Dublin: ‘Lesbians Organizing Together’ drop-in centre where gay people can report homophobic crimes
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Interview with Irish Gay Activist Brendan Fay: Breaking Centuries of Silence
Interview by Perry Brass
I first encountered Brendan Fay last June as one of the four speakers chosen to represent the Gay and Lesbian community at New York’s official City Hall Gay Pride Celebration. As you might have guessed, this event was sponsored by Allan Hevesy, New York’s very liberal Controller, and not by our tight-mouthed mayor, Rudolph Guiliani.
Brendan was one of the most startling, wondrous speakers I have ever heard. That this small man—he is hardly 5′ 6"—could speak so forcefully, totally truthfully, and intimately to hundreds of people reinforced my feelings about real politics (the stuff without all the money thrown in, or the people thrown out), that it can touch human beings at our deepest, most caring level. He also has a honeyed Irish accent that I could imagine spooning on a scone and eating with a full, steaming pot of Irish tea. Brendan’s own story has a simple, moving beauty to it. At a very early age, he was most affected by the nuns working in his school in a small town in Ireland. He came from a large family, of seven children. His father was a factory worker, his mother a housewife.
At an early age, he decided to join the Christian Brothers, an order of monks. At the end of four years of training, at age 16, he was told that he would not be considered for the priesthood because he had been so honest in an interview with the Order’s psychologist—Brendan simply revealed that he never stopped thinking about sex.
This "rejection" sent him into a deep depression, but probably saved him from later years of an even deeper unhappiness. In more recent years, Brendan became identified with ILGO, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, the controversial group that has tried to get real recognition for gay and lesbian Irish people from the iron-bound Ancient Order of Hibernians, which administers New York’s huge St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The Parade for decades forbade blacks to march. It has remained a barometer of the political pecking order of New York. In other words, to be a politician (read: old-school, big money) in New York and not march somewhere (better at the head) in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is political death.
Perry Brass: The Irish and the gay question are very controversial in the United States. Is this less controversial in Ireland?
Brendan Fay: The answer to that is really a "Yes" and "No." Basically there is no questioning of Irishness in Ireland, so there are different identity questions. In America to be Irish, I’ve almost heard it described as being a "hyper-nationalism." The Irish in America have always been very defensive—and with good historical reason. They arrived here fleeing famine, persecution, hardship, to find themselves in a tremendous hostile America.
There were Anglo-American people who were openly hostile to these hordes of immigrants, bringing with them their Catholicism and their Irishness. So the Irish over here have a certain "siege mentality," so that Irishness and their Catholicism have gotten very enmeshed. Now the gay issue is different, I think, in Ireland because at a time in the 90s when Ireland was emerging and growing in a different way—we had just elected Mary Robinson as President—there was a women’s movement and a growing sense of identity and change. There was a lesbian and gay movement; we were going from strength to strength; yet there were still many challenges.
But we should say there are many different Irish Americas. We cannot paint it all with one brush. The Irish America that is visible on Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day is often the only Irish America that people see. But I often remind people that Dorothy Day [founder of the Catholic Worker movement] has a certain Irish background, Paul O’Dwyer [a New York liberal senator] was Irish America. Michael Quill, the labor leader was; so was Mother Jones. Che Guevara had Irish on his mother’s side; she was a Murphy, or was it a Lynch?
So there are many Irish Americas, and the one that is visible on Fifth Avenue, which is often represented by this Irish Catholicism—conservative, repressive, fear-filled and fearful, always threatened on the outside and by the "other"—that is tragic that it is presented so. From within this community comes its lesbian and gay members. We are not outside the community, but come from within it.
Perry Brass: So it seems that Irish Americanism is more conservative than Ireland?
Brendan Fay: You’re right. That is why there was no problem with lesbian and gay contingents participating in the St. Patrick’s Day Parades in Cork; in Dublin they were welcomed as a contingent. In Cork they won "best newcomer prize," and the bishop of Cork sat on the reviewing stand.
Meantime, over here in New York, we have this incredible, sad display of bigotry and prejudice. I noticed that the symbol of the Hibernians—something you see all around New York at this time—is the green carnation. So who conceived of the green carnation in the first place, but Oscar Wilde! In February, 1892, at the opening night of "Lady Windemeer’s Fan," he invited his friends to arrive at the theatre wearing green carnations. Shortly thereafter, the green carnation became the symbol of London’s sexual underground. There was a book published in the late 1890’s called "The Green Carnation."
Perry Brass: There is a strange thing about the whole "green" thing, because in America wearing a green suit became a gay, covert symbol. So we have this thing about the Irish, the greenness, and the gay symbol. Something I talked about with you earlier was that I believed there was such a thing as a "separate genre" of the Irish closet case. And you said you thought so also.
Brendan Fay: Yes.
Perry Brass: So, is there some sort of relationship between this covert sexuality and so much of Ireland’s history?
Brendan Fay: Yes, for a country and people renowned for expression, whether verbal or literary, there is incredible repression going on simultaneously. We are a community riddled with paradoxes. We have Brendan Behan on one hand and Father Conglin [the far Right Wing radio priest from the 30s] on the other. Ireland had one of the most reactionary censorship boards in the entire world. This no longer operates, but many of Ireland’s artists and writers had to leave, simply to work.
Perry Brass: But it was an oppressed country.
Brendan Fay: There are real connections between our homophobia, our self-repression, and our colonial past and history. I believe that the erotophobia inside so many Irish communities is not a native Irish trait. In fact, historically, when you look back at Irish literature written in Gaelic, the native Irish language, some of it is wild and bawdy—even right back to the literature that came from the Celtic monasteries.
Perry Brass: So this could have been clamped on by the British colonialists?
Brendan Fay: Absolutely! It is part, I would say, of a dual heritage from outside: from London and from Rome.
Perry Brass: This would bring us back to our "friend," Roger Casement [the Irish nationalist hanged by the British during World War I as a spy]—who is also a great passion of yours, I guess.
Brendan Fay: Oh, yes! Casement is one of the cases in Irish history who has never been fully embraced as the hero, or the wonderful larger-than-life figure that he was. This is simply because of prejudice and his gayness.
Perry Brass: He was certainly a second gay martyr. If you want to consider that Oscar Wilde died as an Irish gay figure, then Casement certainly was the second one of this type.
Brendan Fay: There is no doubt in my mind that Casement was executed because the British government released sections of his diaries, in order to insure—to guarantee—his hanging. All around the world there was this cry that they could not hang this humanitarian figure, so what was done was the release of sections of his diaries that ensured his quick execution. What is tragic is the utter denial within Ireland itself that these diaries could not be "our" Roger Casement’s. I have heard people say that to "suggest" he was gay was to suggest he was a "pervert." There is still a debate in Ireland about him, and last year two books were published about him. For many Irish people there is still a controversy. You cannot hold these terms—Irish, nationalist, hero—and add gay at the same time. Therefore, it is a real challenge for those of us who are gay or lesbian, to begin doing our own work, telling our histories, our stories, today.
Perry Brass: This is what I call in my book, "the gay work." The spiritual work that has an eroto-spiritual side to it, as well as the deepest psychological side. This work is so important to gay men, because without it all we’re doing is spinning our wheels back on the gay commercial treadmill—queers as endless consumers, which seems to be the number that is happening now. But with the Irish situation, by cutting the Irish off from their own deeper eroticism, making them so puritan—more puritan even than the colonial English—did they cut themselves off from a deeper Irishness, too?
Brendan Fay, curator of this Irish Lesbian and Gay History Exhibit, greets Danny Dromm, Co-Chair of the Green Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee Brendan Fay: Absolutely. From an essential part of our identity, from that bawdy, wildness. And that is where I say the doing of history is important. And where as lesbian and gay people there is a real challenge to recover and uncover, for future generations and for ourselves, our stories. To become storytellers. To recover the art of telling our own stories, and everyone can begin that today. We can by saying, "I refuse to be silent." We need to tell our stories, both the present ones and the past ones. This is still very difficult in a culture that rewards silence. Where we are welcomed for our money, we are welcomed for certain traits, but people do not want our whole stories. We are still worried about tenure and things like that. But telling these stories invites other people to do likewise. What that has done for me is I would have grown up and never believed there was an Irish gay heritage.
Perry Brass: And you believe this now?
Brendan Fay: Certainly. It began when I read works like Jonathan Katz [author of "Gay American History"] and was so amazed because this is our community story. This man had pulled this together, dug and dug deeply, and drawn it together. And I want to give Irish people back our own heritage. Because the gay Irish story is an Irish story. It’s not from outside being imposed. It’s part of our story. Here it’s strange because when you go into Irish bars or the Irish community, it was unacceptable to be lesbian or gay, and when you’d go into gay groups, they’d laugh at the notion that you’re Irish. So it’s very important to do this work; I felt we must do the parade stuff, yes—and at the same time we must begin to tell our stories.
Perry Brass: Before, when we were talking, you had told me a story that delighted me. This story of Father Ende, the Trappist monk who’d been an abbot. The story was how you’d had gone down on your knees for confession, and after he had given you absolution, he had said to you, "I have absolved you, and now it’s time for you to do the same thing for me." And he went down on his knees for you. Can you tell me the story again. It was such a great story.
Brendan Fay: About seven miles from the town where I’m from is Melifant Abbey. It is a Trappist Monastery. I was there for a weekend, and during the break I was walking around the grounds, on the farm, when this older monk came towards me. He stops and we began to chat. Then he said to me, "Have you been to confession, lad?" And I said, no, and he said, "Well, then, we’ll do it right here."
