The Struggle for LGBT Workers’ Rights Ireland Orla Egan

Laurie Steele Cork 1981

Laurie Steele Cork 1981

Up until the 1990s the rights of LGBT workers were not protected under Irish legislation.  LGBT people frequently experienced prejudice and discrimination in their workplaces.  Protecting the rights of LGBT workers and campaigning for legislative changes became a priority of the Irish LGBT organisations that began to emerge in the 1970s and 1980s.  Cork LGBT activists played a central role in the campaign for LGTB workers’ rights and bringing about changes in the legislation.

One of the workshops at the National Gay Conference in Cork in 1981 was on Gays and the Trade Union Movement. Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 09.58.29A number of motions were passed supporting the fight for equal employment rights for lesbians and gay men and calling for Trade Unions to support lesbian and gay rights.  The Cork Gay Collective was to act as an information centre for all individuals working on issues of gay rights at work.

ICTU General Conference Cork City Hall 1981

Following the conference, members of the Cork Gay Collective lobbied and leafleted at the Irish Congress of Trade Union annual conference in Cork City Hall in 1981 urging them to support LGBT workers’ rights.

In 1982 Kieran Rose of Cork Gay Collective proposed a motion, seconded by Tricia Treacy, in support of gay rights at the Cork Branch of the LGPSU Trade Union (Local Government and Public Service Union).  The motion was passed at the Cork Branch meeting and subsequently at the LGPSU Annual Delegates Meeting.  The motion stated that the Union would call on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to support repeal of the laws criminalising homosexuality and the amendment of employment legislation to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  In 1982 the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) passed a motion in support of gay rights. Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 12.47.51

Support from trade union allies was important in progressing these motions.  One such example is Cork trade union activist and President of the Cork Branch of LGPSU, Tom Bogue, who was a strong supporter of LGBT workers rights.

The Cork Bus Drivers Trade Union also provided support for LGBT colleagues and activists.  Cork trade unionist and left-wing activist Michael O Sullivan recalls the support he and his colleagues provided during Cork Pride marches in the early 1980s – in full uniform the bus drivers positioned themselves along the route of the march and shouted out support to the LGBT people marching.

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 12.53.07In 1984 Kieran Rose produced a leaflet, Claiming an Identity, Gays at Work, on behalf of the Cork Branch of LGPSU.  The leaflet noted that while the unions had passed motions in support of gay rights, that there had been little practical progress in the implementation of these policies and that the situation of lesbian and gay men in Ireland remained appalling.  The leaflet outlined the discrimination experienced by lesbians and gay men and called on the unions to renew their support for lesbian and gay workers.

In 1985 gay activists met with Sylvia Meehan, the Head of the Irish Employment Equality Agency.  Sylvia Meehan became a strong supporter of LGBT rights in the workplace.  Commenting on the importance of this support Kieran Rose said that “supporting our demands, readily and unequivocally, was such a  breakthrough for our campaign, and was such a brave decision by her.”   In 1986 the Employment Equality Agency called for the inclusion of sexual orientation in Irish equality legislation.

Cork LGBT activists kept the pressure on trade unions to act to support LGBT workers rights and campaign for legislative change.  In 1986 Donal Sheehan, Cork Gay Collective and Quay Co-op member, published an article on Discrimination Against Sexual Orientation in the Distributive Worker Newsletter (Official Organ of the Irish Distributive and Administrative Trade Union). The article addresses discrimination faced by LGBT people in the workplace and the role that trade unions can play in protecting LGBT workers’ rights.

Irish Trade Unions did respond to this lobbying to support the rights of LGBT workers and campaign for legislative changes.  For example in 1986 the General Secretary of IDATU (Irish Distributive and Administrative Trade Union) wrote to the Minister of Labour requesting a change in the Employment Equality Act to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  The Minister responded to say that he asked the Labour Department to consider incorporating such a provision.

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 13.05.06In 1987 ICTU published a very strong policy entitled “Lesbian and Gay Rights in the Workplace: Guidelines for Negotiators.”  This document outlines the issues faced by lesbian and gay workers and the actions that unions can and should take to counteract discrimination against lesbian and gay workers.

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 13.09.20In June 1988, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) established a Working Party to explore the civil liberties policy in relation to lesbian and gay rights. In 1990 the ICCL produced its report on Equality for Lesbians and Gay Men.  The report explored the prejudice experienced by lesbians and gay men in Irish society and legislation, and made the case for equality and law reform. It also provided a model for an Equality (Anti-Discrimination) Bill.

In 1988 GLEN (Gay and Lesbian Equality Network) was established, with Kieran Rose as a one of the founding members.  Campaigning and lobbying for legislative change and equality for LGBT people was a central part of GLEN’s remit.

