5 mins


2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Sexual Liberation Movement, commonly recognised as the start of modern LGBTQ+ activism in Ireland. Since then, the country has experienced a seismic shift in the legal rights afforded to the LGBTQ+ community and the acceptance and visibility of queer culture. Han Tiernan highlights some of the unsung heroes of the movement.

Whilst much has been written about the fight for decriminalisation and David Norris’ bravery in challenging his right to privacy in Europe, many more of the civil liberties that we now consider commonplace began with the determination of trailblazers. Here are just a few of the lesser-acknowledged LGBTQ+ people who were the first to pave the way for our freedoms.


From the earliest days of LGBTQ+ activism, the Irish Gay Rights Movement (IGRM) were acutely aware of the power of the media, in particular television. In 1975, just one year after the group’s formation, David Norris became the first self-identifying gay person to appear on Irish television on the magazine show Last House.

Two years later, RTÉ produced a groundbreaking documentary exploring gay and lesbian life titled Tuesday Report: Homosexuality in Ireland. Whilst Joni Crone is often remembered as being the first lesbian on Irish television, this accolade actually goes to Fil Carson, who appeared in the documentary. Despite this, Crone’s appearance on The Late Late Show in 1980 was still seminal in so far as she was the first openly lesbian person on a live show and, more notably, on the most popular programme on Irish television at the time.

In August 1980, another first for visibility came about when two transgender people were interviewed by reporter Áine O’Connor in a segment on the RTÉ programme Summerhouse. Simply identifying as Claire and Isabel, they discussed the country’s first trans group, Friends of Eon, and the difference between cross-dressing and identifying as a gender different from their assigned sex.


Since the 1980’s, as a result of the AIDS crisis, Ireland had implemented a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men (gbMSM) from donating blood. The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) asserted, “At the time the association between HIV and transfusion was first noted, tests for HIV were non-existent and, when introduced, there was a long period of risk between acquiring the disease and the test becoming positive”. This ban was lifted in 2017 when a restriction of 12 months of abstinence was imposed before gbMSM would be permitted to donate.

Whilst this change was implemented as a result of years of lobbying by LGBTQ+ rights groups and sexual health organisations, it was accelerated by another legal challenge. On July 27, 2015, Tomás Heneghan from Galway mounted a case to have the ban overturned in the High Court. Believing that it was his civic duty and moral right to give blood, he argued that the questionnaire and interview process employed by the IBTS failed to properly assess the risk of disease transmission posed by his donation. He also identified that the ban was in breach of EU law.

Heneghan describes: “I wanted to know why this ban was in place, what was the actual scientific and medical reason for it. I spent hours, days, weeks and months researching the issue. I needed to know why the ban existed and I wanted an apology for what I viewed as homophobic treatment by a national health service.”

Heneghan dropped his lawsuit when it was announced that the ban would be lifted, and on Jan 16, 2017, he became the first gay man in Ireland to donate blood since the 1980’s.

However, dissatisfied with the 12-month waiting period and believing the intrusive questioning to breach his right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights, on May 20, 2019, he began another legal challenge. He also identified that the IBTS’s own guidelines on the period that it takes for the virus to be detected in blood contravened the 12-month ban.

Once again, Heneghan dropped his second suit when, on March 28, 2022, the waiting period was reduced to four months and was dependent on an individual risk assessment system, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.


Although some LGBTQ+ people still face discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of their gender or sexual orientation, it is widely condemned, and legislation exists to prohibit the practice. However, this was not always the case.

Throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, LGBTQ+ rights organisations and trade unions were lobbying the Law Reform Commission and government to introduce laws prohibiting such forms of discrimination, but it wasn’t until Donna McAnallen took an unfair dismissal case that these groups could cite any precedent to bolster their arguments.

In 1993, McAnallen, who hailed from Belfast, had been working at the Brookfield Leisure Centre in Cork as a lifeguard and fitness instructor. When she was allegedly seen kissing her girlfriend in the changing rooms of the centre, management dismissed her from her post with immediate effect.

McAnallen brought a case to the Labour Court against Brookfield, asserting that her dismissal contravened the 1977 Employment Equality Act on the grounds of sexual orientation. Her legal counsel maintained that had a man and a woman been caught kissing, they would not be reprimanded in the same way, if at all, and as such, McAnallen’s dismissal was akin to sexual harassment.

The final judgement found that McAnallen had been treated unfairly in the manner in which she had been dismissed – without being given an opportunity to address the allegations or without being placed under due warning - however, the ruling refuted the claim that the dismissal breached the 1977 Employment Equality Act. In 1998, sexual orientation was eventually included in an amendment, with McAnallen’s case being cited on several occasions in support of its inclusion.


While many significant milestones took place in the intervening years, such as the first same-sex couples being registered on birth certificates and the introduction of civil partnership, the passing of the Gender Recognition Act was somewhat subsumed by Ireland becoming the first country in the world to introduce same-sex marriage by public vote in the same year.

In acknowledgement of her enormous contribution to the Act, on September 25, 2015, Dr Lydia Foy rightly became the first person to be granted legal recognition of her gender change. 22 years after she first applied to the Registrar General to have her gender changed on her birth certificate, the government finally enacted the Gender Recognition Act, awarding Dr Foy a European Medal of Honour along with her new birth certificate.

