Friday 20th July 2018
On a balmy Friday evening in Camden’s historic London Irish Centre, the London Irish LGBT Network gathered to hear Fulbright Scholar, Maurice J. Casey speak on the intersectional movements of radical politics in the Republic of Ireland which laid the bedrock for this decade’s two ground-breaking referendum results. The marriage equality referendum in 2015, and repeal referendum in 2018 have been heralded by many as the dawning of a new era of a pluralist, modern, secular Ireland, but Casey guided us through the underpinnings of this which were visible from the early eighties. Using the examples of four protest placards from what Maurice Casey called ‘Ireland’s first intersectional protest’, the Fairview Park Protest which occurred in response to the homophobic murder of Declan Flynn in late 1982, the participants were walked through elements of radical politics which were visible and began the decades-long struggle for both LGBT equality and bodily autonomy which came so prominently into the public eye with the 2015 and 2018 referendum campaigns.
Casey talked us through firstly the radical lesbian movement which diverged from the David Norris-led decriminalisation campaign, under the banner of the sign ‘Lesbians are on the March’. Secondly, he discussed the collaboration between the feminist and LGBT movements which was visible in protests in response to the police investigation of the murder of Charles Self, resulting in a campaign of intimidation of predominantly gay men, including fingerprinting, as well as the light sentencing of the killers of Declan Flynn. This element of political movement came together citing the idea of universal safety from violence. This was themed around the sign ‘The Police Arn’t [sic] On Your Side Either’. Thirdly, under the sign ‘Stop violence against gays and women’, Maurice Casey discussed the response to the murder of Dolores Lynch, and the culture of dismissal which was evident – citing the statement ‘the victim was only a prostitute’ as a rallying cry for the shared difficulties of the LGBTQ and women’s rights movements. The fourth and final sign discussed was ‘Get Your Filthy Laws Off My Body’. The women’s rights, reproductive freedom, and bodily autonomy movements found much to cooperate on with the LGBT movement. From obtaining proper healthcare and recognition for those who suffered in the AIDS epidemic to the women’s rights campaign for bodily autonomy and abortion as healthcare, there was ample common ground between the movements.
Drawing parallels between the women’s rights movement and the LGBT equality movement, especially on the radical fringes, Casey clearly drew together notions which were clear to those on the ground at the time. While not specifically discussing the situation in Northern Ireland, due to the differing political and social background, nor the cross-border cooperation and support which has existed for years in all movements, the focused and fascinating talk was an alternative view to the notion of 1980s Ireland as a Catholic, closed, and conservative country, painting instead a vibrant picture of social reform movements which, although small at times, and affected badly by social stigma and emigration, laid the bedrock for the revolutionary referendum results visible in this decade.
A blissfully cool air-conditioned room was the venue for this cross-generational event, kindly sponsored by Innisfree Housing Association. After a fascinating journey through the beginnings of an intersectional radical fringe of politics, the floor was opened to questions and comments, which ranged from a rousing declaration of the need for more action in the North and a reiteration of the inextricably intertwined yet discrete movements in the two regimes, to a declaration that the entire contents of this talk was obvious to those on the ground at the time, and just needed to be communicated to the general understanding. After all, how can we understand who we are now, a modern, secular, liberal Ireland, without understanding where we came from?
In the vein of knowing who we are, the London Irish LGBT Network also launched their new podcast series, ‘Our Story’, at the event. Telling the everyday stories of LGBT Irish in London, ‘Our Story’ is an oral history of our history, our lives from Ireland to London.
The first episodes are available on the London Irish LGBT website and the LILGBT Network are also looking for more contributors, and you can get in touch with Vanessa by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Words: Aislinn O’Connell
Photos: Vanessa Monaghan