In 1990 the Irish Labour Party proposed an equality bill which included protection on the grounds of sexual orientation but it was defeated in the Dáil (Irish Parliament).

In 1993 Cork based lesbian Donna McAnallen was dismissed from her job as a lifeguard and fitness instructor in the Brookfield Leisure Centre in Cork, following allegations that she had been seen kissing her girlfriend in the changing rooms.  In June 1993 Donna took a case to the Labour Court alleging that her dismissal constituted a contravention of the 1977 Employment Equality Act.  The Labour Court judgement, delivered in 1994, found that she had been treated in an unfair and arbitrary manner but that this unfair treatment was not covered under the existing 1977 Employment Equality Act.  This case strengthened the campaign to amend this legislation to include protection on the grounds of sexual orientation.

In 1993, following decades of campaigning, homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland with the passing of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill.

Also in 1993, following campaigning by GLEN and LGBT activists, the Unfair Dismissal Act was amended to include protection on the grounds of sexual orientation.

In 1995 the Combat Poverty Agency published a report on Poverty, Lesbians and Gay Men: the Economic and Social Effects of Discrimination.  The report was based on research carried out by Nexus research group and GLEN (Gay and Lesbian Equality Network) and highlighted the impact of ongoing discrimination.

In 1998 sexual orientation was included as one of the protected grounds under the 1998 Employment Equality Act.  Protection on the grounds of gender was also included.  This change would not have happened without the years of active campaigning by LGBT activists for legislative protection for LGBT workers.  The new legislation was an important step forward but it was not perfect.  It included a clause which allowed for religious run institutions (e.g. schools and hospitals) to discriminate on the basis of religious ethos.  (This clause was subsequently removed following campaigning by LGBT groups and allies).

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 13.18.14In 1999 the Irish Equality Authority established an Advisory Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues (the focus was on the sexual orientation ground in the legislation; transgender rights were seen to be included under the gender ground).  The Irish Equality Authority published its report Implementing Equality for Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals in 2002. This report provided an agenda for action in addressing gay, lesbian and bisexual disadvantage in such areas as education, training, employment, services, health, support networks and community development. The report acknowledged the hostility, prejudice and systemic exclusions that are all too often the experience of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and made recommendations for change.

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 13.19.34TENI (Transgender Equality Network of Ireland) was initially set up in Cork in 2004 and then re-established in Dublin in 2006. TENI supports the trans community in Ireland and is dedicated to ending transphobia, including stigma, discrimination and inequality and continues in the struggle for social, political and legal recognition of trans people in Ireland.  This includes supports for the employment rights of trans people.

TENI provided support to Louise Hannon when she took a case against her former employer, First Direct Logistics, to the Equality Tribunal in 2011.  Louise Hannon claimed that the company had discriminated against her under the gender and disability grounds in the legislation.  She had transitioned while employed in the company.  Her employers accepted that she dress as a woman while in the office but insisted that she assume a male identity while meeting clients. The tribunal found that requesting Hannon to switch between male and female roles when she had chosen to be a female, was discriminatory.

In current employment equality legislation in Ireland discrimination against lesbians, gay men and bisexual people is prohibited under the sexual orientation ground and discrimination against transgender people is prohibited under the gender ground.

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Digital Preservation: Reflections on the Digital Preservation Coalition Conference, London, January 2016

Entering the Digital Preservation arena can be scary – it is a place full of “fancy words and acronym bingo.” (Sharon McMeekin)  However, the DPC 2016 Student Conference ‘What I Wish I Knew Before I Started’ offered some reassurance. Speaker after speaker stressed the fact that you don’t need to know everything, that it is impossible to be an expert in every aspect of digital preservation and that no-one has all the answers.  Collaboration is the key – asking questions, sharing information and learning from failures as well as successes.


Steph Taylor

Collaboration and information sharing are particularly important as digital preservation is a fast evolving and changing field. As Steph Taylor from ULCC,  put it: “It will all change.  You learn useful things, but it all changes. It is fast moving and changing all the time.” Her advice is to just do it, get started and have a go. “Don’t wait for perfection; you learn a lot from failure as well as from success.” Learn basic technical skills and play: “It should be fun, not scary.” And share what you are doing so that we all continue to learn from one another.

It is important, however, to think critically about models and approaches to Digital Preservation.  As Steph Taylor cautioned: “One size doesn’t fit all.  It might not work for you or your project even if it is good.” You have to judge what is the best approach for you depending on a number of factors, including your content, what is available to you in terms of staff and resources and what your users want.  You have to remember, however, that Digital Preservation is not just backing up!!!!


