To mark Lesbian Visibility Day, we are highlighting some of the many Irish lesbian trailblazers who work tirelessly in front of and behind the scenes to improve the lives of LGBT+ people. This list is by no means exhaustive, more a flavour of some of the many game-changing lesbians in Ireland. There are countless lesbians who have paved the way both historically and currently in all fields of life.
First up in our examples of Irish lesbian trailblazers is the feminist and lesbian activist, Ailbhe Smyth.
Involved in radical politics in Ireland for over four decades, the indomitable Smyth was a spokeswoman and convenor for the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. She is also a founding member of Marriage Equality, convenor of Feminist Open Forum, an organiser for Action for Choice, a board member of Equality and Rights Alliance and is the former Chair of the National LGBT Federation. As if all that wasn’t enough, Smyth also received the ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award at the Galas 2015, Ireland’s LGBTQ+ Awards Ceremony.
The intrepid Una Mullally is an award-winning journalist, an author and a broadcaster. She writes columns for the Irish Times covering areas such as Irish and global politics, social justice issues, LGBTQ+ rights issues, feminism and technology. She was named Journalist of the Year (2015) at the Irish GALAS LGBTQ+ Awards, and the Foy-Zappone Award (2016) from University College Dublin.
Her first book, In The Name Of Love, was a critically acclaimed oral history of the movement for marriage equality in Ireland. She was also the editor of Repeal the 8th – an anthology of writings about reproductive rights in Ireland. On the podcast front, Una co-founded the award-winning Irish Times Women’s Podcast and is the co-host of the hugely popular United Ireland podcast.
No list of Irish lesbian trailblazers would be respectable without the inclusion of Izzy Kamikaze. A veteran LGBTQ+ Irish activist working tirelessly for the community across four decades, she was profiled in the 2019 Dublin Pride Guide. Celebrating the theme of Rainbow Revolution, the guide revisited 50 moments of LGBT+ change and progress since Stonewall.
Izzy Kamikaze is that rare breed of political animal: a fierce lesbian and civil rights activist who came of age in the turbulent 1980’s, embracing intersectionality in her political ideology decades before it became a post-millennial thing. More pertinently, she’s lived to tell the tale and still has fire in her belly.
“One came out of the other,” explains Izzy when describing how Dublin Pride reinvented itself in the early 1990’s by piggybacking on the energies and connectedness of Act Up Dublin.
Although Dublin Pride has been celebrated every year since 1979, the marches had ground to a halt by 1986, victim to massive emigration, burnout, despondency and the devastation of AIDS.
Dublin Pride Guide- Mapping Pride
Sara R Phillips
Sara R Phillips has been devoted to the trans community for over 20 years and has been a member of TENI since its inception in 2006. She is now in her second term as Chair, having originally been appointed to the position in November 2012.
Philips, who appeared on the cover of GCN in 2015 to celebrate the passing of the Gender Recognition Bill, is a role model for many in the LGBTQ+ community and was recognised as such with an award at The GALAS 2020.
Upon receiving her award, she explained the importance of her work, saying, “Everything I do is for our trans community, everything I do is for the people who have gone before me but also those who are coming after me, because currently life as a trans person in Ireland still is not good enough. [There] is still a lot more to do.”
Born in Rome to Sri Lankan parents, Wickremasinghe was left homeless after she told them she was gay. After years of travelling, she moved to Ireland in 2000 and decided to stay. Since then, she has gone on to become one of the leading Social Justice and Mental Health Journalists in the country.
Wickremasinghe created the groundbreaking weekly show, Global Village. Running each Saturday, her weekly slot examined overlooked areas within Irish society to bring about positive change. Sadly, Newstalk cancelled it in 2017.
In a statement following the news of Global Village’s cancellation, Wickremasinghe wrote, “10 years ago, I set out to create a unique radio show which served as a platform to highlight the voices of the most vulnerable in our society and the issues that affect their lives – issues that I personally care passionately about.”
The inspirational Denise Charlton is a force for positive change. In 2020, Denise was announced as the new CEO of the Community Foundation of Ireland.
Denise was the former Co-Chair of Marriage Equality and was represented on the strategy advisory group of Yes Equality. She also was head of Fundraising for Together for Yes and was represented on the strategy advisory group for the campaign.
A former vice-Chair of Children Rights Alliance, she is presently strategic advisor to their campaign on child poverty. She somehow impressively also found the drive and energy to work on a range of government and NGO committees, including the Irish Government Working Group on Trafficking of Human Beings; the National Steering Committee on Violence against Women, the National Crime Council and the Women’s Health Council.
