LGBTQ+ History in Ireland

Throughout the 20th century Ireland was predominantly ruled by the Catholic church and society was largely conservative. This made it a difficult place to live for members of the LGBTQ+ community and they have experienced many hardships in this country throughout the years. 

To begin, The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 that stated that under ‘unnatural offences’ male-to-male penetrative sex was punishable by imprisonment with hard labour. This law remained in place until as recently as 1993. 

In 1977 David Norris, Ireland’s first gay activist began legal proceedings to decriminalise homosexuality in Ireland through the movement that was known as the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform. He lost the case in the High Court and subsequently lost the case when it was appealed in the Supreme Court.  

In 1988 Norris brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights, Norris vs Ireland; he won this case. This case paved the way for the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) 1993 bill that decriminalised homosexuality. Preceding the bill being signed into law Norris was quoted saying; “when next week this Bill is passed by Seanad Éireann and sent to the President for signature I will, for the first time in my life, feel that I am at last a full and equal citizen in my own country.”

In 2018 on the 25th anniversary of the bill that decriminalised homosexuality, the government acknowledged and issued an apology to all individuals that had been convicted of engaging in same-sex activity prior to its decriminalisation. 

The first case of AIDS in Ireland was diagnosed in 1982 as the AIDS epidemic shook the world. This crisis led to misinformation due to the lack of education surrounding it and a lack of support for victims that caused immense damage to the global gay community. 

Due to the lack of education and knowledge around AIDS, people with the disease suffered hugely as a result of the stigmatisation, shame and fear created by an ignorant, conservative society.

OUT magazine, Ireland’s first commercial LGBTQ+ publication of its time became an important source of information around AIDS and preventative measures such as contraception which helped to break down the stigma.

On a monumental day in May 2015 a historical referendum was held that saw a landslide victory with 62% of the electorate voting in favour of marriage equality. This was quite a significant, progressive moment for the LGBTQ+ community and the country as a whole as Ireland became the first country to legalise marriage equality. The referendum gained a platform on the world stage and scenes from Dublin Castle following the vote were televised worldwide.

In 2007, a High Court ruling was made that stated that Ireland was in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights in not having a process that legally recognised the acquired gender of Transexual or Transgender people.

In July 2015 The Gender Recognition Act was passed. This act allows Transgender and Transexual people over the age of 18 to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate to the Department of Social Protection to allow them to have their preferred gender to be officially recognised by the state.

Once you have been granted a Gender Recognition Certificate, you can then apply to have your birth certificate changed. 

There have been many other monumental, positive legislative changes made throughout the latter half of the 20th century and the 21st century to provide a safe and inclusive country for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Although there are still many reforms that must be made to ensure inclusivity, security and equality for members of the community, there is hope that this can happen through the tenacity of this community and their past successes.