Four years after she had first been refused permission to amend her birth certificate, Dr Foy challenged the decision in the High Court in 1997. With the support of FLAC (The Free Legal Aid Centre), she challenged the decision on the grounds that it contravened the European Convention on Human Rights. Ten years later, the High Court finally found in favour of Dr Foy. However, it would take a second legal challenge in 2013 before the government would give a firm commitment to finally enact the legislation.

With so many monumental changes having been achieved in the last half a century, let’s take inspiration from those who have been brave enough to raise their heads above the parapet and continue to fight to create a brighter future for all the LGBTQ+ community

This article appears in 381

Go to Page View
This article appears in...
Go to Page View
Welcome, dear reader, to the last issue of GCN magazine for 2023.
2023 was yet another fantastic year in the ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights across the world. Ethan Moser shares a month-by-month breakdown of GCN’s biggest news stories over an epic 365 days.
Inside SLM
In our ongoing coverage of the founding members of Ireland’s first Sexual Liberation Movement, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, we’ve focused on founding members who were instrumental in enacting meaningful change for Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community.
Following on from our announcement of the new NXF strategy for the next three years, in this issue we are highlighting the Fundraising and Sustainability working group.
2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Sexual Liberation Movement, commonly recognised as the start of modern LGBTQ+ activism in Ireland. Since then, the country has experienced a seismic shift in the legal rights afforded to the LGBTQ+ community and the acceptance and visibility of queer culture.
From Crisis to Collective Strength
Following the horrific incident in Dublin on Thursday, November 23, our hearts are with those who have been attacked, their families, friends, the school community at Gaelscoil Choláiste Mhuire, witnesses, first responders, and anyone else who has been affected.
Midlands LGBT+ Project is designed to support and provide spaces for LGBTQ+ adults in the Midlands. The fine folk involved share all the amazing services they have to offer the community and share what you can do to help keep the service running.
The wonderful people involved in the group Mammies For Trans Rights tell us the story of their foundation and why they do what they do for their children. After all, in their own words, “In our houses, they are not ‘trans kids’, they are simply, our kids.”
STAY MERRY AND SAFE: Minding our Sexual Health this Christmas and New Year
As the holiday season approaches, it’s vital not to overlook our sexual health.
After Hamas fighters launched an attack on Israel on October 7 this year, where more than 1,200 people were reported killed and around 240 others taken hostage, Israel unleashed an air and ground military campaign on Gaza, killing more than 17,000 Palestinian people (at the time of writing), according to figures shared by the Gaza Health Ministry. Now, the whole world is focused on what is happening in Palestine, with the issue of LGBTQ+ people often coming into the discussion.
At the recent Rainbow Ball, the fundraising night for the LGBTQ+ youth organisation Belong To, one brave young person took to the stage before those assembled. In words both empowering and heartbreaking, they told their story of coming out, proving the necessity of supporting our youth in every way we can. We share here their words.
The Glant
On November 14, 2023, Ireland’s longest-serving senator, David Norris, announced his retirement after 36 years of outstanding service. Known affectionately as the ‘Father of the Seanad’, the 79 year-old leaves behind a remarkable career, throughout which he broke new ground for the country’s LGBTQ+ community.
Younger members of Dublin’s LGBTQ+ community might assume that an institution like PantiBar has been around forever. However, the iconic pub only opened 16 years ago. That hasn’t stopped it becoming one of the most beloved go-to venues and hubs for members of the capital’s queer community.
A place of learning
For decades, college has been portrayed as a hotspot of new experiences, freedom of expression and a place to figure out who you are… along with attending classes every so often. But how accepting are colleges across Ireland of the LGBTQ+ community and how do queer people feel about expressing their identities on campus?
PRIDE & PREJUDICE: The Hidden Struggle of LGBTQ+ Homelessness
In October and November, 1 in 10 individuals reaching out to Outhouse for support faced homelessness or were at risk of it.
As an avid ally of the queer community, Aarya Bhutani has had the privilege of experiencing the dynamics of queer spaces in both Ireland and India. Moving to Dublin two years ago to pursue her master’s degree, she left her home country behind. She describes a journey that has been more than just academic, but a profound experience of personal growth
What is it about queer people and our collections? From Punko Pop figures to Barbies, Lego to action figurines, LGBTQ+ people have long been avid collectors of what many would deem mere toys. But is there a deeper meaning behind the things we save, the things we love? Chris Rooke talks to queer collectors while at the same time sharing his own tiny loves.
Listings Organisations Supports
Listings Organisations Supports
For those who love it, it can seem that the whole year is just one big build up to Christmas. Yet for many LGBTQ+ people, it is far from a cause for celebration. Ethan Moser recounts his own experiences and takes a closer look at what the festive season can mean for queer people.
We’ve had a busy year in LINC, marked by the completion of our strategic plan and the successful organisation of the first Queer Women’s National Sexual Health and Wellbeing conference – Q Con.
Looking for back issues?
Browse the Archive >

Previous Article Next Article
Page 16