Personal stories and accounts of a unique campaigning history were to the fore at a ground–breaking conference on LGBT Equality and Ireland in London on 1 November.
Clare Moore from Love Equality Northern Ireland flew in From Belfast to talk about why the fight for marriage equality there is so important, and personal.
She described the magnificent 20,000 strong rally in Belfast in June this year in support of equal marriage.
Conor McGinn, Labour MP for St Helens North, who has been central to the campaign in Westminster to change the law on equal marriage also spoke on the issue. He said, “Lots of people moved to London because they were rejected from their communities [in Northern Ireland]… There is a story that needs to be told, one of neglect, one of making people feel ashamed.”
Conor and Clare were joined on the platform by Sinn Fein MP, Chris Hazzard and chair Professor Daniel Monk. Damien Egan, the Mayor of Lewisham, himself an Irish gay man, said how important it was to recognise the experience of LGBT people and described plans for housing older LGBT people in the borough.
The day was co–hosted by Irish in Britain, the national charity representing Irish organisations across Britain and the London Irish LGBT Network, with the help of sponsorship from Innisfree Housing Association.
As well as addressing the question of extending equal marriage to Northern Ireland, a discussion chaired by Dr Joseph Healy of the London Irish LGBT Network, looked at the history of Irish LGBT experience.
Dr David Shaw from Liverpool University’s Institute of Irish Studies talked of the number of Irish LGBT people who have emigrated to Britain over decades in order to live an open life. He spelled out the impact of Ian Paisley’s ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign in the 1970s and then the lack of support and medical care available to people who became HIV positive with the rise of Aids in the 1980s.
Dr Joanne McCarthy reported on her research into the experiences of older gay Irish men. She told of the heavy toll that keeping secrets and leading double lives had taken on the mental health of so many of them.
There were moving testimonies from many attendees about their own personal experiences of coming out and of getting involved in LGBT campaigns in Britain. One attendee stressed the need for women’s voices to be heard in respect of the layers of trauma suffered by many who travelled to Britain.
Irish in Britain was delighted that Ambassador Adrian O’Neill was able to attend for part of the day.
Brian Dalton, CEO of Irish in Britain said,
“We are very proud to have hosted this conference, the first event of its kind to be held in Britain, with our friends from the London Irish LGBT Network. We believe in showcasing voices and experiences that have not always been given space in the story book of the Irish emigrant experience. We know our membership and our community is diverse, nuanced and plural.”