I was then about twenty-one or twenty-two, and he said, go down on your knees, and of course I did that, and I rattled off my list of sins, which were, of course, all sexual. This reflects my upbringing—I call it, "all sinfulness gets confined to the pelvic arena."
And Father Ende then takes me by the hands and lifts me up and he says, "For your penance, I want you to look in the mirror and remind yourself every morning that you are made in the image and likeness of God." Now, it took me a long time to do that; but then he says to me, "Now your soul is clean, and you are a good, holy boy."
Then he says to me, "Now I want you to pray over me." This old man gets down on his knees, and he says, "Now put your hands on my head, and please say a prayer for me." And I nervously muttered something, and lifted him up and he gave me a hug, and he told me then how he was the same as I was. He was also attracted to men—he did not say he was gay, but neither did I.
Neither of us had those words, or used them. He saw being gay as a cross, a great Cross to bear and to carry. But what was unique in that encounter was the love of this man. The mutuality of it—the real humbleness of it, the earthiness. And also, that this man had loved me in a way that no other man had. This began an extraordinary friendship, that went on for quite a number of years, right up to when I arrived here.
There were months when I refused to write back to him, and his letters would arrive. He’d write every two weeks to me, sending me prayers and hugs and kisses. He believed that the solution was that I needed to find the right woman. So I went and found a woman and of course nothing was right. I started dating her, and I’d be sitting on the top of a double decker bus with my arms around Roisin, and the bus conductor would come and give us our tickets while, of course, I’d be falling in love with the bus conductor! So I see this time as a painful search, while I tried to just hold it together—wanting to be accepted by people, longing to fit in and belong.
At this point I was incredibly torn between the gay world of Dublin, which I had been recently been discovering, but never quite feeling at home there. This was situated around Stephen’s Green, a section filled with bars, with [public] toilets; it is still a very popular gathering and cruising area.
This was the early 80s, and the [gay] center in Dublin had opened. It was known as the Herschfield Center, for Magnus Herschfield. I would go there occasionally, but not a lot. Eventually, then, Mike Warren came from St. John’s University [in New York] and since at the same time I had become involved with church groups committed to social justice and activism, he invited me to do my graduate work here. I had become involved with issues like nuclear disarmament, and the campaign in solidarity with the people of El Salvador and Nicaragua. There was a great sense of global consciousness, and that has stayed with me. So when people ask me about the roots of my activism, that is where I see it.
Perry Brass: So you went to St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens, when Michael Warren asked you to come there and do graduate work?
Brendan Fay: Yes, there I was taken aback at the conservative nature of the campus. How could a university have so many young adults and yet be so conservative? Here was I—I had just left St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth (Dublin), where most of the trustees were Catholic bishops, and I was used to the students standing up on the tables for all kinds of campaigns. Students taking over administrative offices and making all kinds of demands.
Perry Brass: So they had a real tradition of student activism?
Brendan Fay: Yes. But of course I was arriving at St. John’s during the Reagan years, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised. But at St. John’s a transformation began due to my reading Carter Heyward [author of "Our Passion for Justice"]. I would say that the fearful, repressed, self-hating homosexual who arrived at Kennedy Airport began a slow, painful, but very liberating transformation during this first time in America.
I began finding books by Carter Heyward, Audrey Lorde, and John McNeil. By day I was studying under teachers like Mike Warren and Paul Surlis, teaching social ethics and liberation theology; Mary Buckley, a feminist, was challenging me to rethink the world and the Church—to think more critically.
By night, I was discovering the gay world of Queens [New York], at bars like the Magic Touch. Very close to it was an Irish bar called the Liffy, so I was going back and forth between the two bars. The Liffy was named for the main river in Dublin, and there I’d drink pints of Guinness and put on the old ballads and songs on the juke box, and get all sentimental. Then I’d run over to the Magic Touch and order Budweissers and hope that somebody might say hello and pick me up. This was a sad picture in some ways, yet maybe we all have to go through this. And of course I re-invented myself many times. People would say, "What’s your name?" and I couldn’t say my name was Brendan—that’s amazing when I think back. I would say I was Micky, Patrick, or Sean.
Perry Brass: So you had a bar name?
Brendan Fay: Yes. This was common at the Magic Touch, which really reflected the Jackson Heights [Queens] gay community in its diversity. It was full of immigrants, Latinos, and others. I had some wild, wonderful times there, met some wonderful men; and had some awful times, too—sad, lonely nights, but that is life.
Perry Brass: But this started you to start your own gay group? Roger Casement
Brendan Fay: Yes. I soon enough discovered the Village, and one of the first places I would have visited was the Oscar Wilde Bookshop. There I met Craig Rodwell, who very quickly befriended me. I look back on Craig [the now-deceased owner of Oscar Wilde, the first gay bookstore in New York] as a real hero. I am so grateful for having met the likes of Craig. What an inspiration! On one of my early visits, he handed me a copy from under the counter of "The Black Diaries of Roger Casement." I was so shy then, I wasn’t out, and he gave me a number of free magazines, books, and buttons.
Then I told him I wanted to meet other Irish gay and lesbian immigrants. He encouraged me to put up a notice on the store’s community bulletin board. For many of us, the Oscar Wilde Bookshop was our community center, an incredible place for discussions about women, about being gay men, about the community, about pornography. My consciousness was really heightened, challenged,sharpened by Craig. Jesus Lebron was a young New York Puerto Rican from the South Bronx who worked with Craig. We became friends and lovers, and he became a real mentor to me, because they were both veteran activists, and I learned really to recover a self-esteem that I never thought was possible from people like them.
This was, by the way, after graduating from St. John’s. There I learned to articulate, write, and speak—but I also learned to be silent. On so many campuses across the nation, it’s still taboo to be open. A majority of our community is still silent, and does not feel free. As I often say, in the "land of the free," how quickly unfree I became.
I learned as a gay man I could have all the fabulous, wild joys and pleasures of being gay at night—as long as I kept it there. So long as I kept it in the bars, the backrooms, whatever, that was all right.
Perry Brass: But nothing that would increase your sense of a richer self, a more integrated self?
Brendan Fay: Yes, a more integrated self. A less tortured, divided, defensive, hiding one. I was very involved with the Irish community, and yet was not open about being gay. But slowly, surely, I was beginning to come out to more and more people. That was from true encouragement from the likes of Craig and from putting up the notice to reach other Irish lesbian and gay immigrants. They began to call me and we formed a group called Irish Lesbians and Gay in New York.
We began to go to Irish pubs together and wear our pink triangles. This was around 1988. In 1990, ILGO was formed. I saw a notice in a newspaper and joined in May. Very quickly our own small group joined ILGO. I remember our first Gay Pride parade, June, 1990—the screams of sheer delight of people on the sides as we walked down with our "Irish Lesbians and Gays" banner. I organized a few people to dance, so we had a piper—that was incredible! I thought, "My God, we have pushed against silence. We have come out of the ghetto."
Over the following months, after that experience, we began to think about marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, in our own community. That idea caught on. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is so important in New York. Maybe people who aren’t Irish don’t appreciate its significance. On one level, there are those miles of bloody bagpipes and greenery and mad top hats. But at another level, it has its roots in a community that has a whole history of fleeing persecution, famine, looking for identity, always being underclass. The Parade does represent a certain rising up against so many obstacles; it represents that the Irish, as a community, have struggled against prejudice from the time when there were "No Irish Need Apply" signs everywhere.
The Hibernians who control the Parade, which is the biggest ethnic parade in the world, to me have failed the Irish community. Not only have they done a tremendous injustice to us, as Irish lesbian and gay people, but they’ve failed the Irish community and even New York, in what I see as their stewardship of a community’s expression of itself and its story.
Perry Brass: It has done two things to the Parade: one, it has made this issue a prime issue of the Parade; and two, it has made the St. Patrick’s Day Parade the only exclusionary parade in New York. I know of no other parade that even if you showed solidarity with the marchers, you’d still be told you could not march.
Brendan Fay: Well, the fact is the Israeli Day Parade has excluded the Beth Simchas Torah [New York’s gay synagogue] from carrying its banner. So there are other parades that have picked up on the Hibernians exclusionary tactic. However, other parades have welcomed gay and lesbian contingents, such as the Philippines Parade and the Puerto Rican Day Parade. So to me the Parade became the stage on which we acted out the impact and effects of years, if not centuries, of bigotry and prejudice. That Parade in 1991 changed my life. We walked without our banner, but were led by Mayor David Dinkins in an extraordinary gesture of solidarity. The Mayor’s traditional spot was the front of the Parade—which is, of course, where Guiliani marches
every year—so I will never forget Dinkins’s gesture.
Subsequently after the Parade, I was fired from my job as a religious teacher at a Catholic girls’ high school in Queens. There were arrests. Our group gained much notoriety. And the issue, even nine years later, has not been resolved. In ’94, partly out of frustration, a group of us formed the Lavender and Green Alliance. We needed to do something positive and constructive, the Parade was so overwhelmingly negative.
