GCN has a global theme for this month’s edition, with a focus on the climate change crisis and environmental sustainability. For us in the National LGBT Federation - publishers of GCN - there has always existed an overarching link between LGBT+ rights and many other socially progressive movements, which, in addition to environmentalism, include the likes of feminism and women’s rights and the separation of Church and State.
Since our foundation, The National Gay Federation (as we were then called) has recognised the importance of working in concert with other like minded civil society organisations. There is certainly a rich history of cooperation between LGBT and women’s rights advocates in particular which continues into present times.
Likewise, we recognise the importance of Education Equality and for a significant overhaul of school patronage/ethos to occur to ensure the needs of what has become a much more secular and diverse society are better catered to, which includes our Rainbow Families among many others. An updated Relationships And Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum is also one of our current key objectives, so that all students, not least those who are LGBT+, are taught objective facts in this area that are independent of ‘ethos’ and any religious dogmas.
Returning to the ‘global’ theme, we firmly believe that the rights of LGBT+ people do not end at any national border or should be confined to any particular part of the world. Indeed we make explicit reference in our mission statement to campaigning for LGBT+ equality both in Ireland and abroad.
The importance attached to this international dimension of LGBT+ advocacy can be seen in the name chosen for Ireland’s first official LGBT+ community centre, which was run by the NGF. The Hirschfeld Centre was established in 1979 in what is now the Temple Bar area of Dublin. It was called after the famous Berlin based sexologist and social reformer Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, whose efforts to create more enlightened attitudes around sexuality included the need to end social and legal persecution of gay people. Dr Hirschfeld’s Institute would be destroyed by the Nazis in 1933 and his books subjected to a public burning. The name chosen for our new community space was thus an appropriate honour for such an early pioneer of gay rights.
Global concerns were again to the fore when the NGF and others gathered in Dublin to mark Gay Pride Week ‘80. The highlight of the event was International Gay Solidarity Day on June 28 1980 when, according to the Irish Queer Archive, Grafton Street was covered in a “veritable sea of pink carnations” that were handed out to the public, along with leaflets explaining the origins of the Stonewall Riots in the US, which gave birth to the modern Pride movement.
The early decades of the 21st century have also seen the influence of global trends in the area of LGBT+ rights. The campaign for marriage equality is a prime example of a movement that has transcended geographical borders. The ringing public endorsement of equal marriage rights in Ireland - a country once seen as a bastion of religious conservatism - undoubtedly caused other states, notably Australia and Germany, to more forcefully question how they could continue to justify their own discriminatory marriage laws.
In 2009, when the NLGF (as were called from 1990-2014) established The Galas - Ireland’s LGBT+ Awards under the direction of former chair Olivia McEvoy, an International category was included to support the work of those who campaign for LGBT+ rights against truly daunting odds. The Galas International Award comes with a €2,000 bursary and recipients over the years have included amazing advocates from the likes of Uganda, Russia and Tunisia, where LGBT+ communities often face extreme state enforced persecution.
As we mark our 40th anniversary this year, the National LGBT+ Federation (NXF) is determined to continue contributing to much needed advocacy efforts both in Ireland and beyond. Indeed we only need to look at how reactionary forces have gained ground in other parts of the world to see that equality gains must never be taken for granted.