Preserving and sharing the queer history of Cork is the aim of Orla Egan’s work as a PhD Candidate in UCC and curator of the Cork LGBT Archives. One of the key goals of Orla’s work and in particular, the www.corklgbtarchive.com is to preserve, digitise, share and display information in relation to the history of the LGBT communities in Cork. Queer Republic of Cork, a Cork LGBT Archive Exhibition, will be launched on 25 August at 6.30 in Camden Palace Cork as part of Heritage Week.

In 2015 the Irish people voted in favour of Marriage Equality and the Irish government enacted the Gender Recognition Act – two important steps towards equality and rights for LGBT people in Ireland.  The Marriage Equality campaign in particular has attracted huge interest and attention, nationally and internationally.

A common narrative or story has emerged and is constantly being re-told – that the successful campaign for Marriage Equality was the result of the actions of a few (mostly Dublin-based) high profile individuals.  There is a tendency to slip into the adoration of the icons, but while these individuals did play an important role in the campaign, their actions are just a small part of the story.  The constant re-telling of this version of the story obscures the history of the LGBT community in Ireland.  It ignores the fact that what happened in 2015 was the result of decades of activism by LGBT individuals and organisations throughout the country, decades of determination to fight against discrimination and to demand equality and respect for the LGBT community.

Unfortunately this history is all too often hidden and unacknowledged – in mainstream society as well as by many in the LGBT community.  Too many young LGBT people grow up completely unaware of the long and rich history of the development of their own community.

Preserving and sharing this history is the key aim of the Cork LGBT Digital Archive that I am developing.  www.corklgbtarchive.com aims to preserve, digitise, share and display information in relation to the history of the LGBT communities in Cork.

Cork has a long and rich history of LGBT activism, community formation and development. Since at least the 1970s LGBT people in Cork have forged communities, established organisations, set up services and reached out to others. As well as campaigning for LGBT rights and providing services and supports to LGBT people, the LGBT community has played a vital role in movements for social justice and political change in Cork. Yet this community, like many other LGBT communities worldwide, has been largely invisible in historical accounts and its contribution to social and political change and developments largely unacknowledged.

The Arthur Leahy collection is at the core of the Cork LGBT Archive. This is a private collection, gathered since the 1970s, and including posters, newsletters, leaflets and other items. In addition to this collection, items are also being gathered from other smaller collections and individual items held by members of the community.  Oral histories will also be included.

While the archive strives to be a LGBT archive, much of the materials from the earlier decades refer to the lesbian and gay communities, with little reference or acknowledgement of the bisexual or transgender communities. Every effort is being made to redress this imbalance and to access a wider range of information.

Sapphire Cork Newsletter, 1978

Sapphire Cork Newsletter, 1978

In the early 1970s in Cork there were no formal LGBT organisations, but LGBT social networks did develop, including a circuit of ‘fabulous parties’ in the homes of gay men.  Even at a time of criminalisation, discrimination and oppression a sense of family and community was emerging.  As LGBT organisations began to emerge, with the establishment of the IGRM (Irish Gay Rights Movement) in Cork in 1976 and the opening of the first gay centre in McCurtain Street, the community was conscious of the need to reach out to other LGBT people and provide supports and resources.  Tel-A-Friend offered telephone support, newsletters like Corks Crew and Sapphire shared information and the weekly socials and discos provided a venue for LGBT people to socialise and build a sense of community and belonging. The community continued to develop with the establishment of the Cork Gay Collective and the UCC Gay Society in 1980 and the organisation of the first National Gay Conference in Cork in 1981.

Poster for National Gay Conference Cork, 1981

Poster for National Gay Conference Cork, 1981

The establishment of the Quay Co-op in 1982 provided an important base for the further development of LGBT groups and campaigns, as well as enabling interaction and mutual support between LGBT groups and other left-wing, alternative groups and campaigns in Cork.  The Women’s Place in the Quay Co-op provided an importance space for the development of lesbian groups, with the establishment of the Cork Lesbian Collective, the Cork Lesbian Line and a weekly lesbian discussion group.  The community continued to develop and grow in the 1990s, which saw the opening of the Other Place LGBT Resource Centre, the organisation of the first Irish Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in Cork in 1991, the organisation of the first LGBT float in a Patrick’s Day parade in Cork in 1992, and the opening of the Cork lesbian centre on George’s Quay in 1999.

The community continued to develop, forging links with other LGBT organisations and social change movements throughout Ireland and abroad.   Like all families, the development of the Cork LGBT community not always been harmonious. There have been fights, disputes and disagreements. The lesbian and gay communities at times worked successfully together on issues or campaigns, but there have also been struggles about the distribution and use of limited resources and disagreements about priorities for the community.  In the 1970s and 80s there was often silence, ignorance and bias against the bisexual and transgender communities, which is gradually being redressed.

Yet for all the disputes people still come together at key moments.  When Donna McAnallen was fired from her job in Brookfield Leisure Centre in Cork for allegedly kissing her girlfriend in the changing rooms, the LGBT community came out in support, sporting t-shirts saying ‘I kissed Donna McAnallen’.  More recently the marriage equality campaign and the campaign for the Gender Recognition Act brought disparate parts of the community together.

The story of the development of our community is beginning to emerge.  The Cork LGBT Archive hopes to facilitate this, and to enable multiple voices and multiple narratives to be heard.

Check out the website http://corklgbtarchive.com/ for more information. You can also keep up to date with developments with the archive by following it on twitter @CorkLGBThistory and on FaceBook at: https://www.facebook.com/CorkLGBTArchive/

The Cork LGBT Archive has recently been granted funding from the Heritage Council for the purchase of acid free boxes for the proper storage of the collection.  This was a very important recognition of LGBT history as part of Irish heritage.  We are organising an Exhibition as part of Heritage Week, with a launch on 25 August 2016 at 18.30 in Camden Palace in Cork.  A publication will be produced before the end of the year, with support from the Cork City Council Heritage Publication grant.

For details of the Exhibition see:

https://www.facebook.com/events/645785545586803/

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to fund the Exhibition – your support is very welcome.  https://www.gofundme.com/CorkLGBTArchive

 

Orla Egan and her son Jacob at Cork Pride July 2016

Orla Egan and her son Jacob at Cork Pride July 2016

ORLA EGAN has been actively involved with the Cork LGBT community since the 1980s, organising various events including the first ever Irish LGBT float in a Patrick’s Day Parade in Cork in 1992.  She has published and presented a number of papers on the history of the LGBT community in Cork and is currently developing a Cork LGBT Digital Archive. She is a member of the Linc Drama Group and has been involved in writing and preforming in a number of productions.

She also has over 20 years experience working in the Equality, Education, Social Inclusion and Community Development arenas in Ireland. She is currently completing a PhD in Digital Arts and Humanities in University College Cork where she is a part-time lecturer / tutor in Digital Arts and Humanities, Women’s Studies and Applied Social Studies.

 She is also the proud parent of 10 year old Jacob.