Irish & Gay Exhibit in New York’s Greenwich Village, Gay Pride, 1995. By ’91, ’92, ’93, after getting arresting so much, we began dreading this upcoming "festival." So with the Alliance, we said we’ll get together, we’ll cook a dinner, we’ll bring in Irish traditional musicians and we’ll dance. And all around the walls, I will put up images of gay and lesbian Irish men and women from our past and present. So in contrast to the hate and bigotry of Fifth Avenue, at least we’ll create this positive space. We did it first in Queens, at a church in Flushing. At our first event 70 people showed up. At year two, we moved into the City, and for the past several years, we did it at Park Avenue Christian Church.
I see this as just as significant a gesture of activism as the Parades, as getting arrested. It is bringing people together, eating and dancing together, and sharing poetry and stories, both past and present. Some people say, "Brendan, you’re brave, you get arrested." But to me, I see the work of this annual gathering as equally significant. One guy, I remember, brought his parents. They had never met other lesbian and gay people, or their parents. Another man, who lived in isolation with his lover in Jersey, had never been involved with the gay community. His lover had died and this man was suicidal and depressed. He came to our event, too. So this is important work for us.
Perry Brass: This is what I call "the gay feast."
Brendan Fay: Yes, I like that idea.
Perry Brass: With the arrests, did you start to feel that you were only adding more grist to the New York Daily News?
Brendan Fay: Exactly. After I had been arrested so many times, had been fired from my job, I went through the time when I was known as "the guy who got arrested, who was fired—it’s just terrible what they did to you!" I was interviewed all over. Then one day, I was at Randy Wicker’s shop in New York [Wicker, a long-time activist, and contributing writer to GayToday has an antiques shop in Greenwich Village], and someone from the Sally Jesse Raphael Show called for me. They wanted to do a show on people who had been discriminated against in the workplace.
Randy was all excited, I was less so, but I went. I watched the audience scream, "Sally! Sally! Sally!" and Sally came out—cameras on, lights—and the other cases were a woman who was fired because she refused to remove her facial hair and a woman who had b.o.—then there was me, fired because I marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I walked out of that show and just kept thinking, "Today I became a Victim On Parade." I felt like a freak of the late Twentieth Century. I told myself that I had to stop living out of this victim mode. I had to find new ways of being.
Perry Brass: You’d become just another part of the TV machine. They love people like that. If you’d been fired because you had one leg, they would not have been as interested. You’d become just something they can use to get to the commercials.
Brendan Fay: Yes, we have to watch ourselves to stay away from the "Victim on Parade" mode. That’s why this dinner is important. We call it "Oiche Aerach," Gaelic for "Gay Night." So it’s important that we recover our own language, that we articulate our lives in our language.
Perry Brass: Can you talk about your involvement with the gay immigration situation?
Brendan Fay: I was always conscious of being an immigrant, but more so when I was fired. Being fired, losing my visa status, reminded me of how fragile all this is. There were groups fighting Irish discrimination, but no one was fighting for gay immigrants. And simply being lesbian or gay was grounds for exclusion from this country—that only changed in 1990. Very recently. Today being HIV positive—and gay—are grounds for exclusion. If you’re heterosexual and in a relationship, you can get a HIV waiver, which is incredible to me!
I remember "winning" the green card lottery, and I realized how tenuous my life is around this green card, and how powerless I am on this level. It also reminded me how we cannot take anything for granted. Tomorrow morning a new political leadership could move in to Washington, Albany, or New York, and undermine all our civil rights, unless we are vigilant, active, and present. We do not have the pleasure of being complaisant.
Perry Brass: Now you’re involved with the struggle for gay couples, where one is a citizen and the other an alien.
Brendan Fay: Yes. The Bi-National Same-Sex Couples Campaign. That is through my recent involvement with the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force. This is an important campaign. I am in a relationship of 3 years with my lover and partner, Tom, but according to the laws of the INS, we are complete strangers. We’re like roommates. If we were heterosexual, we could marry, I could have a green card, be a citizen, and have those 1,049 benefits that go with the right and freedom to marry.
This is another debate—marriage—but I always say that these debates are important. They impact on people’s lives, and there are thousands of lesbian and gay immigrants who are suffering, living lives of anguish, because of the current state of the laws. We organized a rally and press conference outside the INS, at 26 Federal Plaza [in downtown Manhattan] last Thursday, just around Valentine’s Day, to call attention to the suffering, pain, and injustice of bi-national same-sex couples. We highlighted the fact that 10 other countries have these rights—and just Saturday South Africa became the 11th country to do so, joining New Zealand, Canada, England, Belgium, and Australia among others. It was also very moving to hear people from places like Thailand and Colombia speak—people who rarely get to speak in our community. The voice of the immigrant is rarely heard among us.
Perry Brass: This goes back to your thing about breaking silence.
Brendan Fay: Yes. and that’s what that Thursday rally and press conference did. There we had immigrants themselves breaking our own silences and telling their stories. It was an extraordinary moment. Tremendous love and courage were shown there. This is a whole new stage for us. We’re now not just coming out to speak about our lives—which some people now think is no big deal anymore—but we’re coming out to speak about our LOVE as gay people.
Perry Brass: If the Irish community itself could break its silence about the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community, what would you like to hear?
Brendan Fay: I’d like to look forward to the day when Irish gay and lesbian people could join our community in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and our own community celebrations. And I’d like to see the Irish government changing its laws as it has in so many other areas. Ireland now has an anti-discrimination bill, protection in the workplace, and refugee status has been extended to gay people from persecution. However, Ireland is not among those 11 countries recognizing bi-national same-sex couples. In New York, I’d like to see the leaders of the Irish community see that injustice towards gay and lesbian people is worthy of inclusion among other issues. This has not happened. And I’d love to see this Parade issue behind us, so that we could go on to other issues, particularly the immigration question which affects so many people.
Perry Brass: Tell us about the March 6 event you have planned.
Brendan Fay: On Saturday, March 6, Lavender and Green is holding our fifth Oiche Aerach. There will be a dinner and caley dancing, traditional Irish step dancing, with a caley band. And we’ll have poetry, stories, and all around the room will be images of Irish lesbian and gay figures. We’re expecting 250 people. Tickets are $25.00, but if that’s financially difficult for whatever reason, we’ll say that is not a problem. It’s more important that people come. For more information you can call me at 212 740-9504, or Jim McNulty at (718) 436-5756. I can also be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ll also be honoring people who’ve been role models to us. We’ll honor Marion Irwin, a real activist in our community. She just recently returned to Ireland where she’s working with the travelers [Irish gypsies], and we’re also honoring Daniel O’ Donal, Rosie O’ Donal’s brother, who is Irish American, has a partner of 17 years, is a lawyer, and has done much public interest work. Daniel is out and open. The whole evening is dedicated to the memory of the Irish-American civil rights leader, Paul O’Dwyer. That will be at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 6.
I am also working on some writing projects: a book on Irish lesbian and gay history, called "Hidden Ireland, A Scrapbook of Irish Lesbian and Gay History," and I’m editing a collection called "At the Crossroads, A Gathering of Stories: Being Irish and Lesbian and Gay in America."
The crossroads is where people gather to tell their stories, and this collection will contain the stories of recent immigrants as well as second and third generation Irish people.
I also have this traveling road show on Irish gay and lesbian history. So people who have contacts with universities or community centers can contact me about this. It covers everything from the Celtic period to the modern movement. This show makes me realize that in human history, as lesbian and gay people, this is a wonderful time to be alive, because we are breaking out of centuries of silence and just beginning to articulate a whole, wonderful human experience.
Perry Brass’s newest book, How to Survive Your Own Gay Life, has just gone into its second printing, six weeks after appearing in bookstores. It can be obtained through gay and other bookstores nationally, or through Amazon.com and other online services. He can be reached through his website: www.perrybrass.com.
August 11, 2000
Venue crisis for Pride events in Waterford
by Michelle Clancy
A lack of suitable venues in the city is impeding the development of the Waterford Pride festival and is the reason why a gay/ lesbian event has not been held locally in 13 months. At present, Waterford is the only major Irish city that stages a Gay Pride Festival annually but does not have a gay venue, according to Alan Brett, Resource Worker with the Waterford Gay and Lesbian Resource Group.
”The four other cities all have regular gay/lesbian pubs and night-clubs — indeed Galway this year hired out the 1000 capacity ‘Black Box Theatre’ (and filled it!)”, he commented. Mr. Brett explained how this posed a difficulty to the organisation of Waterford Pride, in comparison to the other Pride festivals. ”If we had a big venue to work out of in Waterford I have no doubt that we would fill it. Waterford Pride has a similar catchment area to Galway — we just don’t have the facilities to organise events on that scale.”
”More than just offering venues for events, regular venues in the other major cities offer the local Pride committees a chance to fundraise all the year round. In fact with just a week to go, we still have no venue for a Saturday night pub/club event — something we are working frantically on!”
Mr. Brett said there were a number of premises in the locality which might be available to the group next year and predicted that, should they be accessible, the festival would benefit. Meanwhile, through the national Interpride organisation, member festivals Dublin, Belfast, Galway and Derry have already staged festivals this year, with approximately 7,000 people marching in Dublin’s annual parade. Waterford is the only Irish Pride event not to include a parade as part of the festival, but Mr. Brett pointed to this as a possible means of attracting a more mainstream audience.
”To date the numbers attending have remained fairly static, but this year we hope to open up the festival to a more mainstream audience at some events, plus with Waterford’s recent inclusion in the Interpride project, we are expecting additional visitors this year from Belfast, Dublin, and Galway.”
