How a ‘motherly’ woman with a gay son changed the law on homosexuality
Phil Moore is credited with convincing Máire Geoghegan-Quinn to change law 25 years ago
Phil Moore, the woman who Máire Geoghan-Quinn says is the reason she proposed the decriminalisation of homosexuality, pictured at home in Dartry, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
When Phil Moore’s 16-year-old son first told his mother he was gay Moore responded as many parents would have in the early 1980s. “I said ‘it’s all right darling, it’s a passing phase, you’ll grow out of it’. I told him ‘we love you and we won’t talk about it anymore’. I gave him a hug and that was the end of that, I thought.”
However, unlike most Irish parents with a gay child in the 1980s, Moore and her husband decided to research what it actually meant to be gay. She had read about homosexuality and remembers her family talking about “a funny uncle” but wanted to learn more. “There was no such thing as someone being gay then, it didn’t cross our minds.”
More than three decades on, Moore sits at her kitchen table looking fondly at a small plaque she has received just days before we meet. The tablet is decorated with the bright rainbow colours representative of the LGBTQ community under which the name “Phil Moore” is printed in block capital letters. “By Dublin LGBTQ Pride on the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland, ” it writes. “A mother’s love can move a nation.”
It was, in fact, Moore’s deep, enduring love for her son that led her to take part in a meeting 25 years ago with then minister for justice Máire Geoghegan-Quinn calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
By this point Moore was an active member of the LGBT community, offering support to both young people and their parents coming to terms with the child’s sexuality. After her own son came out, Moore and her husband began visiting the Hirschfeld Centre in Temple Bar where young gay men and women would gather to socialise. She was shocked to discover many of the people she met had been rejected by their families because of their sexuality.
“Some had been thrown out, others were beaten up by their fathers. In one case a mother packed a suitcase and told him never to come back again. They were left to roam the streets. There was self-harm, there were drugs, there were some suicides. She began volunteering at the National Gay Federation helpline reassuring distraught parents and children. “I always listened to them and then asked ‘do you love your child?’ Once you get to that stage they begin to calm down and think ‘yes, I do’.”
Moore was involved in setting up a small group called the Parents Inquiry which spoke at schools and universities around the country. “Because we were mothers and fathers they couldn’t really attack us. There were some who would have loved to but we were just parents loving our children.” As the movement calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland gained momentum Moore also began campaigning on radio and TV.
When, in 1993, she was invited to take part in a meeting with Geoghegan-Quinn Moore sat quietly at the back of the room as the three other participants from the LGBT community clearly laid out their arguments for an end to the law targeting gay people. She remembers the surprise on Geoghegan-Quinn’s face when the “very motherly” woman sitting at the back of the room began to speak. “She was probably thinking what on earth is she doing here,” recalls Moore.
“When it came to my turn she just opened her eyes, put down her pen and listened to me. All I did was talk about my son. I said I had a wonderful son and isn’t it a shame that the world thinks he’s a criminal?”
Geoghegan-Quinn would later say this moment – when Phil Moore recounted how Irish society had rejected her son because of his sexuality – was what pushed her to fight for the proposal to end decriminalisation. The minister brought Moore’s arguments to her colleagues in Fianna Fáil, repeating the question of what they would do if their own child came out as gay. On June 24th, 1993, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) 1993 Bill was passed, bringing an end to the criminalities of homosexuality.
“It’s incredible the difference between then and now, especially with the marriage equality referendum,” says Moore. “After the referendum people were saying ‘I can walk down the street now and I’m not afraid’.”
The Government’s apology last week for the hurt and stigma inflicted on thousands of gay men criminalised by the State was another moment of relief in the long journey toward acceptance, says Moore. “The apology was so important because there’s such a history of hidden lies and older men still who are cut off. Their lives could have been so different.”
This week Moore and Geoghegan-Quinn are set to meet for the first time since they sat together in a meeting room 25 years ago. “I just want to give her a big hug, that’s all. “We’re at a good place now. There’s still prejudices out there but it’s not as bad as before. There’s an acceptance now.”