Way back in 1999, I was sitting with a friend in a queer bar in London. Two weeks previously, a nail bomb had gone off in the gay bar, the Admiral Duncan, killing three people. As I sipped my drink with my friend that night, I saw from the corner of my eye someone running towards the bar on the street, with something in their hand. As if in slow motion, they threw what was in their hand at the window. And I thought, “fuck!”
It was only a brick and the window was only shattered. The bar manager quickly shouted out - “Don’t worry, we’re OK”. Everyone cheered, drinks were on the house. Tragedy averted.
Dear GCN reader, my name is Anna Nolan and I am the new Chair of the NXF. As you know, the NXF is the board that publishes GCN Magazine. The NXF also runs the GALAS (which will be back later this year), it undertakes research projects and advocacy activities to promote equality. And it takes on new projects including the ‘Homeworks’ collaboration with the environmental group Common Knowledge.
My journey to being Chair of the NXF has been a circuitous one. I suppose you could say I’m late to the game of community work. But I’ve been late to the game in many things.
I am originally from Rialto, Dublin, from a family of seven children. As a teenager in 1980’s Dublin, there was no place for feelings of attraction for my very beautiful science teacher (she really was!) and nowhere to discuss what was going on inside my head.
I am lucky that I have always had a sense of adventure and of wanting to explore anything I felt I needed to – so I became a nun. I know, gas, right? I spent a couple of very interesting years with the Loreto Sisters. Then, having decided that convent life was probably not for me, I came out at the tender age of 21.
I was introduced to the world of lesbian life in 1991 Dublin. It was a place of smoky upstairs lounges hosting women-only nights (shout out to Patricia Carey!), of barges on the canal that were filled with luscious lesbians (one barge sank the night I was there – I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere) and I had my first falling in love experience.
When my little lesbian heart was broken for the first time in 1991, I decided to go full-on drama and exit Dublin. I made my way to Edinburgh. Here I found a beautiful, exciting, loving, diverse LGBTQ+ community. I worked in a gay eatery called The Blue Moon Café, and spent two years alongside the most amazing people I had ever met. I remember Barry Manilow once came into the café, and I swear to god, I thought my life was complete.
Edinburgh was a coming-of-age period for me. I was in a ‘scene’, however always in the background. Too nervous to march at Pride, too scared to be the one at the front, I suppose I came and I took without giving. Enjoying the immense benefits of queer community, without ever giving back.
From Edinburgh I made my way to London, landed on a reality show and from there I started working in media. I grabbed every opportunity and ran with it. My work took me from the BBC to RTE, all over the world and back again, and now my job is Head of Development at COCO Content, the TV production company that makes Room To Improve and First Dates amongst other shows.
Being part of the different LGBTQ+ communities in Scotland, England and Ireland, I can safely say I don’t feel that I did enough. I have ridden on the coattails of people and organisations who have gone before me and benefitted from their bravery and their activism. Being an ‘out’ person on a reality TV show in the year 2000? It’s not bad, but it’s not good enough.
And so over the last few years I began seriously to consider what I could do about that. I asked the NXF board two years ago if I could join and they kindly let me in. In those two years, I had the honour of leading the sub-committee that worked with GCN, and that has been a joy. So what now for the NXF? It is so humbling to lead a group that has achieved so much over its 40 years. The NXF is like the wise elder of Ireland’s LGBTQ+ landscape. But every organisation needs to be refreshed and reinvigorated. We need to look deep inside and explore what we are presently bringing, and, working with this wealth of experience, what we can offer to the LGBTQ+ community going forward. We need to remain current and embrace all the many changes and nuances of the expanding and gorgeous breadth of our community. This will take a bit of time, so bear with us. We at the NXF know that there is huge work still to be done, to have full equality and support for all in our beautiful, diverse community. We are such a strong, resilient, ever evolving community, having overcome much. But have no doubt, the threat of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia to our community is never far away. It might not be a brick, but it appears in the most dangerous of ways.
I am still learning, still curious, still a little afraid, but still have a huge appetite to jump head first into new adventures, so I will absolutely give this my all.
I should be quoting some incredible poet or academic here, but I’ll leave the final words to Mr Manilow – “We dreamers have our ways of facing rainy days, and somehow we survive”. Here’s to a new chapter for the NXF.