Inside SLM |

3 mins

Inside SLM

Over the course of the last year, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Ireland’s first Sexual Liberation Movement (SLM), Ethan Moser has been highlighting the movement’s founding members. Those involved have been profiled for the roles they played in moving Ireland towards LGBTQ+ equality.

So far in our series, founding members Ruth Riddick, Peter Bradley, Edmund Lynch, Michael Kerrigan, Mary Dorcey, and former Senator David Norris have been profiled. Joining their ranks on the campus of Trinity College Dublin in 1973 was Hugo McManus. Born in Dublin in 1954, McManus was raised the son of an Irish father and a Dutch mother. As a result of his heritage, and his extraordinary height, McManus felt like an outsider long before he realised he was gay.

In a 2015 interview with Edmund Lynch as part of the Irish LGBTI+ Oral History Project, McManus described how growing up in Ireland affected his life as a gay man. McManus said that he first realised that he might be gay when he was only 11 years old, telling Lynch: “I remember one of my sisters saying to me, ‘Oh you’re always looking at my boyfriend’. And I got quite embarrassed because I probably wasn’t fully aware about the consequences.”

McManus continued, “In Ireland, nothing was ever said [about being gay], nothing was ever published…But because I had been to the Netherlands several times, because my mother is from the Netherlands, I was fully aware about, you know, peoples’ kind of sexuality and differences like that.”

It was in the Netherlands, McManus reported, that he had his first “homosexual experience” when he was “chatted up” by a man outside of a coffee house.

“That would have been my first open, kind of, understanding that both people were gay,” he told Lynch. “I had met people who were gay, but, of course, it was never spoken of.”

McManus came out as gay the next year at 16 years -old while still in school. After coming out, McManus said that he used to be on the receiving end of snide remarks and “cat calls” about his sexuality. As a result, McManus reported that he “became somewhat aggressive”.

McManus later learned to channel that aggression into political action, reporting that he had “politicised [his] sexuality” by the time he turned 18.

“It wasn’t an ideological politicisation. It was more to do with self-awareness, and I always stood out because I was tall and I was, kind of different from other people. I suppose I had a persona and people who didn’t know me were, you know, quite taken aback by [it] – they kept their distance because they thought, ‘this is a monster kind of person,’ simply because I was who I wanted to be.

“I wasn’t fully aware that I was doing it in terms of Gay Liberation until I met people from Gay Liberation – probably the following year,” McManus added. The Gay Liberation Front, which McManus refers to in his interview, existed in London from 1970 to 1973, and politicised not only the likes of McManus, but also two of his fellow SLM co-founders, Peter Bradley and Michael Kerrigan, as well.

From the Gay Liberation Front, McManus, Bradley, Kerrigan, and seven other queer trailblazers would eventually go on to found Ireland’s first Sexual Liberation Movement and march for Homosexual Law Reform outside of Ireland’s Department of Justice in 1974.

A photo of McManus taken at the march for Homosexual Law Reform has become one of the most iconic reminders of his work with SLM. In the photo, McManus can be seen holding a sign that reads: “Homosexuals are Revolting”. “Of course, people who understood language understood what I was actually saying,” McManus said, speaking about the photo. “The intonation is important.”

While the accomplishments of the Sexual Liberation Movement at large have been well documented, McManus himself made history in 1974 when he became, alongside Margaret McWilliams, the first openly gay person to be interviewed on Radio Eireann.

By the 1980’s, McManus had relocated to Milan, Italy, where he continues to live today working as a teacher and translator at Comune di Milano.

Speaking on his life now, McManus concluded his interview with Lynch: “I have to say, I’m a very content person. I’m lucky I’m a content person. Not happy, because happy is a momentary thing -I have my moments of total sadness, which are very important - but never of regret. I’m usually sad for the world.”

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