With her obvious devotion to her fellow human beings, Denise rightly deserves to be celebrated.
Affected by the death of Savita Halappanavar, Anna Cosgrave set up Repeal Project – the organisation behind the iconic black jumpers which have become synonymous with the movement to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
As well as spreading the message, the Repeal Project helped raise hundreds of thousands for volunteer organisations working on the campaign, such as the Abortion Rights Campaign, Not At Home, Coalition To Repeal The Eighth, and Together For Yes. Anna was nominated as 1 of 10 Ashoka Changemakers in 2017, won U Magazine Campaign of the Year 2017, and represented Ireland in Brussels at the F.I. gathering of feminist political activists. Thank you, Anna!
Independent TD Katherine Zappone and her wife Ann-Louise Gilligan campaigned fiercely for years to achieve marriage equality in this country. Zappone made headlines when she popped the question live on RTÉ to Ann-Louise, saying she was “feeling emotional from the top all the way down to my toes”.
The couple were also co-founders of An Cosán, an organisation in Tallaght which offers adult education, among other services, to women from disadvantaged areas.
In a historic first, Minister Zappone became the first openly lesbian member of the Irish Cabinet.
In 2015, Gráinne took home The GALA Award for Volunteer of Year, and for good reason! Longtime feminist and LGBTQ+ activist, former chairwoman of Marriage Equality and co-director of the Yes Equality campaign, Gráinne Healy was instrumental in securing a Yes vote in May 2016.
Along with progressing the LGBTQ+ movement, she has dedicated her life to campaigning for women’s rights in Ireland, including reproductive health rights, violence against women, prostitution and trafficking and anti-poverty issues.
One of the first Irish lesbian trailblazers to come to national attention, Joni Crone came out on The Late Late show in 1980 – two years before Declan Flynn was murdered in Fairview Park and 13 years before homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland. She was there to talk about the need for law reform and to give insight into the horror stories she heard on the Lesbian Line.
Joni returned from London in the 1970s and began the fight for civil rights for LGBTQ+ people in Ireland. Her play, Anna Livia Lesbia, was written as a response to the erasure of the gay rights movement in Ireland in the ’70s and ’80s in the Marriage Referendum narrative.
GCN interviewed Joni for the 2017 Annual Pride issue and it’s a cracker. Find it below.
A tireless activist for LGBTQ+ rights, amongst her myriad incredible work for the community, Nuala was the founder of Galway Pride and was fittingly honoured by leading the Galway Pride Parade as its Grand Marshal in 2019.
Nuala was also honoured by NUI Galway “in recognition of her dedication to human rights issues, in particular, LGBT+ issues, her work in advocacy, activism, awareness-raising and outgoing community service spanning over three decades.”
She was featured in GCN’s 2019 campaign, #RainbowIcons – honouring Irish LGBT+ folk who go above and beyond for their community.
Dublin Lesbian Line
Set up in 1979, Dublin Lesbian Line is one of the oldest LGBTQ+ helplines in the world, with a team of highly trained volunteers who have diligently offered support for the community. As stated on their website, “Our goal is to provide a supportive, confidential, non-judgmental helpline to those in need and expand our service accordingly.” DLL celebrated 40 years in 2019 and marked the occasion with a fabulous event, 40 Years Fearless.
In 2020 they launched a brilliant new podcast about the lives of LGBTQ+ women in Ireland – Women STAR, which focuses on mental health, emotional resilience and what it’s like to be queer in Ireland.
They have been keeping us all connected in lockdown with a series of digital events.
The one-and-only Mary Dorcey is a beloved addition to our examples of Irish lesbian trailblazers. In the 1970s, she advocated both in Ireland and internationally for LGBTQ+ rights. She was a founder member of Irish Women United, Women for Radical Change and The Movement for Sexual Liberation.
Mary has published several collections of poetry, alongside her other books. A member by peer election of the Irish Academy of Arts and Literature, Aosdána, she won the Rooney Prize in 1990 for her short story collection – A Noise from the Woodshed.
Mary participated in our In & Out Digital Festival of Creativity, where she had a fascinating and stirring conversation with Dr Mary McAuliffe.
Speaking of Dr Mary McAuliffe! The fabulous Mary is an Assistant Professor/Lecturer in Gender Studies at UCD, specialising in Irish women’s/gender history. Mary has written the books We were there; 77 women of the Easter Rising (co-written with Liz Gillis), and Sexual Politics In Modern Ireland.
Mary is a devoted member of the board of the NXF (National LGBT Federation) – the publishers of yours truly, GCN, and the national organisation to campaign for the equal rights of, and to combat discrimination against, LGBTQ+ people in Ireland and internationally.
