Community remembers visionary LGBTQ+ activist Eoin Collins following his untimely death

Eoin Collins, one of the most important activists for LGBTQ+ rights in Ireland over the last 25 years, sadly passed away after a short illness.

Image of LGBTQ+ activist Eoin Collins and his husband Josep pictured at the top of the Empire State building

On Tuesday 1st Feb, 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 and his fingerprints are across much of the ground-breaking change we have seen over the last 25 years.

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 – some of the most progressive in the world – which established the legal platform from which all other LGBTQI policy gains and other equality ground gains would come.

Eoin was a visionary – as is epitomised in the extraordinary book he edited in 1995 – Lesbian and Gay Visions of Ireland in 1995. In this book just two years after decriminalisation, Eoin helped lay out a vision for the caring open Ireland that the LGBTQ+ community desired and should expect. 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, when GLEN was just a voluntary activist organisation, and prior to working on the staff of GLEN, Eoin worked building and directing Nexus Research Cooperative for over two decades. Through this work, Eoin was a key figure in community development across Ireland. As a facilitator, writer and activist, his capacity for empathy and vision for change placed him at the heart of so many human rights struggles; and his work was always tempered by critical self-scrutiny and genuine humility. His work allowed him opportunities and spaces to make lasting changes in dealing with issues of discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation. He worked with many community organisations across a multitude of issues – activists who in recent days have been taking to Twitter to express how much Eoin enriched their work and lives.

Eoin Collins, Director of Policy Change GLEN, addressing a conference about the legal status of same-sex couples Photo by Derek Speirs

When Atlantic Philanthropies provided support to LGBTQ+ organisations including GLEN, 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 in the lives of LGBTQ+ people. He worked with Governments, successive Ministers for Justice, politicians of all Parties, civil and public servants and civil society bodies, to ensure that LGBTQ+ people could be free and equal across all aspects of their lives. This included building the case and lobbying for transformative change in education, physical, mental and sexual health, workplaces, immigration reform, and in particular, 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 such as immigration and education – where, against the odds, these coalitions affected 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, which was possible without a referendum, 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 bringing his vast intellect to the effecting 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. It’s been wonderful to see the outpouring of care and respect from these groups across the country. In typical fashion, Eoin gently empowered these activists allowing them to develop an ambitious vision their communities can aspire to.

Eoin Collins receiving an award

Eoin’s partner of 20 years was Josep Adalla. They met in Dublin when Josep was studying nursing in Belfast and Manchester. Eoin followed Josep to New York in 2013, where Josep was a specialist renal nurse and where his family were now, though Eoin was always a Dubliner at heart and had a huge fondness for Ireland. 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 1st November, 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 Dublin to his very loving family in Lucan just before Christmas, where he died on 1st February. 

Eoin and husband Josep at New York Pride

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. 

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