The broadening of this year’s programme to include cinema and literature is an integral part of this. ”Combating social exclusion is an aim of the organisation, and it is only through opening up the festival to a more mainstream audience that we can work towards this”, Mr. Brett continued. ”The arts provide a perfect medium for this.” Highlights of this year’s festival include the special screening of the Oscar-winning ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ at Garter Lane, in conjunction with the Waterford Film Society and a free concert by Gloria, Ireland’s lesbian and gay choir, also at Garter Lane.
Other events on the programme include a celebration of gay and lesbian literature with readings at various city centre locations, a cruise on the River Barrow and a hillwalking expedition, as well as the traditional evenings in the pub. Supporting the festival for the first time this year is the Arts Office of Waterford Corporation. Meanwhile, the Waterford Gay & Lesbian Resource Group has, over the past few months, run the first of its Community Development Courses from its base at St. John’s Park and another introductory course is set for October.
”It is a slow process but this is necessary in order for the work to be successful”, stated Mr. Brett. ”The experience of previous groups in Waterford has taught us this.” Following the completion of the course, a number of projects are in the development stage, including a social group and a specific women’s line. "It has been encouraging to see the amount of groundwork done, and in particular the work undertaken by the members of the Resource Group, and the levels of support from the Waterford Area Partnership and other city-based community development groups”, Mr. Brett conclud
August 17, 2000
Positive reaction to Irish Gay Documentary
by Alison Healy
RTV’s screening of its first documentary on being gay in Ireland received a positive response from the public, according to the station. The documentary, called The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name, was broadcast on RTvâ 1 on Tuesday night and was followed by the film Beautiful Thing, a gay love story. While various programmes have touched on the subject this was the first time that an hour-long documentary had explored homosexuality in Ireland. An RTV spokeswoman said the vast majority of the calls after the screening were positive. "Only about two were negative. We don’t normally get many people phoning up to say that they enjoyed a documentary but that’s what we got last night."
The programme was described as a "fundamental, seminal broadcast from RTV by Mr Brian Sheehan, Gay/HIV Strategies director. "It was wonderful to see something like this on RTVat last and it will create a visibility of a different order for gay men and women in Ireland." The documentary, from Radius Television Productions, explored the lives of gay people in Ireland, using Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment in 1895 as a reference point. It included contributions from Senator David Norris, who fought for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland. It was eventually decriminalised in 1993, four years after the EU Court of Human Rights made its ruling in favour of Mr Norris.
" We’ve got an unreal reaction to the programme," said Mr Bill Hughes, producer of the documentary. "I got an extraordinary amount of calls this morning and they were very positive. It’s been overpowering. When people discover they are gay they feel like they are the only ones. We wanted the documentary to show that they are not alone. Things have changed so much in urban Ireland but it’s still very difficult in rural Ireland." Mr Kieran Rose, one of the programme’s contributors, said watching the film was like watching something bad that had happened years ago. "It’s so positive because things have improved so much since then. Now we have one of the most progressive regimes in the world since decriminalisation, the Employment Equality Act and Equal Status Bill. But we still have a long way to
New Irish Law Bans Discrimination
Providers of goods and services in Ireland cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation under a law that took effect Oct. 25. The Equal Status Act bans unfair treatment based on gender, age, marital and family status, religion, race, sexual orientation, disability or membership of the Traveller community (an apparent reference to Gypsies). Enforcement will be carried out by the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations which can impose fines and mandate remedial action. Ireland already bans employment discrimination base
December 10, 2000
AIDS a backdrop for book about Irish family
by Beverley Curran Special to The Daily Yomiuri
The Blackwater Lightship By Colm Toibin; Scribners, 273 pp. Irish literature abounds with stories of the sea and tales of stoic resignation to death at the hands of a harsh natural environment. In his new novel, "The Blackwater Lightship," Colm Toibin retells this familiar story with many twists, questioning the value of stoicism, especially within families. Wary of the appearance of vulnerability — especially in a jeering culture where even a haircut is perceived as a weakness — individuals can be afraid to confide in each other, and wind up isolated and unhappy. Better, the novel suggests, that we take risks and attempt to speak to each other.
This is what Helen must do when she finds out that her brother, Declan, is dying of AIDS and has been hiding the news of his illness for several years, looking to his friends for support. As his health takes a serious turn for the worse, Declan asks Helen to break the news to their mother, and, in the process, to also tell her that he is gay. This is a difficult request not just because of the news, but because Helen and her mother, Lily, do not get along. Although Helen has been married for years, her mother has never met Helen’s husband or her two grandsons — nor was she invited to Helen’s wedding.
Resolved to honor her beloved brother’s request, but reluctant to meet her mother, Helen first visits her grandmother and tells her about Declan. Mrs. Devereaux lives in a decaying seaside cottage where Helen and Declan lived for months when they were children; they had been left with their grandmother while their parents had gone to Dublin because their father was ill. Lily came back from Dublin alone after the death of their father, and although a semblance of former familial intimacy was restored between Lily and Declan, Helen withdrew. She felt abandoned by her mother then and had not trusted her since.
The three generations of women find themselves forced to face each other in close quarters when Declan wants to leave the hospital for a few days and stay at his grandmother’s. He asks two of his friends to come and stay there, too, which initially increases the usual family tensions. Helen, in fact, is surprised at Declan’s wish to stay at their grandmother’s cottage, especially after she accompanies her mother to Lily’s beautiful new house to pick up bed sheets and mattresses to take back to the cottage. When she asks Declan why he prefers the musty cottage to the modern house, Declan explains that his mother’s house gives him the creeps. In fact, he says, so does his grandmother’s place, but "I need these creeps," he says, laughing.
There is more laughter than you might expect in a novel about such a grave and bitter situation, much of it in the play between Declan and his friends, Larry and Paul. There are scenes, too, of vivid tenderness, such as when Helen curls up against a suit of her father’s clothes after he dies. We feel the depth of emotion that is so difficult for her to articulate. There is a striking contrast throughout the novel between the modes of communication of Declan’s friends and his family. The former are affectionate, kind, and loyal, while the latter are unable to communicate, except to, through, and about Declan.
Toibin’s novel is quiet and intense, but gentle and tolerant, too, toward its troubled characters, who are as emotionally fragile as Declan’s health. But just as Declan gingerly rests on the rocky beach outside the cottage and exposes his thin body to the light, so this story urges families and friends to help each other by learning how to bring feelings to light and into words.
There is much left unsaid in "The Blackwater Lightship," but when what needs to be said is managed, there is great relief and a tentative happiness. This story opens up a space for us all to think about the secrets we long to share, too. It makes fine winter reading, then, as the new year approaches, bringing with it a clean slate of sorts.
Guide to help parents of homosexuals
Dublin – A Government-sponsored guide for parents of homosexuals is being launched today. It’s designed to help parents throughout the country come to terms with their children coming out as lesbian or gay.
The Department of Health booklet is part of a five-year programme to cater for the welfare and lifestyle of the gay community. Secretary of the Parents Support Group which compiled it, Louise O’Donovan, says coming out is a huge event in the lives of everyone concerned. " Sexuality in itself is an issue that has taken a lot of time to mature," she said, "and the fact that your child is attracted to someone of the same sex requires that you have to rethink how you think about your child, because there are a lot of myths.
March 27, 2001
When your son says: ‘I’m gay’
How do you deal with the news that your child is gay? Two Irish moms tell how they came to terms with their child’s sexuality.
Anne Dempsey hears their stories and offers some advice
‘It was in the kitchen at one in the morning, I often used to talk with the children late at night. I remember I was standing at the window and my son said: ‘Mum, I’ve something to tell you that will shock you.’ "He told me he was gay. I turned and looked at his face. It was exactly the same son I had loved a moment before, nothing was going to change that. I felt bowled over with amazement. I had suspected nothing. He hadn’t had many girlfriends but was only 19 at the time, so you wouldn’t have made anything of that.
" I was shocked then sad. At that time, I had been reading a book where one of the characters was gay and, while there was no judgement, it was seen very much as a tragedy, and I suppose my early feelings were coloured by that. I had reached the stage where I didn’t consider being gay as anything sinful, but I felt very sad as I thought my son was in for a sad and lonely life.
" It was such a secret thing then and people didn’t really talk about it or if they did, it was in hushed tones. Looking back, it sounds ludicrous now but I thought there might be two or three gay people in Ireland, so I was very much in need of information myself."
Over the years, Dublin mother Patricia Kilroy informed herself of the facts of homosexuality and has seen her son go on to meet a partner and find happiness in life and career. She joined Parents’ Support, a support group for parents of gay sons and daughters to help them understand the sexual orientation of their children. She has now written If Your Child Is Gay Or Lesbian, a book that answers the kind of questions that parents have, gives a platform for parents and children to tell their own stories and has a helpful contact section. Soon after Patricia’s son told her his news, he told his father and his siblings that he was gay and their acceptance took a huge weight off his shoulders.
" You must realise for a gay person to tell their parents is a terribly hard thing. Saying ‘I’m gay’, is a huge sentence, and there are people who wait years and years and never hit on the right moment and are forced to lead a double life, which is terribly difficult.
" Or you could come out to parents and get a very negative reaction, and you may feel this is the end of a family relationship. But don’t give up on it, give them time to get used to the idea. It can help you prepare the ground by giving some clues, such as asking ‘did you ever wonder was I different from the others?’ or ‘did you think about why I never had a girlfriend?’ " Once things are out in the open, it can take a lot of the pressure off. It also means they can make more open contact with the gay community who offer a wonderfully supportive network."