Matthew Addis

Similarly Matthew Addis from Arkivum emphasised that what the big organisations can do isn’t necessarily what you are in a position to do. He warned that Preservation Envy (not being able to do what the big guys do) can lead to Preservation Paralysis, which can lead to Digital Data Dereliction! Explore what you can do now, even with meager resources – be thrifty. The sooner you start the better as the longer you leave it, the more expensive and harder it becomes. He recommends Parsimonious Preservation – based on the paper by Tim Gollins “Parsimonious preservation: preventing pointless processes! (The small simple steps that take digital preservation a long way forward)”  In this paper Tim Gollins states that “By applying the principle of parsimony to digital preservation, institutions can find ways forward that are incremental, manageable and affordable, and which achieve the goal of securing our digital heritage for the next generation.”

Matthew Addis recommended that you start small and move up, do the basics first and move on. You need to know what you have got, and keep it safe. He recommended a number of tools and resources that can help. Data Asset Framework provides assistance and tools to help organisations to audit and manage their research data assets. DROID is a software tool developed by the National Archives to perform automated batch identification of file formats. Exactly is a tool which will generate checksums and enables the safe storage and transfer of digital data. Archivematica provides open-source software tools that allows users to process digital objects from ingest to access – a one-stop shop! Arkivum provides a range of data archiving services and supports for projects with a budget to pay for it.


‘Practical Digital Preservation’ by Adrian Brown

Adrian Brown, author of the popular and practical handbook Practical Digital Preservation, noted that digital records are hugely diverse and that they often don’t come in nice, standard, complete, discrete packages; the challenge then is how to make sense of them.  He pointed out that Ingest accounts for up to 90% of digital repository activity – getting the data in and understanding it. Characterisation is a key task – understanding what you have got. Metadata should be kept as simple as possible. Adrian emphasised that digital preservation is not just (or mainly) about technology – it is also about people, processes and policies.  There is no one right way to do digital preservation – you have to find what works best for you and your project.


Glenn Cumiskey

Glenn Cumiskey from the British Museum stressed the need to build the human, technical and knowledge infrastructure needed to support the important digital resources that we are working with.  Don’t be afraid, he advised, as no-one knows everything about digital preservation: support networks and collaborations are important. He highlighted the importance of developing your soft skills, your communication skills, in order to get buy-in and support from managers and key decision makers and also to be able to effectively engage with user communities.


Helen Hockx-Yu

Helen Hockx-Yu‘s advice was to remember that you can’t be a perfectionist; you have to do the best you can and keep learning.  It is challenging, but is rewarding when you come up with a solution.

Ann MacDonald, University of Kent Archivist, emphasised the benefits of connections and collaborations between collections and archives. She advised that you “connect to other collections when you can’t collect yourself.”


Dave Thompson

Dave Thompson, Wellcome Collection, advised “Preservation by a thousand little actions.  Preservation is not a single thing;  it is the summation of 1000s of little things we do every day.” We need to be clear about what we are doing and why: “With purpose and passion comes clarity.”  We need to ask questions:  what is being preserved, for whom, what materials, why?  We need to use our imagination: imagine how the data will be used.

Data is used by people: Digital preservation is a social activity, not just about technology.  “Digital preservation is not a technical problem, it is a social opportunity.”  Dave Thompson stressed that you need to make your data sociable – available in ways that it can be widely used, and in forms that it can be widely used, and with clarity about the right to use it.  His advice was to try to make the steps for preservation an easy activity so that it will be done and is not too much of a burden.


Senate House, London

The key messages emerging from the conference are to link in and keep learning. There are lots of resources and training available to help with this process. Twitter was advocated as a useful means to keep up to date on an ever-changing field. You could join the Digital Preservation Coalition and engage in their various events and access their resources. The DPC Technology Watch provides a useful way to track developments in the digital preservation field.  And the Digital Preservation Handbook provides an overview of the key elements of digital preservation. DigCurV provides a curriculum framework for training in digital curation. The University of London Computer Centre are offering a free online course in OAIS.

In the Irish context, the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) offers a wide range of supports and resources for digitisation projects. For example, Caring for Digital Content identifies exemplars of international repositories, repository projects and organisations with expertise in the management of digital data. The Guide to Choosing Content Management Technologies helps organisations and projects decide which management system is right for them. First Steps in Digital File Transfer and Storage provides a step-by-step guide to this process. The DRI Guide to using Dublin Core is valuable for anyone using this internationally recognised metadata standard. DRI also produces a growing body of valuable Factsheets and How-to guides, including information on file formats and long-term preservation.

At times I felt like an interloper at the DPC 2016 Student Conference, What I Wish I Knew Before I Started – it seemed to be geared primarily for students on archival courses.  There were barely a handful of DAH (Digital Arts and Humanities) students in the room! I also felt that it would have been more beneficial to have had more time and opportunity for discussion and engagement rather than a day full of papers and presentations. Yet I came away with a head full of useful advice and links to further information and resources.  Sincere thanks to the Digital Repository of Ireland and the DAH PhD programme for the scholarship which enabled me to attend the conference.

