How ILGO & ACT UP went to Belfast

Belfast's queer community center, Queer Space turned 10 this year! So we were thinking back about its history... which starts in New York, in the tense, grubby meetings of ILGO and ACT UP. They asked for a birthday letter (although it was started as a collective, I was technically the mommy. Ten points for Irish Queers!) so here are snippets from it. You can read the rest on mishmoshkeleh.

Queer Space is ... a direct offshoot of the truly revolutionary direct action organizing of [ILGO and] ACT UP – the movement built on the lesson of AIDS ... that we had to stand up and demand some space in the world, and stop worrying about being polite and safe, or we would die. ... Queer Space has transformed Belfast just by existing. It’s just a crazy example of how taking the risk of breaking silence, saying things out loud that are maybe considered irrelevant or obnoxious (like “Hey, I’m queer!”), can change everything.

[In 1995] I went along to an ILGO meeting and told them about the plan to make a new queer space in Belfast, and asked if they’d help fund it. I thought I was very bold going there, and I also remember that the meeting was intimidating as hell. It was nothing like Belfast... These were Irish immigrants who were talking about challenging the Cardinal’s homophobia, which seemed unbelievably brazen. Their analysis ... was based on big ideas about democracy, anti-imperialism that included Irish republicanism, and breaking old chains like the one that says people should behave like good little boys and girls even as they’re marginalized... When I asked about money for a queer library in Belfast, they looked a bit blank, said they had no funding themselves – and got right back to the subject of how to change New York.

I stayed anyway. I never asked about money again...[but by] the time I ... was ready to go back [to Belfast], ILGO and ACT UP had completely changed my sense of what was possible.

The plan was ...to run an organization without bosses... to politicize queer identity, to explicitly refuse to hide the existence and nature of this queer place. And to sit down with each other to make deliberate decisions about what a Belfast queer community should look like aside from a pub crew or a population targeted for health outreach.

[1997] We took Belfast by storm, hanging flyers for events and sometimes just flyers about the fact that queers existed; we posted the word “queer” all over the city. We got lots of media attention, sent out press releases, maintained e-mail lists, made connections with queer groups in other places. We formed a little direct action cell called Queer Action Belfast which had a particularly great logo, and made t-shirts, and protested Newt Gingrich and posted signs asking “Do you love the lesbians in your life?” To me, it was like the sun coming up.

(More: "Queer Space, you old dog!" on mishmoshkeleh.com)


What ever happened to the Irish American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston?

I was reading this article in Bay Windows about the GLAD's (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) 30th anniversary and it made me wonder.....what ever happened to GLIB aka the Irish American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston? If you go to almost any online search engine and try to find information on Irish/Irish American LGBT issues, information about Supreme Court case Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston will be in your top results.

Here in NYC, it has been 17 years now that queers have been fighting to be recognized as members of the Irish/Irish American community. Though the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) is now defunct, the parade issue is still very much alive. Brendan Fay (a former ILGO member) and the Lavender and Green Alliance created an inclusive St. Patrick's Day Parade in Queens in 2000 to celebrate "the diversity of the Irish and Irish American communities." Irish Queers, an organization that grew out of ILGO beginning in 1996, continues to organize the annual parade protest in addition to being active on other social justice issues.

As an ex-pat of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the last I remember, queers could march in the Cambridge St. Patrick's Day Parade.....but what about protesting about the Southie parade? If you have any information about what happened to GLIB or any other information about Irish LGBT issues in Boston (or any other US city), give us a shout. We'd love to hear from you :-)


2008 Grand Marshal

The Irish Echo ran this article about the 2008 Grand Marshal, Tommy Smyth. I love this quote from Irish Consul General Niall Burgess:

"The parade is the greatest public expression of the kind of people we are, open, fun-loving, generous. Tommy Smyth is open, fun-loving and generous and he is our representative this year," Burgess said.

Um, what f&%king planet is he from? Has he not heard about the bigoted reputation of this parade and its organizers for the past 17 years?

In my experience, if you ask people about Irish people, especially queers and people of color, you will hear that many think of Irish Americans as racist, homophobic, conservative-right-wing-bigots.....not as kind, open, fun-loving, and generous. (ILIR's framing of immigration isn't helping in this area either, but I won't go into that now.)

Last year, Michael Patrick MacDonald wrote this piece about how some of us are actually annoyed and ashamed about the stereotype of the Irish bigot. While I agreed with this article, the only thing I think was missing from it was a CALL TO ACTION! Who better to stand up and challenge Irish American bigotry than other Irish Americans? We can't just sit around and hope and wait for bigots to become un-bigoted. If you're interested in being more than an arm-chair liberal, come join us on Fifth Avenue this March 17th. Or better yet, come to a meeting and help us plan this year's demo ;-)

But wait.......I almost forgot my other favorite quote from the Irish Echo article. John Dunleavy, who forever keeps preaching about the parade's importance in terms of protecting and preserving faith, values and culture (ick), also stated that the parade contributed between $125 and $150 MILLION DOLLARS to the city's economy in additional sales tax. With numbers like that, it doesn't take a genius to see that the city is making a nice profit off queer exclusion & homophobia.

(photo by Andy Humm)


News of Irish & Queer Interest...

Check out this story of transphobia, Catholic-style. I love it how Bill Donohue frames everything like he (& other Catholics) are the victims. As if!