Parents’ Support runs a helpline for parents. "Parents receive the news in a variety of ways. When families are very religious, the news can be the most frightful blow as they may regard homosexual activity as gravely sinful. The more narrow your outlook, the more difficult you will find it to accept this news. I would say to them that Christ never pointed the finger at gay people or marginalised anyone in any kind of way. If God made us all, he made gay people as well and he loves us all.
" We realise the anguish of such callers. We have a panel of priests that people can talk to, but, unfortunately, we have no priests in rural Ireland to whom we can refer. "Rural families can have particular difficulties. If you are a family who listens to and reads local media only, you are less likely to hear issues such as homosexuality discussed. Hearing that your child is gay can cause shock, terror and shame. You may be terrified that people will find out and reject you, with nowhere to take your feelings.
‘In other families, what has been said may never be discussed or acknowledged and such silence can be very painful for all concerned. "Parents often feel responsible. They will ring and say: ‘It’s my fault, what have we done wrong?’ We rear a child to be honest and thoughtful, congratulate ourselves when this happens, so we can blame ourselves if things go wrong. I would respond by saying this is part of nature, this is nothing you have done.
" Generally speaking, mothers find it more acceptable than fathers, as they are used to adapting to and learning from their children. Many fathers can feel it takes something from the family pride, and the news is too much for them to cope with. On the other hand, there have been occasions where we have seen fathers leading the mothers to acceptance."
While she feels there is less discrimination and more understanding of homosexuality among garda [police], health boards, social services and the work place, homophobia still exists. "There is bullying and people who are perceived as different do get attacked. Ignorance is at the root of all the troubles, but gay people do not choose the way they are."
Even with acceptance, parents of gay children can treat them differently, for example, accepting their gay partner but getting upset if that relationship ends, while allowing other children several relationships. Even these days, there’s lots of misinformation. "Parents still phone and ask what is homosexual lovemaking? It’s not a question you would ask your heterosexual child. I would say we bring all our children up to be decent, honourable people. How they choose to express their feelings physically is a private matter and something they do in their own way."
However, gay sex does raise the spectre of Aids. Originally seen as a gay disease when it surfaced in the 1980s, it then spread to the IV drug community, and today HIV infection is a risk for everyone who has casual, unprotected sex. "The fear of Aids is obviously a big worry to parents, and there are steps they should advise their children to take in terms of health. My line would be that you looked after their health and well-being when they were younger and made sure they got their vaccinations, so it’s just the same now. I would refer parents to Gay Switchboard Dublin or any of the Aids helplines or projects that offer information on avoiding the risk of infection with HIV."
In spite of same sex adoption and donor insemination, many gay couples and individuals will remain childless. "The parents can be very sad for their child’s sake, and that there will be no grandchildren. We already had three grandchildren when our son told us he was gay." How does he feel about her writing the book? "He’s fine about it, he’s glad that I’m doing it. I think secrecy and ignorance are the big problems here and anything I can do to dispel them is worthwhile." Open your heart to your child. Six years ago, Elizabeth’s daughter Caroline, then 23, told her she was gay and Elizabeth felt her world had ended. "It seemed to be the worst news that a parent could receive. I did all the right things, I hugged her and told her I loved her, but it was as if I had stepped outside my body, inside I was in complete turmoil.
" I went to a priest who was wonderful, I remember him wagging his finger at me and saying: ‘God created Caroline and loves her very much’. That was the sentence that carried me through. "Telling her father was difficult and we both cried a lot as we worried about the life she would have. We came through it together and it has made us closer. I chose carefully what friends I told, and I don’t have Caroline’s permission to tell everyone, anyway."
Elizabeth today is much more positive. "My early feelings seem a lifetime ago now. My daughter has a great life, a loving partner who is welcome in our family. She says there is no reason why she couldn’t have a child if she wants one, and I would be as happy as anything if she did."
In common with many parents, Elizabeth said when she first heard the news, she was very ignorant what it would be like to live as a gay person, but she has been helped by a supportive network. "I remember going to my first meeting of Parents’ Support and seeing all these other parents in the same boat, it was a great help. "I would say to parents to open your heart to your gay son or daughter. At first, I wished my daughter hadn’t told me, but I am delighted she did. I love her deeply and I wouldn’t change her for the world."
Helpful contacts: If Your Child Is Gay Or Lesbian by Patricia Kilroy, available free from Gay Switchboard, Dublin 01-8721055. The helpline is open each evening Sunday to Friday from 8-10pm and on Saturday afternoons 3.30-5pm. You can e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
11 August 2001
Meet The Gaybys: Irish Gay Guys have Triplets
That’s what they’re calling the kids of gay couples in the US. But, with this week’s news that a couple of gay hairdressers paid a Californian woman $20,000 to have their baby, the so-called Gayby Boom could be coming to Ireland.
Gemma O’Doherty reports.
For now they are known only as Connie, Max and Tom — three tiny babies who need little more than sleep, milk and love. They know nothing yet of the world they have been born into or of the controversy their arrival here has caused. But one day they will understand why, in the summer of 2001, they became the most famous triplets in Ireland. In four years’ time, when the three start school, they are certain to encounter hostility over the unusual circumstances of their lives. They will be teased, bullied perhaps, and even when they enter teenage years, their family will still be viewed as a social abnormality. By the time Irish society finally comes to terms with the decision their parents’ made in choosing to bring them into this world, they may well be parents themselves.
The residential suburb of Rathfarnham in south Dublin, where the children will grow up, was suffering from a severe bout of moral indigestion this week, reflecting what seemed to be the national mood. At the height of the media’s silly season, the national airwaves were suddenly jammed with angry Irish citizens — the sort who spend their lives ringing chat shows more than a little disturbed that a two-father family had landed on these shores with three ‘manufactured’ infants in tow. " It’s not right," said one young mother from the family’s new locality. "Three babies with two fathers and all that money changing hands. Can you imagine how traumatised that will leave them? They might be ready for this sort of thing in California but we’re certainly not here. It’s not fair on the kids."
Another was equally disapproving: "They won’t fit in around here as easily as they might think. Whatever about the surrogacy aspect, it’s the fact that they are two gay men raising children without a mother around. I feel really sorry for them because they have a long hard road ahead and their children face one hell of a stigma."
Gerard Whelan and John MacMahon were bracing themselves for this reaction. The middle-aged gay businessmen never expected a welcoming committee to greet them on their return to Ireland with the six-week-old triplets they paid £100,000 for. But so far, they’ve put on a brave face. As they embarked on this most unusual form of parenthood, this week they publicly played the part of proud fathers, pushing their newborns around in brand-new buggies and showing them off to close friends and family.
They took them to their hairdressing salons, in Dublin’s Goatstown and in Naas, and introduced them to staff. It might have been easier to stay indoors and weather the storm from the comfort of the luxury home bought especially for the triplets, but they decided to show the world they had nothing to hide.
Local gardai had already received several concerned tip-offs. An openly homosexual couple had suddenly ‘acquired’ three babies out of what appeared to be thin air. Gardai called to the £500,000 house but were satisfied that Whelan, the biological father, had brought the children into the country legally on his passport. As yet, Ireland’s first gay parents are remaining tight-lipped about the details of the surrogacy but they are determined to get one message out: not one law has been broken in the process. Nor was it something they rushed into. The couple, who are in a long-term relationship, thought long and hard about the idea and examined the legal complexities of surrogacy and same-sex parenting in detail to ensure their children could never be taken away from them. In that regard it would appear they have little to fear.
The American woman who was artificially inseminated with Gerard Whelan’s sperm last winter has waived all her rights as the triplets’ biological mother. If, at any time in the future, she decides she wants them back, she will have a battle on her hands and, under Californian law, has little chance of winning. In a state which has recognised surrogacy for more than two decades, the rule of intent is applied to this increasingly fashionable form of parenthood.
If a surrogate mother cannot prove she intended to keep the child and raise it, then it should remain with the person who ‘intellectually’ planned to bring it into this world, in this case the biological father and his partner. Back here, there was nothing to get in the way of the millionaire couple. Irish law makes no reference to surrogacy, so therefore it is neither legal nor illegal. No guidelines or regulations exist. Even the Medical Council has stayed silent on the matter. So providing the exorbitant funds are available, any Irish individual or couple can go abroad, find a woman to have their baby, ask her to sign away her rights, and take the child back to Ireland to raise it as their own.
For the Whelan/MacMahon duo, money has never been an obstacle to their having children. As well as owning two hairdressing salons and a house in Rathfarnham, the successful duo is believed to have property in Tallaght and Monaghan. So far, the entire process, including the trips to California, is estimated to have cost in the region of £150,000. The couple is also paying a full-time nanny who is likely to stay with the children until their two Dads get the hang of nappy-changing and bottle-feeding. Her salary added to the cost of funding the triplets will set them back about £30,000 a year.
The surrogacy process has been long and tedious for the men. When they first went to the United States last year for their initial consultation with the Californian agency, they were interviewed at length about their personalities, their relationship, their interest in parenthood and the sort of genetic characteristics they wanted in a mother. Usually, couples choose from a list of about 250 young fertile women whose pictures and details are supplied. They are selected for their health, intellectual ability, ethnic background and looks.
