Loretta Cosgrove, founder of Sydney Queer Irish, honoured by President Higgins

GCN spoke to Loretta about founding the group, 'Paddy's Gay', receiving the President's Award and plans for World Pride 2023.

Loretta Cosgrove and Brian Murphy from Sydney Queer Irish Standing beside a Christmas tree. Brian is in the centre wearing a navy suit. Loretta is to his right wear a black shirt and emerald green blazer unbuttoned.
Image: Loretta Cosgrove

Loretta Cosgrove is originally from Clonbur, Co Galway, brought up in Australia and is now based in Sydney. She recently made the trek to Dublin to receive the Presidential Distinguished Service Award from Michael D Higgins, honouring her for her work in community support, especially as the founder of Sydney Queer Irish. We caught up with Loretta to find out more about the organisation and her involvement with the queer community.

Loretta, Can you explain what exactly is Sydney Queer Irish (SQI)?

Established in 2010, Sydney Queer Irish exists to support those who identify as LGBTQI+ within, and connected to, the Irish and Irish Australian community in Sydney and New South Wales, and to be a role model for acceptance of LGBTQI+ people from other cultures and nationalities in Australia and around the world.

SQI helps create visibility and provide a voice for the queer Irish community in Sydney and Australia. It is through our partnership with the Irish Consulate Sydney since 2015 that we have connected more broadly to the Irish and Irish Australian community. 


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How did SQI come about?

In 2010, with a group of Queer Irish friends that had gravitated towards each other, Sydney Queer Irish was visualised. I was the proud President of this vibrant group for the first ten years and it has helped me stay true to my Irish roots and express my Queer side and make some lifelong friends.

I still remember the debate in 2010 in a kitchen in Newtown Sydney. What would we name our small group? The word ‘Queer’ was frowned on by some and embraced by others. Growing up, the word in my family described someone that was a little left of centre, someone different to the norm. To me that was someone exciting and adventurous and also a little mischievous. It was also a word I was keen to reclaim.

We were a small group of individuals from numerous counties in Ireland and we had found ourselves in Sydney and found each other. Meetings were informal, a few of us even started a baseball team in the Sydney Women’s Baseball League called the Shamrock Players and every year we would host a massive Paddy’s Day Party and invite every random Irish person we would meet in the course of the year and our friends to parties, usually in my apartment or backyard. By 2015 we had outgrown the backyard and those parties were legendary.


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One of the highlights for SQI was the 2015 Mardis Gras, can you tell us about that?

2015 was a year, in general, that will go down in Irish Queer history for so many reasons. I was involved with the Jindabyne Irish Festival for many years and had met Lorna Hennessey, who was a stalwart at the Irish Consulate in Sydney. In 2015 she approached me to do a combined Irish/Australian Float and we had a meeting with the then Consul General, Jane Connolly, who, with Tourism Ireland, gave us a grant of $4000 to create the ‘Follow Us To Ireland’ float. 

Led by members of the ’90s Irish group Amach with an original Irish Mardi Gras banner, 60 tricolour butterflies marched proudly to ‘Pride In the Name of Love’ by U2, 11 lesbian leprechauns made up the numbers with some Dublin go-go dancers and the queen of Ireland herself, Panti Bliss, made her Oxford St debut. SQI was on the map in Sydney and the Queer community! 

2015 would see SQI team up with Yes Equality to campaign and witness the historic vote in which Ireland became the first country in the world to pass marriage equality by a popular vote. 

History was being made and SQI members were a part of that. Their voices both at home and in Australia were heard loud and clear. Irish campaigner Tiernan Brady brought his knowledge and commitment to the fight for equality to Australia and championed the Yes Equality campaign in Australia, and in 2017 Australia history was made. 


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I’m proud of what both Ireland and Australia have achieved and acknowledge the tireless campaigning of all the people that helped achieve equality for our community and the fight that is still taking place globally.

The initial support and encouragement from Jane Connolly and Vice consul Jonathan Patchell helped cement SQI in the patchwork of Irish Support groups and social groups in Sydney. Relationships with the INA, ISA, Gaelic Club, Ireland Funds and Sydney St Patrick’s Day have only strengthened over the years and our visibility as a community within the Irish diaspora is something I am extremely proud of. 

Continued support from the Irish government in the form of the ESP program has meant that we continue our visibility and continue to grow as a community group. 

We are more than just a social group, we are a network of friends that can lean on each other in times of need, and a family. 


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You hold an annual St Patrick’s Gay event, can you explain what that’s about?

‘Paddy’s Gay’ is now firmly one of our favourite annual events. We started it back in 2018 and it has been sold out every year since. The event attracts Irish, Irish for the day, and the greater Queer community in Sydney. 

‘Paddy’s Gay’ is held at the famous Imperial Hotel in Erskineville, many of your readers will remember the Imperial from the Iconic Queer Aussie Film Priscilla Queen of The Desert. It’s an incredible venue and the staff let us decorate and turn it into an Irish Pub for the night.

We do a full venue takeover. The drag acts are encouraged to perform Irish numbers on the night and we have local dancers from the Bernadette Whelan School of Dance perform. In 2021, due to Covid, a couple of the Riverdance professional dancers performed and took the pub down with cheers for more.