Mary has curated and hosted and unmissable series of Town Hall Talks for GCN’s In & Out Digital Festival of LGBTQ+ Creativity. As well as the aforementioned conversation with Mary Dorcey, the series includes a queer history of Kilmainham Gaol and a deep dive into the history of the Irish Queer Archive.
The wonderful Moninne Griffith is the CEO of the essential BeLonG To – the national organisation which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex young people in Ireland. The work that BeLonG To carries out with heart and passion has saved and improved the lives of countless young LGBTQ+ folk – its worth cannot be underestimated.
Monnine was also the chair of the Gender Recognition Act and was heavily involved in the campaign for same-sex marriage in Ireland, acting as Director of Marriage Equality. More power to her!
Paula Fagan is a force to be reckoned with. Paula has been striving for greater LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion for many years. She was a founding board member of Marriage Equality and has published a number of seminal research reports into the experiences and needs of LGBTQ+ people and their family members.
In her current role as the CEO of LGBT Ireland, she has overseen the expansion of the organisation and the services it provides, offering a comprehensive range of services that support and give information on issues relating to sexuality and gender identity.
Paula has been fighting the good fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ parents and their families for many years and the community is lucky to have her!
Aifric Ní Chríodáin
The terrific Aifric is a feminist and LGBTQ+ activist who has worked with Shout Out since 2013. Shout Out delivers workshops which tackle LGBTQ+ bullying in secondary schools across Ireland .
The workshop leaders share personal stories, educating school students, parents a guardians, teachers, youth workers and workplaces on LGBTQ+ issues. Since 2012 they have completed over 1,800 student workshops, speaking directly to over 54,000 students! An amazing achievement.
For over 20 years LINC has been the only community development organisation working exclusively with lesbian and bisexual women in the Republic of Ireland. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of women have been supported and assisted during that time, and thousands more have found friends, family, a safe space, a lifeline and a home.
Kate Moynihan is the Project Coordinator for LINC, the organisation advocating for lesbian and bisexual women in Ireland, and I’m sure anyone who knows her would recognise her as one of the most devoted of Irish lesbian trailblazers.
LINC has also been community leaders in terms of adapting their services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the founding members of the national LGBT Helpline and centre manager of Dundalk Outcomers amongst many other things, the invaluable Bernie Quinn has long been a tireless supporter of our LGBTQ+ family.
Bernie is the social inclusion officer for Outcomers, a social and befriending support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the centre of Dundalk town which has been operating since 1997.
If you want to read something truly inspiring, you can check out an interview we did with Bernie in one of our 2019 issues here. Thank you for all you’ve done for the community, Bernie!
The impressive Maeve is on the committee of the Lesbian Lawyers Network. She accepted the GALAS 2020 Award for Outstanding Company on behalf of Arthur Cox for ‘Outstanding Company’ of which she is an Associate.
The firm was recognised for its work in promoting LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion both in Arthur Cox and the wider community. The firm’s LGBTQ+ network alliance was founded in June 2017 and continues to provide advice and support to LGBTQ+ employees and their allies. The alliance also supports the external LGBTQ+ community, through sponsorships with many of the LGBTQ+ university societies, Pink Ladies Hockey Club, OUTLaw network and attendance at the BeLonGTo Rainbow Ball.
Ranae von Meding
An activist campaigning on behalf of LGBTQ+ parents in Ireland, Ranae von Meding has written many wonderful, informative and empowering articles for GCN, sharing with the community the struggles rainbow families face.
She is a founder of Equality for Children – a campaign for equality for children of LGBTQ+ families in Ireland. The campaign shares how children of LGBTQ+ families in Ireland are denied the right to have a legally recognised relationship with both of their parents. Equality for Children, and Ranae, will not rest until it is achieved.
The current chair of the NXF, the fantastic Caroline Keane has led the National LGBT Federation with dedication and drive. Caroline was also one of the recipients of the NXF40 Award at the 2020 GALAS, honouring all the chairs of the NXF since its formation.
Caroline joined the NXF board in 2015, and has been on the GCN sub-committee and held the office of vice-treasurer during that time. She has been active in improving workplace diversity and inclusion, and is passionate about fairness and developing diverse, enriching teams.
Caroline is also a member of Gloria LGBTQ+ Choir, proving herself to be a woman of many talents!
This list of Irish lesbian trailblazers is merely a tiny selection out of all the incredible members of our community. To every single lesbian in our community, during this Lesbian Visibility Week – we love you, we see you, we’ve got your back. x
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