‘They told me: if you’re gay, you can’t be Irish’ – podcast

Brendan Fay fought to win the right to march with pride in the NYC St Patrick’s Day parade

"Sometimes they were very blunt: 'If you're gay, you can't be Irish.' There was a lot of stupidity," says community activist and filmmaker Brendan Fay, about his experience of being gay in New York's Irish community in the 1980s, and later.

For decades, he has fought for LGBT rights in his adoptive home, finally winning a 25-year battle for the right to march with pride under that banner in the city’s 2016 St Patrick’s Day parade.

After years of exclusion and feeling on the outside, “it was an extraordinary and profound moment, being who we are, being ourselves”, he told Róisín Ingle, presenter of the Róisín Meets podcast.

A former teacher, Fay was sacked from a job that he loved at a Catholic high school in Queens after taking part in the 1991 New York St Patrick's Day parade with the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, though they did so without a banner.


The joy he felt marching in the 255-year-old parade last year has, however, undone “the years of awful, painful exclusion”.

Through the Lavender and Green Alliance, Irish Aids Outreach, St Pat's For All and The Civil Marriage Trail Project, Fay has sought to improve the lives of LGBT people in New York and beyond, including drumming up support for the Marriage Equality campaign in Ireland.

Wants an inclusive church

Also on the podcast, Fay, who is a Catholic, said that while some people do not like to talk about religion, he does.

“In churches where people are welcome to bring their cats and dogs for a blessing, we do not exist. If we are acknowledged at all, it’s as being intrinsically disordered,” he said.

He strongly believes in the role of the church in fighting for LGBT rights, however, and is hopeful that attitudes will change.

“There are courageous voices, and people working for change within the churches and synagogues, and religious communities as well,” he said.

So what about activism in the era of Trump? People will do what they always do when they are fighting injustice, he said.

“By instinct people took to the streets [after Trump’s election] and that’s what we’ll be doing. I’ll be there January 21st. There are going to be marches all over America and that’s what we do.”

To listen to Brendan Fay in conversation with Róisín Ingle, recorded at the Transatlantic Connections Conference in Bundoran, Donegal, go to SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher or irishtimes.com