The Irish American community in NY doesn't want to admit that Irish LGBT people exist, but over in Ireland, a new survey reports that 3 out of 4 Irish people believe the morning-after pill should be available from a pharmacist without a prescription. In December, the Irish Times quoted a poll stating that "79 per cent of Irish Catholic adults oppose church teaching prohibiting the use of condoms for any reason, including the prevention of HIV and AIDS." Just more proof that the Catholic vision of Ireland that the AOH wants to preserve simply does not exist any more.

An Irish homophobe in Boston *actually* makes an apology for being an "instrument of bigotry and prejudice." How often does that ever happen?

A teenager was recently in a Dublin court to answer for charges that he attacked a straight couple last year because he thought she was "a gay man because of her hairstyle." (Yes, this is a true story.)


AOH: Keep Your Bigotry Out of My Uterus & Off Fifth Ave

I am writing in response to the January 3rd article by April Drew detailing the "new agenda" for the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

I am disgusted by the paternalistic language used by Jack Meehan to describe "those women" and their "problem pregnancies" and/or "difficult choices." It almost seems like he's judging women, as if women get pregnant all by themselves. As an Irish American woman that grew up in a Catholic family, I am fully capable of making my own
decisions, and do not need an all-men's fraternal organization telling me what to do with my life or my body.

I'd also like to point out that in September 2007, the Irish Times published an article stating that 54% of women in Ireland are in favor of legalizing abortion. In America, why does the AOH keep trying to preserve a vision of a holy Catholic Ireland that doesn't exist any more?

I also wanted to speak to the not-so-discreet reference to the AOH's standoff with the Irish Queers (presently) and the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (in the '90s) over marching in the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade ("those who would rob St. Patrick's Day of its true meaning"). I find it insulting that Meehan and John Dunleavy, who in the past compared Irish LGBT people to Nazis and the KKK, try to paint Irish LGBT people as anti-Irish like the Know-Nothings etc. WE ARE IRISH! Just because we refuse to live our lives in the closet does not make us un-Irish. Irishness should not hinge upon being a picture perfect, holier-than-thou Catholic.

The AOH is an organization that cloaks its bigotry in religion, and this renewed focus on abortion demonstrates that once again.

Tierney Gleason
Co-Organizer, Irish Queers
Brooklyn, NY

Here's the article:
AOH to Focus on Abortion
January 3, 2008

By April Drew

ANCIENT Order of Hibernian (AOH) President Jack Meehan has set in motion a new agenda for the Irish American Catholic organization to promote and defend the life of the unborn child.

In a letter written to over 300 divisions of the AOH and its members on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs or December 28, Meehan reminded members of the crux of the AOH’s duties.

“The core missions of the Hibernians remain — a free and united Ireland and support for the teachings of the Catholic Church,” he said.

Now that Northern Ireland will be celebrating 10 years of peace, Meehan said the AOH’s focus would change onto an area of greater needs — to protect the life of the unborn child.

Michael Cummings, archivist of the AOH, told the Irish Voice on Wednesday that the new efforts to protect the life of the unborn would be primarily focused on education.

“What we want to do is to demonstrate that we can provide support and resources for those women who are faced with problem pregnancies or with difficult choices, and hopefully defend the right of the unborn by giving the practical assistance that those women need,” he elaborated.

Speaking about taking a step back from Northern Ireland issues, Cummings said, “We have a lot of confidence in the leadership in Ireland, that they are on the right path. We are examining each of the areas we have been involved in to date and see where we might redirect some energies, efforts and resources.”

Meehan’s letter had the same sentiment. “ We must re-energize ourselves to fight the scourge of abortion in the same steadfast manner that we have used to fight the many injustices wreaked upon Catholic/Nationalists in the North of Ireland,” he wrote.

According to Meehan, a native of Brighton, Massachusetts, the AOH, which is in its 173rd year, has tolerated and suffered through years of oppression and hardship.

“In the past we endured the tyranny of robber barons in the coalfields of Pennsylvania, stood fast against the bigotry and violence of the Know-Nothing’s in New York City, Charlestown and Philadelphia, challenged those who would rob St. Patrick’s Day of its true meaning, and defied all those who called us terrorists for advocating equality and justice for Catholics in the North of Ireland,” he wrote.

To this end, Meehan writes that it’s time to stand up again, but this time focus on the “sacredness of all creation.” This, he suggests to AOH members should “guide our direction in the future.”

Meehan explains in depth areas he would like his members to consider expanding in order to be pro active in pursuing their new agenda. He urges the support, both practical and material, to expectant mothers in pregnancy crisis centers, and he suggests assisting efforts of religious leaders and organizations to “inform and activate their flock.”

He also wants to purchase educational material about the subject for schools. Meehan hopes to add to the AOH’s existing Hibernian Charity program donations to the Sisters of Life, a religious order founded by our Brother Hibernian and JFK Memorial Medal recipient, the late John Cardinal O’Connor.

Concluding his letter quoting Pope John Paul II Meehan wrote, “Abortion, as Vatican II affirmed, is one of the abominable crimes. To attack unborn life is to attack the whole moral order.

“The defense of unborn life is part of the defense of human rights and human dignity. Please consider these words of the Pope in your response to the program initiatives I have suggested.”

Looking for law students!

IQ needs some legal research help... call if you're interested! 917-517-3627.

New meeting day for IQ

We're now meeting on the first Tuesday of each month.
8pm @ LGBT Center
208 West 13th St. between 7th & 8th Aves.