On Tuesday February 1, Eoin Collins, one of the most important activists for LGBTQ+ progress in Ireland over the last 25 years, passed away after a short illness in the care of his family in Lucan. His untimely death came just three months after the sudden death of his beloved husband Josep Adalla in November in New York where they were living. Eoin and Josep leave behind devastated families and friends, and a community of activists who are forever enriched through knowing them
Eoin was one of the principal architects of the extraordinary progress and change that we have seen for LGBTQ+ people over the last decades. As one of GLEN’s (Gay and Lesbian Equality Network) founders he was a key driver of legislative reform and social progress. Eoin and his fellow activists campaigned for many years for decriminalisation and convinced a reluctant government to bring forward equality-based change in 1993. Building on that, he campaigned for wide-ranging, multi-ground equality legislation in principled solidarity with other minority communities. This work ultimately resulted in the nine grounds of Ireland’s ground-breaking Equality legislation which established the legal platform from which all other LGBTQ+ policy gains and other equality ground gains would come.
Eoin was a visionary – as is epitomised in the extraordinary book he edited – Lesbian and Gay Visions of Ireland in 1995. Together with his studies including Poverty: Lesbians and Gay Men, HIV Prevention Strategies and the Gay Community, Mental Health of LGB People and Transsexual Access to Healthcare, Eoin worked with a wide variety of activists and policymakers to lay out the evidence that supported this vision.
Throughout this period, Eoin worked building and directing Nexus Research Cooperative for over two decades. Through this, Eoin was a key figure in community development. As a facilitator, writer and activist, his capacity for empathy and vision for change placed him at the heart of many human rights struggles; and his work was always tempered by self-scrutiny and genuine humility.
When Atlantic Philanthropies provided support to LGBTQ+ organisations, Eoin came to work as the Director of Policy Change in GLEN, building on the foundation of the hard-won legislative progress to drive real, meaningful change. This included lobbying for transformative change in education, physical, mental and sexual health, workplaces, immigration reform, and the equal recognition and protection of LGBTQ+ relationships and families. Eoin was always a humble partner in this work and reached out to other LGBTQ+ organisations, allowing for open respectful coalitions to work on seemingly intractable issues, together affecting great change.
Eoin was a member of the Government’s pivotal ‘Colley Group’ that charted a way to marriage and constitutional equality for same-sex couples and was instrumental in establishing the groups’ finding that only marriage would deliver that equality. He was one of the principal drivers of the extensive work to secure comprehensive Civil Partnership legislation, and the foundations of family recognition legislation, both of which paved the way for the eventual success of that extraordinary referendum in 2015.
In more recent years, Eoin worked with many community, youth and urban planning initiatives in the US and Ireland, affecting movement of difficult intersectional problems – such as poverty and education. He also loved having the opportunity to work again with his beloved Irish community sector through The Equality Fund – where he supported multiple minority and extremely marginalised communities to organise strategically.
Eoin’s partner of 20 years was Josep Adalla. They met in Dublin when Josep was studying nursing. Eoin followed Josep to New York in 2013, where Josep was a specialist renal nurse and where his family were, though Eoin was always a Dubliner at heart. They married as soon as it became legally available there. They had rich lives in New York, and Josep worked on the frontlines throughout the pandemic. Josep died of a sudden heart attack on November 1, shortly after Eoin’s illness had been diagnosed. Eoin was heartbroken at the loss of Josep, the love of his life, and came back to his very loving family in Lucan just before Christmas, where he died on February 1.
Eoin is widely remembered beyond the extraordinary progress of which he was a crucial driver. Everyone who knew him speaks of his wonderfully irreverent humour, of often ‘being in stitches’ with him and how being with Eoin was like taking a wild ride through a sparkling mind. He was a truly wonderful friend.
He leaves an extraordinary legacy of hard-won progress for LGBTQ+ people and a legion of activists and policymakers who are better at what they do because they had the opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with Eoin. While we still have significant work to do, our task is made easier through the transformational change he was a major part of bringing about.