Ireland’s long and storied history of emigration is defined by struggle, adaptation and hard earned triumph, often in the face of great difficulty. The Irish LGBTQI community is itself a mirror of this process. Whether it be the wild geese (soldiers displaced to France and farther by the Treaty of Limerick in 1691), the skeletal figures that braved disease ridden ships to escape an all-encompassing hunger, or those who were pushed away by the cull of jobs during the recent recession, the Irish seem to have ingrained within them the knack of survival.
For years homosexuality was seen as the ultimate perversion of decency in Ireland, a country firmly entrenched within the moral code of the Catholic Church. Irish gay men, women and members of the Trans community often felt the harsh reality of a country’s reluctance to embrace difference and ultimately had to leave their place of birth. As a result the global LGBTQI struggle for recognition and inclusion has been infused with rebellious and resolute Irish blood. At EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum we highlight and celebrate several key figures on the front lines of the battle for full equality.
Father Bernard Lynch, born in Co. Clare, found himself hounded by the Catholic Church for challenging its long standing laws on celibacy. Lynch, who is himself openly non-celibate and has been married to his husband Billy Desmond since 1998, operates counselling programmes in London for priests unable to reconcile their faith and sexuality openly. Lynch has earned a reputation as a man willing to fly in the face of the establishment and has, on occasion, paid a price for his perseverance. Lynch was falsely accused of paedophilia by those wishing to silence him. The case was dismissed by Justice Baron Roberts when Lynch’s accuser admitted to have been forced against his will to bring forward the fabricated claim. Father Lynch’s story can be accessed in our Belief gallery, where he takes his place proudly amongst Irish men and women of faith who have dedicated their lives to helping those without the means to help themselves.
2015 saw Ireland acknowledged as one of the most progressive countries in the world when its people came together to become the first country to legalise Gay marriage by popular vote. Among those emigrants to return home to campaign for the now famous ‘Yes’ movement was New York based Drogheda native Brendan Fay. Fay is featured in our state and society gallery based on his tireless campaign to have members of the Irish LGBT diaspora included in New York’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade, a campaign which began in 1991 and only bore fruit in 2016. Fay was even fired from his job as a religion teacher at the St. Mary Louis Academy, Queens for protesting on Fifth Avenue. With fellow diaspora member Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, Lynch set up the Lavender & Green Alliance and was one of the key players in the St. Pats for All Parade. Along the way Fay has earned universal praise from his peers and has received a myriad of awards for his efforts including the Irish Presidential Distinguished Service Award, which Michael D Higgins bestowed upon him and D’Arcy in 2016.
Of course, like most communities, the LGBTQI diaspora has seen its fair share of tragedy. One if the most poignant images to be found in EPIC is a silent tribute to the late Father Mychal Judge. Judge was a Catholic priest who publicly acknowledged that he was a celibate gay man. Father Judge, whose family hailed from Leitrim, was renowned for great acts of kindness and spirituality and spent years attending to the homeless, alcoholics, drug users, aids victims and those alienated by the Catholic Church in New York. After the collapse of the first tower of the world trade centre on September 11 2001, Judge rushed to the scene to pray for the rescue service, the injured and the deceased. Moved by the intense suffering of those around him, witnesses recounted how Judge mourned aloud and asked God to exclaim ”Please, make this stop.” Mychal Judge was killed by falling debris from the second tower as it collapsed, and was the first recorded casualty of the 9/11 attacks.
In 2017, the Irish can again be seen a front-runners in the campaign for universal inclusion and celebrating diversity worldwide. Most recently Irish-American Sara Kelly, who was born with male genes and female genitalia, has become the first person in American history to be described as Intersex on her birth cert. She joins Morgan Carpenter, another Irish emigrant who recently became the president of the Intersex International Australia organisation, in the continuing campaign for the recognition of Intersex people.
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum is committed to shine a light on the global Irish family and appreciates the huge role that LGBTQI community play in our collective identity.
Written by Colin Foy, former Visitor Experience team member at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum