Activists Reunited |

19 mins

Activists Reunited

Launched in 1974, the IGRM was created as non-party political grouping to further gay rights. At the time, as Clem says, “There were no gay rights. The aim of the group was decriminalisation.

“It was hard to be open [in 1974], there wasn’t too much flack, but obviously, we weren’t parading around in the early stages, as there was no such thing as Dublin Pride.

“Most of the founding members were holding down full-time jobs, therefore we had responsibilities because when we took on leases and tenancies and managed pubs and all of that, we had to have bank guarantees supporting our initiatives, in order to actually have a telephone, actually have an office desk. So we weren’t too public.”

The group soon began to progress. “Starting from nothing meant that everything that you did was better than what happened yesterday, what happened last year. As time went forward, we ourselves obviously became more confident in dealing with the public in general. At the time, the communication was mostly through the Irish Times Letter To The Editor page.

“Occasionally, someone would send a letter to the Times and ask a question about homosexuality in Ireland, and then our general secretary, Shaun Connelly, would take that opportunity to reply.”

Two years after the group started, they took on a basement premises in Parnell Square West, using it “as an opportunity to fundraise by having a disco every weekend. Then, within a year, the landlord rented us the entire four stories above the ground floor. That became the headquarters for the Irish Gay Rights Movement.”

The group published pamphlets and campaigned on legislative issues, with Connolly publishing a report in the Sunday Independent in 1974 saying, “Homosexuals are ordinary everyday people who are prevented from expressing their emotional needs on the human level. It is with this in mind that the Irish Gay Rights Movement puts forward its objectives.”

The group became more public and vocal following the screening of Tuesday Report on RTÉ in 1977 - a programme dealing with ‘Homosexuality In Ireland’.

Clem continued, “Remember that there was only one television station, so everybody who had a television was either going to watch the programme or was going to go out and hide away, because it was well flagged in the RTÉ Guide that it was going to uncover homosexuals in Ireland.” Indeed, the RTÉ Guide programme description stated, “The men and women in the film look like me and you. They are accountants, civil servants, students, shop-workers, manualworkers, office-workers. The only difference is that their sexual orientation is towards their own sex.”

Continuing in their efforts to push for gay rights, Clem described how the group split, eventually winding up the IGRM in the early 1980’s but knowing decriminalisation was only a matter of time.

“David Norris, at and around the same time, had taken it to the Supreme Court, so we knew that at some stage in the future decriminalisation would occur. The fact that it took 20-25 years after we began for that to happen was neither here nor there. The direction it’s taken in recent years, it’s totally amazing. We never foresaw marriage opportunities or equality on that front, we were only interested in ensuring that we as people were not criminalised. Although we were not being brought to court every day by authorities in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, nonetheless it was always available in the background, being used as a weapon. You could lose your job because you were gay, lose your home because you were gay, all of that, it was always in the backs of people’s minds.”

The group had their first reunion five years ago, on the 40 year anniversary of their launch. “And then we decided to have another one this year,” Clem continued. “And all going well, if we’re still around, we should be able to do the same in five years time. The thing is, the co-founders of IGRM are still alive, and that in itself is something.”

This article appears in the 355 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 355 Issue of GCN