Over the years we have built solid relationships with well known Sydney DJs Sveta, Jess Hill, Hamo and Dom De Sousa to name a few, and they play Irish classics and get the crowd going.


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You do a lot of work with Sydney’s Indigenous drag community. What prompted you to collaborate with them?

In my professional career as an Art Director in Film and TV, I have had the privilege of working with a truly talented and passionate group of Indigenous filmmakers. Redfern Now, Mystery Road and Total Control are projects that I have been fortunate to collaborate on (check them out on your local streamers for some amazing Australian drama). 

It was through work originally that I met and worked with some queer Indigenous queens. Friends of mine were shooting a show called Ms First Nations. I was immediately drawn to all these amazing queens, all with a story to tell and so proud of their Indigenous backgrounds – much like my passion for being Irish, and Irish Queer culture.

That year, Ms Josie Baker was crowned Ms First Nations and in that year Josie was invited to lead an all-Indigenous cast for Paddy’s Gay. Josie has been proudly working with SQI since and choreographed and led our Mardi Gras Float in 2020 and 2021.



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There is a history of the Irish and Indigenous Australians coming together since white settlement – a sense of a shared oppression at the hands of the British perhaps? I had known about a term called ‘Shamrock Aborigine’ and I wanted to understand more about the culture and the connection of the First Nations people and Irish first settlers and convicts. What and where did that term rise from?

Ann Margaret McGrath and Patrick O’Farrell have done much writing and research on these topics. It’s not a particularly proud history. We are always learning, and I have so much respect for the struggle and the passion of Indigenous Australians – of all First Nations as they fight for land rights and acknowledgement. 

In school in Australia, history has been and was very much whitewashed, it is up to us now to learn the truth and right the wrongs of the past. To acknowledge our Aboriginal Brothers and Sisters and to acknowledge country and pay respects to the true custodians of this land that SQI work and live on.

You had the honour of being awarded the Presidential Distinguished Service Award by Michael D Higgins in his 2021 honours roll. What does it mean to you to be recognised for the award?

The award is the highest honour that can be bestowed upon an Irish Citizen living abroad and has only been awarded to four other Australians since its inception in 2011, including Jim Stynes and Thomas Kenneally. I am the first woman from Australia to be recognised. 

These awards are important as they recognise the hard work of the Irish diaspora and their service to the people of Ireland. In 2021, 14 recipients were announced including former Irish Football manager, Jack Charlton and World Health Organisation official Dr Michael Ryan and actor Fiona Shaw.


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I am absolutely honoured and brimming with Irish Pride to be awarded the Presidential Distinguished Service Award in 2021. So many people around the world work tirelessly to promote Ireland and support many causes and to be recognised as a champion of Irish LGBTQI+ in both Ireland and Sydney is an honour.

It is beyond anything I set out to achieve when SQI was first started. This award has given me even more passion to continue to serve the Irish Community.

I would like to dedicate the award to all the members of SQI over the past 10 years who have created a sense of home in Sydney for the Irish and Irish Australian LGBTQI+ community and to the greater Irish Community Groups who all work tirelessly to support and foster Irish culture in Sydney and Australia. 

How was it meeting the President and were there any particular highlights from the event?

It’s like the start of a crazy joke, ‘The President, a couple of nuns, a professor, Fiona Shaw and The Founder of Sydney Queer Irish all walk into Áras an Uachtaráin’, only it’s real! 

Attending the awards at Áras an Uachtaráin, meeting President Higgins, talking about fracking with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, having a glass of red with Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney is all very very surreal. 


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I was lucky to escape Sydney for a week in between shooting and the Omicron wave starting. Some great catch-ups with Veda and Robbie from Poz Vibe Podcast, seeing the Living Exhibition and Out In The World Exhibition at EPIC in person after working on the exhibition with Dr Maurice Casey along with catching up with some old SQI members including the Queen herself, Ms Panti Bliss and seeing close friends, will stay with me forever and are definitely a highlight.

Are there any big plans coming up for SQI?

SQI will be taking part in the 2022 Mardi Gras and continuing our monthly socials when it is safe to do so. The biggest plan and event to look forward to is World Pride 2023. Our current President Brian Murphy, who accompanied me to the awards, and I planted many seeds and invited all of Queer Dublin to Sydney in 2023.


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SQI will be in the thick of it, bringing you the best inspired Irish events and also in attendance in the many events from the official program. We welcome all of our Irish Queer diaspora from all over the globe to Sydney to come celebrate Pride with SQI. There is a Facebook Group Page dedicated to World Pride and the Irish diaspora involvement, readers are encouraged to join and follow the latest information here.

The official Sydney World Pride Opening Ceremony will take place at a First Nations Gathering Space on February 24, 2023. There will also be a game-changing Human Rights Conference, an unforgettable Pride March across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a closing ceremony and a sensational party on Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach, plus lots more events still to be announced!

In the next 10 years, I look forward to seeing SQI grow and relationships strengthened. SQI is an example of what is possible when a community comes together and displays pride, strength and unity. We might even have some more award-winning Mardi Gras floats!

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