“Ireland had rejected me”, says gay activist Rory O’Neil
Minister for the Diaspora Colm Brophy has said the story of Ireland’s LGBTIQ+ emigrants is a “hidden history”, and a “tale of repression and exile” that will be showcased in a newly launched exhibition in Dublin.
To celebrate Pride month, EPIC, the Irish Emigrant Museum, has launched its first exhibition on the Irish LGBTQ+ diaspora.
Speaking at this evenings launch, Mr Brophy said he hoped “that for many who felt compelled in order to live openly, that they feel their story, and their experience are acknowledged here”.
He said Irish identity has been “shaped” by emigration and “that diversity has not always been recognised or appreciated as it is today, and especially in the case of emigrants from the LGBTIQ+ community”.
The minster added that during Pride month, the exhibition gives people “more reason to be proud of our LGBTQI+ diaspora”.
Also speaking at the launch, gay activist Rory O’Neill recalled his experience emigrating in the 1990s as a young gay man.
“I ran out of this country because I strongly felt I’d never be able to make a home here”, he said.
Mr O’Neill left the country three years before homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland in 1993, in a time which he called the Irish population “aggressively heterosexual”.
“There were no queer people on television or on the radio, there was no queer people in my life”, he said, adding “finding other queer people had been a struggle”.
The activist said he avoided meeting other Irish people abroad because it reminded him of the country that “rejected” him.
“Ireland had rejected me and meeting other Irish people reminded me of that”, he said.
The activist said the LGBTQI diaspora was important to shaping Ireland’s society today because many people emigrated abroad to countries where the “LGBTI story was more advanced, and came back with a new view of things”.
The exhibition at EPIC, in Dublin, highlights 12 stories from the history of Irelands LGBTQ+ diaspora, and people are urged to share their own personal stories to add to the collection.
The exhibition also features an artwork by award winning Irish designer artist Richard Malone.
Speaking at the launch Mr Malone said it’s important to “celebrate how radically Ireland has changed”, and that “it’s important that we assert what it is to be queer in 2021 for ourselves”.
Dr Maurice Casey, historian-in-residence with the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “The history of Ireland’s recent social transformation can be traced back through into the early 20th century and beyond. This history when it is told needs to include the emigrant experience.
“Emigrants inspired others at home by fighting for change abroad, many emigrants would return home with models of community and activism that inspired the nation.”