When a suitable donor is chosen, the couple then arrange to meet her and, if both parties are compatible and agreeable, the process gets underway. The identity of the triplets’ mother has not been revealed, nor is it known if she will be involved with the children in later life. Currently, the couple is being assisted by a live-in nanny believed to be a Californian nurse, who was flown over to look after the triplets.
There were initial rumours that she may be the birth mother but these are unfounded. However, in the US, it is common for gay men who go through surrogacy to stay in contact with the mother, and she often plays an active part in child-rearing, usually under the title of ‘Godmother’. In Britain and the US, two of the few countries in the world to have legalised the practice, surrogate mothers receive about £15,000 to cover expenses during the pregnancy, such as pre-natal care and maternity clothes. In the case of the Whelan babies, the woman is believed to have been paid in the region of $20,000. The rest of the payment went to the agency, which the men first contacted through the internet.
In recent times, California has become the capital of the so-called Gayby Boom, a reference to the soaring number of gay and lesbian couples becoming parents through artificial means. Dozens of surrogacy agencies specifically targeting homosexuals have set up in the last five years but the bulk of interest from Ireland to date has been from heterosexual couples. The Centre for Surrogate Parenting in California, the largest such service in the United States, has arranged 25 surrogacies for Irish couples, all of them heterosexual. The children now all live in Ireland. The agency charges a fee of $75,000 for the service, which also involves at least three trips to the US by the couple.
" We have couples from all over Ireland, from Castledermott to Dublin," says Karen Synesoiu, a director of the agency. "They are very much upper middle-class professionals. Lawyers, doctors, business people, with an average age of about 42. None of them has had children before. In most cases, the women involved have been born without a womb or have had a hysterectomy, but their ovaries are still fine and they can provide the eggs.
Often the fact that the couple is Irish is attractive to a surrogate mother, and she is more inclined to agree. She might have Irish roots for example, which always makes the couple happy too. ‘Although in general it is a deeply private matter and people will usually only tell their direct family and their boss to get the time off, we find the Irish are much less secretive than, say than the Italians, who never tell anyone. The Irish are always willing to help other Irish couples who are going through the process."
Britain’s biggest surrogacy service, COTS (Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy), which has arranged surrogacies for about 30 Irish couples, has a rather different experience of its Irish clients.
" There is still such a taboo in Ireland around anything to do with infertility, the people who come to us are terrified that details of their surrogacy will get out," says spokeswoman Carol O’Reilly. "They rarely tell people back home the truth. They say they’ve adopted the baby or pretend to be pregnant themselves. If it does get out, they usually lie and say it is a host surrogacy and that they are both the genetic parents. Often that is not the case."
There are two types of surrogacy. In genetic surrogacy, the surrogate mother provides the egg. The sperm from the intended father is then inserted in her, either by self-insemination or by a health professional. This procedure is chosen because the father’s partner is infertile and unable to produce her own eggs. The second type is known as host or gestational surrogacy, where the surrogate mother has no genetic link but gestates embryos created from the egg and sperm of the so-called Commissioning Couple.
Because she is the person who delivers the child, she is still in legal terms the birth mother. The couple choose this type of surrogacy because the woman has either no uterus, but functioning ovaries, or is incapable of carrying a baby to full term. Because of Californian surrogacy law, which protects the intended parents ahead of the birth mother, Irish couples tend to prefer that route, even though it is much less costly to arrange the process through the UK.
There, a surrogacy contract is not enforceable in law and either party can change its mind at any point. Also, the birth mother is still recognised as the legal mother and her rights remain intact should she decide to exercise them. If she has a partner, he becomes the legal father of the child, unless he can show that he did not consent to the treatment. This makes the British system of surrogacy more complicated because it means that the intended parents must adopt the child after it is born.
This week’s revelations have raised concerns about the legal status of surrogate children in Ireland, in particular over custody and inheritance rights. "What would happen if the natural father died? You could end up with a tug-of-love nightmare between the natural mother or the grandparents and the other partner who has raised them," says Dr Deirdre Madden, lecturer in Law at UCC.
" It is only a matter of time before we see a case of this type coming before the courts. Irish women contact me from time to time saying they would like to become surrogate mothers for altruistic reasons as well for the money, but I advise against it. This is the commodification of children. We don’t know what psychological effect it will have on them in later years to know that they were part of a financial transaction."
No one knows what the future holds for the Whelan triplets. Friends of the couple say they are the most wanted children in the world, and couldn’t be more loved. They will live in a beautiful house, go to the best schools and, with two very wealthy fathers, will certainly not do without. Female role models in the form of family and friends will be at hand when needed and everything will be done to make the threesome’s lives as ‘normal’ as possible. Will they be happy? We’ll find out in 18 years’ time but right now these three little bundles of joy are blissful in their ignorance.
November 11, 2001
Gardai to close gay sex website
Gardai plan to shut down a website that publishes a list of venues where gay sex can be obtained.
by John Lee
Irish authorities are working with Interpol to close the site, called ‘The Cruisin’ Ground’, which carries graphic personal accounts of sexual encounters in breach of the Public Order Act. The site also provides information on how to engage minors in sex, the distribution of which is illegal under the Child Pornography Act.
Dublin corporation, University College Dublin (UCD) and Dublin City University are among the bodies seeking to have the site shut down because their properties are highlighted as prime "cruising" areas. Soliciting sex in parks, toilets and other public places is known as cruising. University authorities and corporation officials said they were shocked to discover that their institutions were being cited as ideal locations for illegal rendezvous with minors.
The website lists hundreds of locations in Ireland where illicit sex is said to be available. Published in Britain, it has a message board with accounts of cruising experiences in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. The most popular spots in the capital are listed as being in UCD, Dublin City University, Clontarf driving school, Bushy park and Dollymount beach. UCD said the matter was in the hands of its solicitors and measures would be taken to have the university’s name removed.
Tony Scott, its head of public affairs, said, "We certainly will not allow the name of this university to be advertised on the internet in connection with these activities." Dublin corporation officials said they have also alerted gardai and expect appropriate action to be taken. Gardai say they are looking into another website as well which provides similar information. Both list shopping centres, gyms, public toilets and even art galleries where sex can supposedly be obtained. Some of the items on the bulletin board contain mobile numbers of people who, it is said, will procure underage males for sex.
Niamh Cosgrave, a Fine Gael city councillor who lives near the Clontarf driving school, is among those campaigning for an early shutdown. "My opposition to these websites has nothing to do with homosexuality. The sites are encouraging men to have sex in public areas in broad daylight. This is in violation of the Public Order Act and decency laws," she said. International laws that are overseen by Interpol allow police in any country to close a website that breaks the law in its jurisdiction.
A senior garda investigating the matter said: "Any website carrying anything to do with sex with minors will be moved against immediately under the Child Pornography Act and internet laws. There are also safety problems associated with these sites. We have evidence that men have been enticed to areas via the chat rooms and assaulted and robbed."
Kieron Rose, a member of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, said: "To close the website would be an affront to free speech, but if there is a situation where something illegal is being promoted, such as having sex with people under the age of 17, then that cannot happen." Rose said some men were forced to meet in such places because they are "in the closet".
January 7, 2002
Northern Ireland: The Good Friday Agreement and Gays
The Good Friday Agreement is close to collapsing in Northern Ireland. If you’re gay and have no interest in Northern Irish politics, you may shrug your shoulders. But the Agreement took a valuable step for gay politics, one that was largely ignored, overwhelmed as it was by more dominant issues such as decommissioning.
This document included legal recognition of the rights for gay people. The Agreement was ratified by the creation of a new law, the Northern Ireland Act 1998. This Act saw the formation of a new human rights body, the Equality Commission. This commission oversees the statutory requirement of public bodies to promote equality of opportunity "between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation". The introduction of this term into the legislation of Northern Ireland ironically placed the province at the forefront of legislative equality for homosexuals.
This may well be a matter of timing – new constitutional arrangements in South Africa have similarly enshrined homosexual equality. It is ironic nonetheless, because Northern Ireland is not known for its tolerance of homosexuality. It is one issue on which the two main church faiths agree. The homophobic reception for Peter Mandelson in Portadown last November, showed that whilst legislative progress can be made, it does not do away with embedded public prejudice. Greater legislative freedom and cultural stigma clash in Northern Ireland.
The latter can end up cancelling out the former. Section 28 is an excellent example: it simply does not apply to Northern Ireland, yet schools and colleges are unwilling to tackle the question of homosexuality in sex education. One of the main governing bodies dealing with the education of school children, Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment, in its guidance booklets states that the issue of sexual orientation, "should be handled by schools in a sensitive, non-confrontational and reassuring way".
Promising enough. The snag is the following sentence: "Before introducing the topic in the classroom, governors, staff and parents should be consulted." This is where the difficulty arises. As already mentioned, homosexuality is something most Catholics and Protestants can agree on. Sodomy is the description used, more frequently in Northern Ireland than any other part of the UK (and among many boards of governors).
Although it has been pointed out to the respective educational authorities that Section 28 does not apply here, they are hiding under a legal umbrella of their own design rather than tackling the homophobic attitude that exists in Northern Ireland culture. Gay and human rights issues groups were able to contribute to the formation of a peace settlement that led to the Good Friday Agreement. If the fragile agreement does not hold, much of their work to bring about effective change in the treatment of gay people will have to go back to the negotiating table along with everything else.
January 20, 2002
Northern Ireland: Irish, Queer and Equal?
