‘When I left Ireland it was still a criminal offence to be gay’

For Pride 2018, we raise the rainbow. We hold hands. We tell stories of how we got from there to here

Brendan Fay: ‘I feel a depth of gratitude for the determined LGBT activists here and in Ireland who rose up in dark times and struggled for civil rights.’ Photograph: Ray Hegarty

Brendan Fay: ‘I feel a depth of gratitude for the determined LGBT activists here and in Ireland who rose up in dark times and struggled for civil rights.’ Photograph: Ray Hegarty

 

“Happy Pride!” I’ll be hearing the odd greeting a thousand times. People often ask, why do you go? I tell them I march because I can. I am alive for another “Pride” march. I never take it for granted, and I am aware that for most of my life I could not be who I am - out, openly gay and married.

I carry inside the emotional memory of what it was to experience the NYC Pride March for the first time. Immigrant and gay, I found a place of belonging even for a day.

When I left Ireland it was still a criminal offence to be gay. While in America I learned I could have been denied entry because I was gay. So, I celebrate Pride 2018 and join this exuberant expression of our movement for liberation, and the freedom to live and love.

I feel a depth of gratitude for the determined LGBT activists here and in Ireland who rose up in dark times and struggled for civil rights. Their campaigns embraced and brought me and millions of others across generations out of the closet and into the streets. Pride always reminds us to continue that work for inclusion and equality - to carry the legacy forward.

‘Your day will come’

On Pride Sunday, I’ll call family and friends in Drogheda. It’s the local blessings of the graves there. Mam and dad were supportive. They both died some years ago. My father used to send news clippings about the David Norris case, writing “your day will come. . . and love to Tom”. When we married in July 2003 we celebrated in Drogheda.

At our home in Queens, my spouse Tom and I will check the banners, tri-colour flags, posters of Oscar Wilde, Eva Gore-Booth, Roger Casement, Ann Louise Gilligan, John McNeill, Robert Rygor, Audrey Gallagher - LGBT heroes for Irish America.

Our Irish LGBT group Lavender and Green Alliance (Muintir Aerach na hÉireann) will step onto 7th Ave, close to the New York Aids memorial, where we will partake in the march’s moment of silence, remembering those we lost to Aids, to violence and to silence.

In the remembering, we rise and we call each other to activism, to work for equal rights in the local community and across our world. We are the survivors of Aids. We are the survivors of exclusion, prejudice, criminalisation, silence and bullying. And we are the bearers of a legacy of resistance, hope and freedom from our Stonewall forebearers.

In the Irish diaspora community we celebrate our journey as a nation from decriminalisation in 1993 to marriage equality and transgender rights in 2015. We march for civil rights, for justice. We know the cost of coming out, of being visible.

I have friends who still cheer and wave from the sidewalk. Some are working in Catholic schools and can’t be so visible. . . yet. We have come so far and have a ways to go.

Amach Le Chéile - Out Together

In today’s America, many LGBT workers, immigrants and asylum seekers feel more vulnerable. We continue to campaign for rights for our transgender community and LGTB youth (who are disproportionately represented in the homeless youth population).

We lead with an Irish tricolour flag stitched by artist and activist Gilbert Baker, who created the rainbow flag 20 years ago. This year, the Irish presence is historic. Consul General Ciaran Madden and Irish American organisations in New York will join Lavender and Green Alliance to celebrate the diversity of the Global Irish Family.

Our theme ‘Amach Le Chéile - Out Together’ celebrates the more equal and inclusive Ireland we are becoming and the transformation that continues its course in the Irish diaspora.

In an extraordinary gesture in cultural healing and transformation, people who for years were caught in a fearful dynamic of excluding and excluded are joining together for Pride 2018. Prejudice seeps into the soul of a community, and when we rise up and overcome the fears, we have good reason to celebrate Pride. Irish LGBT groups can now march in our St Patrick’s parade. It was a 25-year struggle.

Shortly after I arrived here I met Jesús Lebrón at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on Christopher Street where he worked. We have marched in parades and organised together. He reminds me of the gift of friendship and activism. With Jesús I set up the Civil Marriage Trail Project in 2003, bringing couples across borders to marry, including Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer whose Supreme Court case overturned DOMA (Defence of Marriage Act).

Pride brings us together

The evening before this year’s St Patrick’s Parade, I was at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street with my spouse Tom Moulton and ‘St Pat’s For All’ co-chair Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, telling stories of the June ’69 uprising with our openly gay Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

People speak with awe about the referendum in Ireland that passed on May 22nd, 2015 making us the first country in the world to extend marriage equality to same-sex couples by popular vote.

This year we’re commemorating the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland. We are honouring the LGBT pioneers from the 1970s who pressed for change back home, and Irish-American pioneers who have been part of the movement for LGBT rights.

At the heart of Pride is a remembering of LGBT outsiders who rose up at Stonewall in June 1969. Their spirits of Stonewall speak to us - “shed the shame and silence, no more being second class. No more victimhood. Be who you are. Love as you are. Rise up. Come out.”

That’s the legacy of Stonewall and I wish that every town hall would fly the rainbow flag and become places of hope and hospitality for LGBT communities, that schools would welcome Irish LGBT pioneers to tell their stories. and that everyone will celebrate the beauty and diversity of us.

Parades can make a difference, change lives and history. The way we choose to express ourselves culturally sends a message to LGBT young people just coming out, and to LGBT immigrants seeking a place where they can belong. As Irish LGBT New Yorkers, we will continue to raise our voices and to support and welcome immigrants most affected by current administration policies.

As LGBT Irish immigrants, being familiar with the experience of exile and exclusion, we reach out in friendship and solidarity. Pride brings us together. So, we rise up and parade our pride and hope. We raise the rainbow. We hold hands. We tell stories of how we got from there to here. We remember those gone before us. We empower each other to carry on.