(Part 1 of 3)
Well we have always been here but the time for hiding, being quiet and not drawing attention to ourselves and staying in Narnia is over. Now, more than ever before, with the lives of LGBT people around the World in such jeopardy we cannot relent. Let’s not even mention the hate and vitriol coming out of Australia at the moment. Quoting Panti Bliss in her Noble Call:
“They are being imprisoned and beaten and tortured and murdered and executed”.
We cannot and should not be silent. In fact, with Irish LGBT people being in such a minority – that is of being protected in law and mostly accepted in society – we more than others should not be silent. As the saying goes, bad sh$t happens when good people do nothing. In this blog I recall some of my proudest and toughest moments of the last 12 years. Of course, there might be a little touch of hindsight and rose-tinted glasses but I'm allowed that. This is my blog and my opinion.
In 2005, myself and a group of friends set up a support group for the LGBT community of Wexford. We had lofty ideals and our name echoed our aspirations – EAGLÉ – The Equality Alliance of Gays & Lesbians in Éire. We had a manifesto, aims, objectives and everything. The inaugural committee consisted of gay and straight people, some friends before EAGLÉ and others to become great friends during and after that time. As with most groups, we had strong people with lots of ideas, we fought, made up, dispersed and regrouped. But a couple of ideals we never lost. Most importantly, we were a group for LGBT people, their family and friends. We were no longer going to hide and organise ourselves in private groups, back rooms in pubs and each other’s houses. We were going to be out, proud and strong. We were going to provide a place for LGBT to be comfortable but also, and most importantly, an exercise in “normalising”, for the rest of Wexford the idea that LGBT people lived in their community. Whilst I hate the word “normalise”, part of the Equality fight is breaking down barriers and smashing up those pigeon holes that separate us. We all needed to become normal in that regard.
For decades before EAGLÉ there were groups in Wexford (GLOW comes to mind – Gays & Lesbians Out in Wexford) but they were never out, mainly because they couldn't be. But, the problem was this was perpetuating into my generation. This needed to change. We wanted to change the public perception of “The Gays”. There was no need to be scared of us and we were just like our peers in mostly everything, we wanted to go out, have a few drinks, shift someone by the end of the night and go home. Were we talking to our parents about who we shifted?...hell NO...but “the straights” didn't go home and talk to their parents about who they ended up on the dance floor with for the last slow song of the night. You see, we were no different really.
The country was alive. Unemployment was low, people had jobs, college was free and banks were throwing money around to buy your first house. This was the same for everyone. Again, we were no different. So we started working in the community, breaking down barriers, aligning ourselves with other community groups fighting for equality and socialising like everyone else. We had regular social nights, in the pub (mostly South 51). Anyone could come along. There was very little trouble and the jugs of cosmo were flowing. It was also important for businesses, bouncers and bar staff to see us and treat us well. For the most part we behaved (yes, in every group there's always one...) we brought a lot of business with us and earned respect. It was also a common occurrence for our social nights to be covered in the local press, in the same was as any other party was covered and this was great. Positive publicity for a group of people having a fun night out.
We also had fundraisers & teamed up with other groups in the town. We organised group art exhibitions during the festival with a good mix of LGBT artists and straights. Again, more positive and fun things, whilst providing a forum for the LGBT community in Wexford which promoted integration. We officially launched on 20th July 2005 and the EAGLE well and truly landed. Wexford Borough Councillor Anna Fenlon launched the night with a video of some fireworks but this cemented a political relationship. It didn't hurt that Councillor Fenlon was wheelchair bound and was leading the fight for equality and access for disable people in Wexford, EAGLÉ and the Disabled Association in Wexford continued to work well together. It also gave us some great exposure. Myself and Val Scallan-Walsh continued to push the political agenda of Equality whilst the rest of the group continued with organising the social element of EAGLÉ. We had meetings with TD's and County Councillors. We made presentations and submissions to the County Council for the community section of the County Development plan. We worked with other groups in Waterford, Carlow and Kilkenny. All of these things were gently but irrevocably changing the World for LGBT people, well at least in Wexford. We were no longer hidden and couldn't be ignored. Hell YES, we were here to stay. (I'll pick up on this later)
Then, as with most groups the inevitable happened. New people came on board and things changed. Oh Well. Of course, in the meantime, it was now normal to see LGBT people out (in every sense of the word) and not unusual to see them dancing in Moonies, the Stores & Chocolate. Also many of us partnered up and began long term relationships, so the need for organised social nights, for us, was at an end. EAGLE as we knew it ended. But myself and Val Scallan Walsh didn't stop, myself joining Labour and Val joining Sinn Fein, we continued the fight, jived each other for joining the wrong party but still agreed in the fundamental equal rights for LGBT people.
For me meeting amazing passionate people like Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan (RIP), Senator Katherine Zappone & Senator David Norris were my highlights whilst working with EAGLE. I still get a lump in my throat when I think of the huge loss Dr. Ann Louise is to the people of Ireland and I cannot imagine how far we would have gotten if we did not have her and her beautiful strong wife Katherine “fighting the good fight” as they say.
In 2008 EAGLE became a limited company in an effort to become more organised and make funding streams available to us. We had great fun and again made some important contacts.
To be continued
John The Captain Ryan
#LGBT #Equality #Wexford