Etain O’Kane Feile an Phobail, or The People’s Festival, which is held each August in Belfast is a popular and anticipated social event. It is one of the largest festivals in Europe and attracts visitors from far and wide with a showcase featuring international and local artists. The festival boasts a varied programme which hosts children’s events, music concerts, bus and walking tours, street parties in areas throughout the city, comedy, theatre, and forums for discussion, to name but a few.
This year, An Culturlann, a well-established landmark promoting Irish language, education and culture in the heart of West Belfast, has hosted a unique addition to the Feile, titled ‘Irish, Queer and Equal?’
This is the first time that LBGT issues have been addressed at the Feile, which attracted a large and diverse crowd. A panel of speakers consisted of Ciaran Rose (Gay and Lesbian Network, Ireland), Joan Gamer (Southern Partners Fund, Atlanta), Clarence Patton (Anti-Violence Project, New York), Sean Cahill (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, New York), chaired by Marie Mulholand (Equality Authority, Ireland). Mr Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein MP for West Belfast also sat on the discussion panel, providing his own opinion on the LBGT struggle for equality and acceptance in Irish society and taking questions from the audience about his stance on LBGT issues.
The speakers gave personal accounts of experience as LBGT persons and promoters of LBGT and social equality issues. The members of the panel presented a multi-faceted view of LBGT activism, representing and addressing issues of gender, race, age and the conditions of various governments and political climates. Their accounts ranged from the southern states of America at the time of Dr. Martin Luther King, to south east of Boston at the St. Patrick’s Day parade where LBGT parade members were attacked with missiles and abuse.
From the streets of New York where police have been found to be in collusion with perpetrators of violence against the LBGT community, to the struggle for social and legal equality for same-sex partners in the North and the Republic of Ireland. Discussion was opened to the floor and lively debate ensued. Gerry Adams was first to be questioned, particularly on the apparent contradiction between his presence at the Boston St. Patrick’s Day march where the LBGT Irish community was attacked, and questioned on his support of their struggle for recognition and acceptance from the Irish/American community. Mr Adams commented that the event had been an "eye-opener" for him and that he certainly was in support of equality for all.
The audience also addressed the state of the LBGT community and complacency to accept discrimination and the differences between social change and legislative change. Also how the LBGT community reconciles its differences to work together to fight all forms of discrimination, to promote tolerance and to work with other groups committed to ending oppression. The general opinion was that discrimination, be it motivated by race, nationality, sexuality, gender, religion, and/or ability, contributes to all forms of oppression. LBGT equality is not attainable in a vacuum, but must correspond to the general view that acceptance of all peoples is necessary to make any real progress.
This forum as part of the Feile espouses these very ideals, making a positive step towards collective understanding. It was a powerfully moving and motivating evening, and I doubt anyone came away without food for thought. I sincerely hope this evening has set a precedent and look forward to future events, which embrace diverse cultural and community identities in the name of equality.
May 4, 2002
Sodom and Begorrah: Michael Billington is enthralled by a play about Irish theatre’s debt to two gay Englishmen
" The one duty we owe to history," said Oscar Wilde, "is to rewrite it." And Frank McGuinness has done just that in Gates of Gold, a play inspired by the two expatriate Englishmen and longtime lovers, Michael MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards, who founded the Gate theatre in Dublin in 1930.
The play is anything but straight biography. It is more a meditation, alternately comic and elegiac, on gay marriage, the evanescence of theatre and the need to face death with whatever panache one can muster. McGuinness calls his twin heroes Gabriel and Conrad. The former is a flamboyant actor, the latter a tweedily sedate director. Gabriel is visibly dying but, although confined to his bed, he sports a Japanese kimono, toupee and full make-up, and treats his last exit as another histrionic performance.
With camp hilarity he announces: "Dying is really like being stuck in a traffic jam in Limerick." He eagerly quizzes his nurse Alma about her tragic family history. And he rails constantly at his lifelong partner for his professional shortcomings ("You couldn’t direct my cock out of a paperbag") and for having betrayed him through loving him. On one level, the play resembles a high-spirited Irish version of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser. Like Harwood’s play it celebrates a vanished age of outsize performance and enjoys a complex relationship with fact. Just as Harwood’s "Sir" was inspired by Wolfit but ultimately transcended him, so Gabriel is based on MacLiammoir but becomes an epitome of a florid theatrical gaiety that disappeared with the Coward-Novello-Gielgud era.
Asked by his nurse if he ever went to bed with a woman, Gabriel announces with the hauteur of Lady Bracknell: "In my day it was never done." But McGuinness is not simply writing a paean to the past. He is also exploring the symbiotic link between gayness and theatre. At one point, Conrad recalls that the pioneering youthful dream of himself and Gabriel was that "we shall conceive a child in Sodom". That is exactly what MacLiammoir and Edwards did.
The oldest Dublin theatre joke is that, with the Gate devoted to a gay fin-de-siècle aesthetic and the Abbey to rural Irish naturalism, the city’s two playhouses offered a choice between "Sodom and Begorrah". But theatre itself, McGuinness implies, becomes for gay men and women a surrogate form of procreation: the only tragedy lies in the medium’s inherent impermanence. Clearly McGuinness is fascinated by the idea of inheritance, both artistic and emotional. But, in exploring what we mean by it, he introduces too many unresolved plot strands.
Still, he has come up with one of his best plays, a moving meditation on the transience of love, life and theatre – and a declaration that the "rigmarole" is still worth it. He has also written a real actors’ piece and gets two star performances. Alan Howard brilliantly satirises the heroic style of which he was a notable latterday exponent. Cushioned in splendour, he lends the most mundane remark a Shakespearean resonance. Even more crucially, he conveys Gabriel’s capacity for self-mockery. "No one," he cries, turning down an impossible request, "would attempt to climb the Matterhorn in high-heels," before adding with a twinkle, "except possibly me."
Yet beneath Howard’s rhetorical bravura, you sense a genuine fear of death. He is excellently partnered by Richard Johnson as Conrad, who conveys quiet, enduring love in the teeth of endless, exasperating provocation. It is heartening to see McGuinness returning to the form of Observe the Sons of Ulster. This is a fine play not just about Irish theatre’s profound debt to two queer Englishmen but about the urge to defeat death by leaving our fingerprints on posterity. . Gates of Gold is at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, until June 8, 2002. Box office: (00 353) 1874 4045.
May 25, 2002
Gay Irish Youth and Suicide
by Ralph Riegel
Homophobia linked to suicide of young men Homophobia is now an alarming feature in the suicide of many young Irish males, a gay support group has claimed. The claim came from Cork Gay Project, as the National Suicide Bereavement Network stage a major conference in Cork this weekend amid growing alarm over the spiralling number of suicides in Ireland. Last year, a total of 448 people – over 82pc of them male – took their own lives, and Cork Gay Project official Dave Roche warned that bullying linked to sexual-orientation is now a major concern. "If people are allowed to continue to call other boys or girls gay or queer or lesbian, it can have a terrible impact," he said.
July 18, 2002
Peace Gains by the Catholics Embitter Ulster Protestants (background story)
by Warren Hoge
Belfast, Northern Ireland – Paving stones and gasoline bombs were raining in on a working-class Protestant neighborhood over the high wall separating it from a Catholic enclave. A roof caught fire, boarded-up windows clattered and shook from direct hits, and two residents, Raymond and Patsy Laverty, talked about how the Northern Ireland peace movement they once supported had sold out their people. "The Catholics treat us like we lived in the big house all those years, but we were never well off and we were oppressed too," Mr. Laverty, 41, said, watching a bombardment that has become almost routine.
" We hoped for a change," said his wife, "but how can I tell my kids the peace process is working when we’re getting shot at and you have to be Catholic to get a job." Once, of course, only Protestants were welcome in the workplace in Belfast. Mrs. Laverty, 40, winced at the reminder. "I guess we’ve come full circle, haven’t we?" she said. Northern Ireland’s majority Protestants have, in fact, taken on the grievances of a minority, and their growing feeling of precariousness in the land they once dominated is being seen as the biggest menace facing the province’s fragile peace deal.
The 1998 agreement created equal opportunity arrangements in Northern Ireland’s political, institutional and professional life to try to halt violence and start to build trust between the two rival communities. It balanced promises for Catholics – known as nationalists and republicans because of their wish to see Northern Ireland become part of the Irish Republic – with guarantees to Protestants – known as loyalists or unionists because of their desire to keep their land part of the United Kingdom. But while Catholics have succeeded in moving into residential and job areas they never penetrated before and have felt their public influence enhanced by aggressive and fiercely focused political leadership, Protestants have despaired as their society has appeared to come apart.
Their working-class communities have descended into turf wars and gang struggles, their politicians have fallen into name-calling disputes among themselves and their educated elites have disengaged from public life, leaving the city for the security of hedged suburbs or fleeing Northern Ireland altogether. A census out later this year is expected to show the Protestant majority down to 51 percent and the Catholic minority up to 45. "You find tremendous confidence among Catholics and an utter absence of it among unionists," said the Rev. John Dunlop, 62, of the Rosemary Presbyterian Church.
The Northern Ireland peace accord has attracted international notice for boldly tackling a problem emblematic of modern combat – one where nations do not war with other nations, but differing cultural, religious or ethnic groups struggle for shared space within the same boundaries.
