifically targeted at gay men. Now they have
no excuse, they do fund such work, and are willing.
Now we are doing research into poverty among gays and lesbians
women. It is quality research which will show how lesbians and gay
men are discriminated against in schooling, and in the work place.
How they are (not well off, well adjusted) if they are poor as people
of the same background who are heterosexuals. They are psychologically
disadvantaged. But the most interesting result that
I have seen so far is the number of people who know somebody who
has been beaten up. Around 78% of those questioned know someone
who has been beaten up, around 46% have themselves been either verbally
or physically abused because of their sexual orientation. This will
be powerful, because it is not just legislation, changing policies.
It puts into question the way police handle crimes against lesbians
and gay men.
C.M-S.: Do you have a contact man by the
police as they do in some German cities?
We are waiting for a letter from the Minister of Justice
to explain her policies towards lesbians and gay men within the
next week. The police are very positive. When asked what their reactions
would be they say they would not behave differently towards other
people. The police press office said we have 11,000 members which
means around 1,100 must be gay. Even those of us who work in the
gay and lesbian community are not aware of the scale of the gay
C.M-S.: So you dont have a hotline
Susie: No. We do have a gay switchboard
and they ring me if there is a problem
Im in the Hirschfeld
Centre. But the problems I would be dealing with most is discrimination
- in terms of life assurance - which is a huge problem in Ireland
at the moment - or the problems of those caught cruising who are
looking for proper legal advice from gay-friendly solicitors. So
the problem of violence is not high on the agenda for lesbians and
gay men in Dublin at the moment
although we did have some
murders at the beginning of the 1980s. That brought together
a lot of groups from various causes straight and gay
in a fight against homophobia. In addition although the crimes are
not reported, in the small scene in Dublin- only two pubs and two
saunas - we would get to know about them. It doesnt seem to
be a big problem. I have only heard of two or three cases in the
last twelve months.
C.M-S.: Is that because people dont
get beaten up or because you dont hear about it?
I think it is a combination of both. Although people will not report
crime, the gay scene in Dublin is small enough for it to get around
if someone is beaten up.
C.M-S.: Is that possibly because so few
people are « out » compared to Germany?
Susie: That may well be. There have been
two murders in the past year of gay men killing other gay men. I
think it may well be because people are not so open.
and no parks ?
Susie.: We have lots of great green parks
in Dublin ! And there are cruising areas there too, but it is very
quiet. There are more and more people coming out. The numbers of
people contacting the youth group in Dublin and attending
have doubled in the last year to about 70. There is a high
turnover. They go to the youth group, find a friend and thats
it. Theyre happy and they can always come back if they
Susie contrinues: But 1994 will be known
as the lesbian visibility year. There are very few lesbians in Ireland
who are known and visible. There were also huge problems between
lesbians and gay men working together, but this year lesbian groups
have attained a very professional footing. The y have got funding
from the government to run leadership programmes and also an unemployment
Lesbian chic came to Ireland this year and was defended
and opposed very eloquently by lesbians who had not
spoken out before. You can count on the fingers of two hands the
number of lesbians who might appear on television to say something
What is lesbian chic ?
That is what hit the States last year with k. d. lang and Cindy
Crawford who on the cover of Vanity Fair photographed as they were
shaving each other. This whole thing came from the States into Europe.
The media in Ireland started to take note that lesbians had been
around for a long time.
Why havent they been so visible as gay men? Firstly Irish
women have been chained to the kitchen sink. They were supposed
to get married and have children. Being lesbian was not an option.
That was one of the things that kept women underground,
The problem of gay men was another factor. But they saw what was
happening to gay men in terms of criminality and even though lesbian
sex was never criminalised, it was by association seen as
C.M-S.: You told me earlier that you had
appeared on TV ..
Since decriminalisation there has been a lesbian and gay
publishing bandwagon. Finally there are books being published,
and the publishing companies are fighting over who will write the
books for them! Myself and Junior Larkin were commissioned by Martello
to write Irelands first book about coming out. It was published
two weeks ago and has personal stories, advice, explanations of
gay culture, things to do with sexuality, safer sex, religion and
a contact list with a bibliography. Its getting mass exposure
because the issue of how do you tell your parents fascinates the
media. They cant concentrate on the illegality anymore, so
theyve picked on this. There were no books when I and Junior
came out so we were glad when we were asked to do it.
So we were on TV during prime time for twenty minutes and
weve done 7 radio and two national newspaper interviews. There
are at least another five books due out before the spring
short stories, and a book called Theres one in every
family for parents and families. Thats targeted
at people who are not gay. There are plans for a radio programme
on the national broadcasting network, too.
Politics and the Future
C-M-S.: What about the political developments
in relation to Northern Ireland? Are there signs of hope there,
hopeful. Both cease-fires. I never thought I would see them and
that the IRA would do it. It is very necessary that Sinn Fein are
brought to the negotiating table. The wishes of everyone will have
to be respected. I will never see a united Ireland, and I dont
think I would want that against the wishes of the majority. But
there is an awful lot of talking to be done.. The British Government
must accept that the nationalist Catholics have been discriminated
against and that there has to be reconciliation. The Nationalist
have to learn that the Loyalist (Those opposed to a united Ireland
C.M-S) fears are also valid.
But there are implications for lesbians and gay men in Northern
Ireland. There is a huge question as to whether sectarianism has
divided the gay and lesbian community or not. One person I spoke
recently - he is a Protestant went home and told his father
that he was gay. To which the father replied Well, I would
rather that you are gay than going out with a catholic. What
he didnt tell his father was that his boyfriend is a catholic!
But there is some sectarianism in the gay and lesbian community
in the North.
Also Ian Paisley ran a Save Ireland from Sodomy Campaign
and Northern Ireland was left out of the British Sexual Offences
Act (1967) for 15 years. The gay and lesbian lobbyist in Britain
didnt want Northern Ireland included in the Edwina Currie
amendment to lower the age of consent because they were afraid the
Unionist (= Loyalists) would come to Westminster and defeat it with
their block vote. The Unionist were going to go there anyway.
Jeff Dudgeon who was the first (gay) person to bring a
case to the Court of Human Rights and get a positive judgement
is respected world-wide today. Hes still battling. The Royal
Ulster Constabulary (Northern Ireland Police) are the most homophobic
constabulary in the United Kingdom. For gays and lesbians the big
implication of a period of peace is that the RUC would have very
little to do if the IRA and Loyalists stopped fighting. Theyve
got to keep the crime statistics down to justify heir numbers and
existence, so there are a loot of agent provocateurs (pink police!)
going around the parks and toilets in N. Ireland. There have been
four suicides in the last three months, two teachers, a priest and
a policeman who was being hunted by his colleagues. They committed
suicide because they were charged with gross indecency. The RUC
are stepping up their surveillance and the lesbian and gay community
are worried about this.
Colin de la Motte-Sherman