The last 299 issues of GCN tell a hugely empowering story, not only Ireland’s LGBT community, but about Ireland itself, says Brian Finnegan.
I was struck by something Rory Cowan said to me when I interviewed him for the 300th issue of Ireland’s LGBT magazine, GCN. Rory, who most of you will know from Mrs Brown’s Boys, is a veteran of Dublin’s gay scene and was certainly out and about when GCN’s first issue hit the streets in February 1988. He was talking about how much the city has changed since then, when he expressed his pride in the LGBT community. “Gay people made themselves acceptable,” he said. “They didn’t get anything for nothing; they did it all themselves. What they have now, they got it all themselves.”
Think about that and it’s pretty empowering. When the publication you are holding in your hands right now (or reading online) first came into the world, consensual sex between men was a criminal offence in Ireland. Even if people weren’t usually arrested for homosexual offences, the Garda Siochána intimidated gay people, letting them know their freedom was limited.
That first issue of GCN was an assertion of freedom. It was a political statement, not only in its content, which listed our legal rights, but in its mere existence and its aspiration to be part of the mainstream. Many LGBT people at the time lived secret lives or had fled Ireland for more tolerant climes. GCN dared to speak up for itself and for all those invisible people. It spoke to them too. It was put together with fierce determination, printed and distributed nationally each month, designed to survive and become a source of information and a connection for a disenfranchised community, fractured by silence and isolation.
For the past month, I’ve been reading many of the 299 issues of GCN that came before this one and it’s been an eye-opening experience. The LGBT community doesn’t tend to harp on the negative, nor do we often look back to the days before decriminalisation, to that time when we seemed to lack the self-confidence we revel in today. And anyway, our world has changed so much since then, those times seem almost prehistoric. But the pages of GCN tell another story about the good old, bad old days, and they chart a journey and a struggle that is as inspirational as it is central to the positive evolution of Irish society.
The overwhelming thing I noticed were the numbers of photographs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that have appeared in GCN’s pages since day one. We’ve printed a selection of social pictures from over the years in this issue, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. In spite of our disenfranchisement, still ongoing, every one of those thousands of photographs features smiling faces.
If we do look back at our oppressed past, we tend to think of the gays who lived through those times as victims living in the shadows, but the people photographed in GCN are not victims. They are a beautiful representation, not only of courage, but of indomitable spirit.
All those smiling faces. So many entertainers and club promoters and artists and activists and organisers and agitators. So many people simply out having the good time they deserve, having fun and not giving a fuck about the people who didn’t want them to have fun, who didn’t want them to have the respect they deserved. So many people allowing themselves to be themselves, when others were trying to disallow them.
Sometimes during media debates about whether LGBT people should remain second-class citizens under Irish law, those who would see us continue to be marginalised use the phrases ‘gay agenda’ and ‘gay lobby’. They blurt these phrases as if they were dirty words, as if fighting or lobbying for equal rights were bad things.
Looking through so many issues of GCN made me want to claim those phrases back, and to celebrate them. There are thousands of pages that bear testimony to the gay agenda, which is and always has been to have our human dignity recognised. There are thousands of pages featuring the work of so many Irish LGBT organisations over the years that have lobbied for our rights, so that we could achieve recognition of our basic human dignity. Every single one of those organisations was made up of ordinary individuals, working for justice and not for money, standing up strong and in solidarity to change Ireland for the better.
On a wider level, those 299 issues of GCN tell the story of a society gradually removing the yoke of church domination. They mirror the growth of acceptance and understanding of diversity that has taken place in this country. They tell a tale of how people in this country have affected positive change through personal effort.
Each of those issues is a celebration of an Irish minority who would not be beaten down or cornered, who instead rose up and achieved what is their right in their society. As a whole, GCN is a celebration of a community that is a shining beacon to other communities who also deserve to have their human dignity recognised and respected.
Next year we will continue with the rising, as the fight for marriage equality takes off, and we will do it with the same indomitable spirit that has shone through the pages of GCN in the past three decades. We didn’t get anything for nothing back in the day, and we won’t get anything for nothing in the days ahead. But if 300 issues of GCN prove one thing above all else, it is that we are a powerful force and that we shall overcome, smiling in the face of our enemies’ denial of our rights.
I would like to thank every single person who has been photographed in GCN, LGBT and heterosexual, over the past 300 issues. Without you we’re nothing.
© 2014 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.