Irish LGBT+ activist Tarlach Mac Niallais passes from COVID-19

Tarlach Mac Niallais was an Irish born activist who fought for LGBT+ rights in his native Belfast and later in New York City.


Irish American LGBT+ activist Tarlach Mac Niallais passed away on Wednesday after contracting COVID-19.

Born in Belfast, Mac Niallais (57) grew up during the Troubles and became a social justice activist during his time at Queen’s University Belfast. He would later move to New York City where he continued to champion LGBT+ rights.

Mac Niallais campaigned for Republican and LGBT+ prisoner rights in Belfast in the 1980s and clashed the former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ian Paisley. Paisley, who also founded the Free Presbyterian Church, set up a campaign to “Save Ulster from Sodomy”.

It was Mac Niallais who would invert this slogan on a t-shirt which said to “Save Sodomy from Ulster”. He would also take part in the first-ever Lesbian and Gay Conference held in Queen’s University in 1983, which was picketed by the DUP.

In the United States, Mac Niallais fought to include LGBT+ groups in the annual St Patrick’s Day parades which would take part across New York state. When they were finally granted permission to march under their own banners in 2017, he was serving as the formation manager of the LGBT Lavender and Green Irish group.

Many have made tribute to his life and legacy following his untimely death. Fellow activist Marie Mulholland described him as a “huge light”.

“My old friend, comrade, brother activist, pal from the old neighbourhood, leading light in LGBT politics from the 80s in Belfast to the present day in New York City has passed away this evening a victim of COVID-19,” she said.

Tarlach Mac Niallais is survived by his husband of 18 years, Juan Valdez, who according to the Irish Central is also suffering from COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken the lives of many important figures in the LGBT+ and wider activist community. Last Tuesday, professor Gita Ramjee – one of the leading scientists fighting against HIV – passed away from COVID-19 at the age of 64.

South African Ramjee was the chief scientific officer of the Aurum Institut and was renowned for expanding women’s access to HIV treatment and prevention.

The Deputy President of South Africa described her as a “champion in the fight against HIV” and said her death “comes as a huge blow to the entirety of the healthcare sector and the global fight against HIV/AIDS”.

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