Four years later, however, Belfast remains a city with Catholic and Protestant working-class communities demarcated by painted curbs, Irish or British flags and walls bristling with concertina wire and portraying militant murals of masked gunmen pledging the destruction of their enemies – who in Belfast are usually their neighbors. Cease-fires by paramilitary groups put an end to the systematic organized violence that cost 3,600 lives in the three decades before the agreement, but the conflict has moved increasingly into these so-called interface areas of Belfast where, this summer, Catholics and Protestants have plunged their streets into the worst rioting the city has seen in years.
No one seems to have anticipated how vulnerable the Protestants would come to feel with the Catholic ascendancy, and the great frustration facing pro-agreement Protestants these days is persuading unionists of their own success. "People have forgotten the deep sense of daily annoyance living here used to be," Dr. Dunlop said. "It was magnificent those first days just being able to drive downtown without being stopped at police checks and roadblocks all the time. The problem is that there is a tendency to get used to normality very easily." Chris Gibson, the head of Northern Ireland’s biggest business group, looked out over Belfast’s harbor and marveled at the number of cranes across the horizon and the construction sites along the Langan River where Victorian courthouses and bank buildings are being restored and new office towers are going up.
" There’s been so much progress," he said. "But we can’t convince unionists of it because they are so demoralized and so divided." Dr. Dunlop said he despaired over a new pattern in his neighborhood where Protestants were moving out now that Catholics were moving in. "A Catholic family just down the block told me they hoped Protestants would buy the next property that came on the market. They said, `We came here to get out of a Catholic ghetto, not to create a new one.’ " He added, "If Protestants are not happy living next to Catholics, what future do we have in this land?" Protestants approved the peace accord in a referendum in 1998, but everyone agrees that they would not do the same today.
In what amounts to a new referendum on the matter, Ulster’s voters will elect members of the Northern Ireland Assembly in May 2003, and the fear of pro-agreement politicians is that the disillusioned Protestants will desert the moderate Ulster Unionist party for the hard-liners of the Rev. Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party, who are pledged to bring down the power-sharing arrangements with Catholics.
All eyes are on David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists and first minister of the Assembly. He has already had to face down a number of leadership challenges from dissidents in his own party, and he is increasingly beleaguered in his role as the most vocal and forceful Protestant advocate of the peace agreement. "He is in one hell of a mess," said Paul Bew, professor of Irish politics at Queen’s University, who is a friend of his and an adviser to the party. "Republicans have a collective sense of purpose, while the unionists are individualistic, divided and suspicious, with no sense of communal identity."
There have been significant changes in Protestant society that have ended up skewing support for the peace agreement. In the Northern Ireland their parents grew up in, Protestant youths had jobs waiting for them in the industries their fathers and grandfathers worked in – engineering, the shipyards, the aircraft factory, the rope works, the linen mills. So they did not pursue higher education, and the current generation suddenly finds itself underequipped for the skilled jobs in Northern Ireland’s new information technology and services economy.
"The Catholics did just the opposite," said the Rev. Gary Mason, 44, head of a Methodist mission in an area of Protestant East Belfast under almost nightly bombardment. "They went after education, they did it here in Northern Ireland, and they did it well."
The majority of students at Queen’s, Belfast’s premier university, are now Catholic, and Ulster’s businesses, operating under new affirmative action mandates, are employing them. The gains that unionists made in the peace agreement are substantial but less easily felt than the progress republicans made. Republicans gained long-sought political and cultural parity with unionists and they advanced the North’s linkages with Dublin, feeding their dream of merger with Ireland. The unionists achieved official recognition that Northern Ireland would remain British as long as its residents wanted it that way, and they secured the elimination from the Irish Constitution of clauses making territorial claims on the North. But implicit in those accomplishments is the admission that the day will come when demographics will put an end to those assurances.
Many unionists, therefore, denigrate their own gains as reversible and view republican progress as permanent. "As Ian Paisley once put it to me in an interview, unionists don’t aspire to anything," said Richard English, professor of politics at Queen’s. "We’ve got what we want, and any change means we lose out." Unionists put little trust in republican claims of commitment to peace or statements like Tuesday’s formal apology by the I.R.A. for the deaths of civilians it caused.
Suspiciousness and internal disputes have cut into the capacity to produce political leadership. "People here haven’t stopped playing the old zero-sum game – what’s your enemy’s gain must be your loss," said Mr. Gibson. Mr. English gave a stark example. "Republicans recently began putting up Palestinian flags, so the loyalists began putting up Israeli ones. It has nothing to do with the Middle East. It just means if you’re for one side, we want to be for the other."
October 30, 2002
Discrimination, bullying of LGB students
by Niall Murray
Hundreds of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) students are afraid to come out in college for fear of discrimination and bullying from their peers, LGB societies say. LGB societies in universities and institutes of technology have received complaints of intimidation and bullying, many from smaller and rural colleges. Union of Students in Ireland LGB rights officer Iain Gill said much of the problem was to do with social conditioning. "More needs to be done in schools to do away with stigmas about homosexuality and to create greater tolerance among young people," Mr Gill said.
Students at colleges with long-established LGB societies also faced discrimination, he said. "As well as people simply being afraid to be open about their sexuality, we have also dealt with cases of society officers being spat at, newsletters being torn up and posters ripped from notice boards." Based on US research showing 10% of people may be lesbian, gay or bisexual, about 25,000 third-level students could be subject to hate crimes or abuse. A USI awareness campaign in more than 40 third-level campuses in the republic and Northern Ireland is urging students and staff to promote tolerance that will eradicate discrimination or harassment.
" The new equality laws give very good protection in relation to things like employment and services. But we need to do more work on the ground changing people’s attitudes," said Mr Gill. The subtle approach features posters highlighting the fact that each student probably has an LGB friend, classmate or lecturer, even though the person might not be open about it.
February 24, 2002
Lap dancers ready to accommodate gays and straights at new club
by Henry McDonald
He fought in vain to Save Ulster from Sodomy. A decade later, he and his followers urged motorists to ‘bump horns for decency’ outside sex shops in Belfast. Now, Ian Paisley and his Free Presbyterian Church – who in last year’s election campaign condemned line dancing as provoking lust – are preparing themselves for a mightier conflict: the scourge of lap dancing is coming to Northern Ireland.
The forward position for the incursion into the province is Dundalk, an Irish border town notorious for harbouring IRA terrorists and a stronghold for the dissident Real IRA. Inside Le Chic nightclub, overlooking the town’s main square, last week, the man masterminding lap dancing’s venture to the North outlined his strategy.
Surrounded by a phalanx of young women, all blondes and almost all from Russia and the Baltic republics, Donegal businessman Jerome Brennan said he planned to open Belfast’s first club with lap dancers within weeks. ‘We have the city centre venue, we can accommodate up to 600 people on three separate floors and we know there is a market up there because so many lads come down from the North to watch our dancers in Dundalk,’ said Brennan, who owns another lap-dancing club in Limerick.
He admitted he would have to open the Belfast venue officially as a restaurant to get around Northern Ireland’s stricter licensing laws. ‘We are open seven nights a week in Limerick and are doing a roaring trade,’ he said. ‘Belfast is a much larger city with a large hinterland so we expect even more business up North.’ Trying to make himself heard above the din of the music his dancers were gyrating to in front of customers, Brennan said he was not concerned about Belfast’s former image as a prudish, sexually uptight city. ‘Judging by the number of lads who come down here from the North, I’d say there is a huge market for our product in Belfast. Everyone thought we wouldn’t do well in southern, supposedly Catholic, Ireland but this business is thriving.’
Several of the girls who took time out at the bar from twirling around enormous poles in the centre of the dance floor said they were initially apprehensive about working in Northern Ireland. Inga, a former law student from Siberia, explained in near flawless English that she was working as a lap dancer to pay for further studies. ‘When my mother heard I was working in Ireland she asked, "Isn’t that where all the bombing and shooting is." But I’ve heard that all that is over up in Belfast now. Besides, the girls here can make more money in the North because they will be paid in sterling, as the euro down here is of lower value,’ she said. Inga and her colleagues can expect a hostile welcome from fundamentalist Christians when Le Chic’s Belfast branch opens.
The Rev David McIlveen, a spokesman for the 18,000-strong Free Presbyterian Church, warned that his congregation would picket the club, which it is understood will be located close to the Europa, once the most bombed hotel in post-war western Europe. ‘People are much more puritanical in Northern Ireland and won’t want this kind of thing in their province,’ he said.
‘It demeans women and appeals to the baser instincts in man.‘ McIlveen denied his Church was fighting a rearguard action against sexual liberalism, given that homosexuality is now legal in Northern Ireland and that the sex shops he campaigned against are thriving in the city.
He called on Belfast City Council to deny Le Chic a licence to open his business. But the Ulster Unionist Lord Mayor, Jim Rodgers, ruled out a council ban on the club, while declining an invitation to attend Le Chic’s opening night. ‘I believe in freedom but personally I don’t approve of these types of places,’ he said. Le Chic’s founder stressed that his club in Belfast (he plans to open another one in Derry) will provide ‘equal opportunity entertainment’.
One of the three floors will be dedicated solely to lap dancing for gay men and lesbians. Jeff Dudgeon, the man who challenged the ban on homosexuality in Northern Ireland, winning his case in the European Court of Human Rights, welcomed Brennan’s move to accommodate the gay community. ‘Belfast was never as illiberal as it was portrayed, but if they can get away with lap dancing in this city it shows the fundamentalists have absolutely no grip over people’s lives any more,’ he said.