27/06/19

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD, speaking at the opening of “Rainbow Revolution” at the National Museum of Ireland

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Cuirim fáilte romhaibh anocht ag an ócáid iontach seo i gcomhair an pobal LADT.

In particular I want to recognise the donors Minister Katherine Zappone, Panti Bliss, Conor Kelly and Edmund Lynch, Museum Registrar Judith Finlay and Curator Brenda Malone.

In many ways, it is a great time to be part of the LGBTI community. We now celebrate marriage between two people of the same sex. It is increasingly normal to see same sex couples showing their affection towards each other in public.

Attitudes in Ireland towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are regarded as among the most liberal in the world. Ireland is notable for its transformation from a country holding overwhelmingly conservative attitudes toward LGBTI issues, to one holding overwhelmingly liberal ones in the space of a generation.

The Offences Against the Person Act, which originally outlawed homosexual acts between men became law in 1861. It was around that time that Karl Heinrich Ulrichs became the first gay person to speak out for homosexual rights.

Ulrichs was a civil servant in Germany until he was forced to resign in 1854 on account of his homosexuality. He argued that it is an “inborn condition,” not a “learned corruption” as was the prevailing wisdom at the time. Karl is thought to have been the first gay person to publically speak out for homosexual rights.

In 1867, not long after homosexuality became illegal in Ireland, he urged the German government to repeal its anti-homosexual laws, firmly establishing himself as the pioneer of the gay rights movement.

In Ireland we had to wait until the 1970’s for our own pioneers in this area to come along when the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform was founded by Senator David Norris and future President’s Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese.

Thankfully our country in 2018 is a very different place, almost unrecognisable, to the Ireland that outlawed homosexuality prior to 1993. We have become a more open, welcoming society, less willing to judge the personal lives of others.

Who would have thought when homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, less than 25 years later Ireland would vote overwhelmingly in favour of same sex marriage and that that campaign would feature an openly gay Government Minister who would later become Taoiseach.

So there are many moments in a nation’s history that become totemic in character, moments where a society and the conversations in that society can be seen to have irrevocably changed.  The exhibition were are launching here today is not about the tipping point moment, it is about marking the journey to that moment.

This exhibition is a celebration of individual stories, those smaller moments and shared lived experiences that may have been dismissed as inconsequential at the time, but which accumulated and built a moment.

Sharing a story can be a profoundly moving experience for the storytellers and for those listening.  These stories and the people who told them and collected them, we celebrate here this evening.

This exhibition showcases a sample of those moments and the impact they had on our society and our culture. They are taken from various archives and digitised collections, some of the originals dating back I believe to the seventies and eighties. They are not exhaustive but they are reflective of the material available to and collected by dedicated curators.

The National Library hold the Irish Queer Archive, and the work now started by the National Museum aims to compliment this. The Museum will focus on starting an LGBTI Oral History Project, interviewing a range of people to record a fully rounded history of the Irish LGBTI rights movement, with personal accounts and key stories captured through interview and then kept in this state record permanently, for scholars and researchers to utilise.

The Museum also aims to continue collecting LGBTI objects to tell this story and I would encourage everyone to get involved in this exciting initiative.  If you have objects that are key to telling the story, let the Museum know, and if you have archives, contact the National Library to enhance the Irish Queer Archive.

This is the start of a conversation, and a relationship between the LGBTI community and the Museum tasked with preserving Irish history. It is important we all get involved and ensure this history is fully and accurately preserved, particularly now when we have the luxury of living memory. The time to get this right is now.

This exhibition is timed to commence with Pride, but it will run for the coming year. It segues into work being carried out in our other cultural institutions, for example this year has also seen LGBT Tours in the National Gallery of Ireland and in Kilmainham Gaol.

It is a proud moment for everyone to see our national institutions making LGBTI history more visible and illustrating how it is an important part of Irish history, as well as an important part of human history, of who we are and what inspires us.

It goes without saying today could not have happened without the dedication and drive of the Director’s team here in the National Museum. Thank you.

But my most special thanks are to those of you, some here today and some unable to be present, who gave of yourself and shared your stories and material to these archives.

I am reminded of the words of former President Barack Obama who when speaking to ‘Out’ magazine in 2015 said

“To Malia and Sasha and their friends, discrimination in any form against anyone doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t dawn on them that friends who are gay or friends’ parents who are same-sex couples should be treated differently than anyone else. That’s powerful.”

I’d like to wish everyone here well and hope you have a wonderful Pride festival.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

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