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Public Figure

The LGBT+ Public Figure Award was decided by public vote.

Award Recipient

Katherine Zappone began her political career as a member of the 24th Seanad in 2011. Here, she sat on the Committee of Justice, Defence and Equality. Zappone made history in 2016 when she was elected to the Daíl to represent the Dublin South-West constituency, which made her the first openly lesbian member of the Irish Cabinet. Since then - and indeed throughout her entire political career - Zappone oversaw a massive shift in Ireland’s cultural landscape as we became a nation that fought for the rights of LGBT+ people. In this regard, Zappone’s contribution cannot be understated.

In 2004 - long before Ireland’s landmark Marriage Equality referendum - Zappone and her late wife, Dr Ann Louise Gilligan, drew a huge amount of public attention to LGBT+ equality when they took a case to the High Court to have their Canadian marriage recognised in Ireland for tax filing purposes. Though they were initially unsuccessful, the case was significant as it gave huge momentum to the LGBT+ civil rights movement in the country. Many saw the Zappone V Revenue Commissioners case as a turning point for equality, paving the way for the Civil Partnership Act, and later, full marriage equality in 2015. Zappone and Gilligan wrote Our Lives Out Loud: In Pursuit of Justice and Equality, which documents their experience throughout the case.

As a voluntary advisor, Zappone was a key player in the Marriage Equality referendum. When Ireland voted ‘Yes’, she moved the nation as she proposed to her wife, Ann Louise, live on TV. Three years later, Zappone used her platform to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment. As Minister for Children, Zappone advocated for the rights of LGBT+ youth as she spearheaded the LGBT+ Youth Strategy - launched in 2017.

In accepting her GALA for LGBT+ Public Figure, Zappone shared how pleased and thrilled she was to be with her Rainbow Nation, and how humbled and honoured she felt to receive the award. Zappone affirmed her commitment to Ireland’s LGBT+ community, and noted that while there is much to celebrate, there is still so much to be done. Addressing the audience at the Mansion House, Zappone said, “Though we have great acceptance and a celebration of diversity, there are still terrible things happening in our country.” She referred specifically to the brutal, homophobic stabbing and assault of a gay couple in Newbridge, County Kildare. Zappone also addressed the senseless, homophobic bullying that happens in Irish schools and institutions, and the damage such bullying does. Additionally, Zappone pointed to her own experience of hate and prejudice as she acknowledged the targeted and homophobic attack on her recent campaign for GE2020. She also thanked and acknowledged the fantastic work carried out by her fellow nominees, who are similarly committed to being strong, public voices for Ireland’s LGBT+ community.

As she concluded her speech, Zappone pledged to remain a very public voice for Ireland’s LGBT+ community. She recalled feeling inspired by a young trans boy who joined her at the doorsteps during her most recent campaign. Reflecting on his confidence and pride in being himself completely, she offered words of advice to those who find themselves dealing with ignorance and adversity. To them, Zappone said “Be yourself. Stand tall. Include everyone, but most of all, shower the people with love.”

Nominees

Senator Jerry Buttimer

Over the course of his political career, Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer has been an advocate for LGBT+ people in Ireland. Buttimer was the first Fine Gael party member to come out as gay and has served as the Chairman for the party’s LGBT+ forum. Additionally, Senator Buttimer was one of Fine Gael’s loudest campaigners during the 2015 Marriage Equality referendum. As a TD, Buttimer campaigned for an LGBT+ Support Space in Leinster House. On an international level, Buttimer joined Senators David Norris and Fintan Warfield in a meeting at the Russian Embassy to express their horror at the treatment of LGBT+ people in Chechnya.

Councillor Owen Hanley

In 2019, Owen Hanley made history as Galway’s first openly LGBT+ councillor. Aged just 23 at the time of election, the Social Democrat also became the city’s youngest councillor. Hanley is a vocal activist for the LGBT+ community and has campaigned for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, gender equality, third level funding and an end to the housing crisis. Hanley was particularly vocal in calling for marriage equality in Northern Ireland. Hanley continues to be a representative for Ireland’s LGBT+ people on a national level. Last October, he was a powerful voice for the trans and non-binary community in Ireland as he called for Professor Donal O’Shea to reconsider comments he made about the HSE’s Gender Identity Panel.

Jack Shaun Murphy

Actor Jack Murphy - who played the character Ryan in Fair City - made Irish TV history as the first trans character on any Irish soap opera. In 2018, Murphy brought a huge amount of awareness to the barriers facing Ireland’s trans community in terms of accessing healthcare. In launching his own GoFundMe page to fund his top surgery, Murphy spoke candidly about his own experience stuck on a year and a half long waiting list, while drawing attention to the financial barriers that prevent many trans people from receiving the care they require. In September 2019, Murphy joined Ellen Murray, Brendan Courtney and Maria Walsh in launching Call It Out, the award-winning campaign aimed at targeting hate crimes and homophobic language in Ireland.

Senator Fintan Warfield

Since his election to the Seanad in 2016, Sinn Fein’s Fintan Warfield has been an unwavering advocate for LGBT+ rights in Ireland. Warfield serves as the party’s spokesperson for LGBT+ rights, Youth Affairs and Arts. Warfield has used his platform to campaign unequivocally for the rights of all LGBT+ people across a variety of issues. As a Senator, Warfield tabled the Gender Recognition Amendment Bill. Additionally, Warfield is a vocal campaigner for hate crime legislation, equal parental rights for same-sex parents, a ban on conversion therapy, access to PrEP and trans healthcare.

This article appears in the 363 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 363 Issue of GCN