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1981 National Gay Conference



I was delighted to be asked to contribute a guest blog for Queer Beyond London – check it out here

The post explores the significance of the first National Gay Conference that was held in Cork in 1981.


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Queer Republic of Cork

Poster Exhibition-page-001The Queer Republic of Cork Exhibition opened in Camden Palace community arts centre in Cork on 25 August 2016.  This Exhibition was organised by Orla Egan, Cork LGBT Archive, as part of the Irish Heritage Week.

This Exhibition took visitors on a journey through the development of the Cork Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities from the 1970s onwards.

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.

Feedback book 1

Exhibition launch

Queer Republic of Cork Exhibition Launch 25 August 2016

The Queer Republic of Cork exhibition highlighted some key moments, organisations, campaigns and triumphs in the history of the Cork LGBT Community. It showcased some of Cork’s firsts – the 1st National Gay Conference (1981), the 1st Irish AIDS leaflet (1985), the 1st Irish Lesbian and Gay Festival (1991) and the 1st LGBT float in a Patrick’s Day Parade (1992).  The Exhibition then moved through the decades, 1970s to 2000, focusing on Cork LGBT community organisations and activism.

Feedback Paul McAndrew

The response to the Exhibition was very positive with people delighted to see and explore some of the history of this dynamic community.  The Exhibition was just a small sample of the items contained in the Cork LGBT Archive.   To see more visit the digital archive on

Orla, Orla, Arthur, Dave Exhibition launch

Carol O Keeffe, Orla Murphy, Orla Egan, Arthur Leahy, Dave Roche

The core of the archive is organised around the Arthur Leahy collection – a private collection gathered by Arthur Leahy since the 1970s, and containing a rich collection of leaflets, posters, newsletters and other items relating to the history of the Cork LGBT community.  It was appropriate then that the Exhibition was formally launched by Arthur Leahy.  Orla Egan spoke of the importance of acknowledging and sharing the history of the Cork LGBT community and the decades of activism and community formation.  Both Arthur and Orla spoke of the importance of creating a more inclusive and accurate account of Irish LGBT history.

John Feedback

The Exhibition was organised as part of National Heritage Week.  The Cork LGBT Archive has recently received funding from the Irish Heritage Council for the proper storage and cataloguing of the archive collection – this funding marked an important acknowledgment of LGBT history as part of Irish heritage.  Further funding has since been secured from the Cork City Council Heritage Publication grant for a publication on the History of the Cork LGBT Community (this will be published by December 2016).

The Cork LGBT Archive is very grateful to Camden Palace for hosing the exhibition.  A huge thanks to Peter Flynn, UCC, who loaned his printer to enable the exhibition to be created!  Jess Jones, Carol O Keeffe and Jacob Egan-Morley assisted with hanging the exhibition and hosting / filming the launch.

The Exhibition can be viewed in Camden Palace, John Redmond Street, Cork, each day 12-6 until 3 September 2016.
Carol filming launchInstalling the Exhibition August 2016Jess and Jacob

20160825_175645Arthur and Orla20160827_165728Dave and Orla20160825_184204

Exhibition 1980 conference wall

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Queer Connections and Inspiration

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 10.24.40It was like my bookshelf came to life!  The Gay American History @ 40 conference in New York in May 2016 gave me a unique opportunity to meet with and engage with my ‘heroes’, the LGBT scholars whose pioneering work has inspired and stimulated my own work.

I have long admired, and been inspired by, the work Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 19.01.00of John D’Emilio, Jonathan Ned Katz, Esther Newton and the many other LGBT historians who gathered together at this conference – their scholarship and activism has motivated me to want to work on documenting, analysing and sharing the rich history of the Cork LGBT community.  At the early stages of my own work on the Cork LGBT Archive, John D’Emilio had taken the time to engage in email discussions with me, providing invaluable advice and encouragement.  It was a pleasure then to be able to meet him at the conference, to be able to meet and engage with my ‘heroes’ and to be present for a stimulating, and at times heated, discussion on the current state of LGBT history.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 09.32.25Gay American History @ 40 was a combination conference, a reunion of academic / activist comrades and a tribute to the inspirational work of Jonathan Ned Katz.  The conference marked the fortieth anniversary of Jonathan Ned Katz’s Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the USA (1976) and it provided an opportunity to discuss the ways in which theories, categories, research methods and priorities have been constructed, challenged, and reconstructed over the last forty years of historical research on sexuality and gender.

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Different Lenses


Collaboration, openness and sharing are key operating principles of Digital Humanities.  “Collaboration is widely considered to be both synonymous with and essential to Digital Humanities (DH).” Julianne Nyhan and Oliver Duke Williams   Such a spirit of collaboration and openness guides my work in developing the Cork LGBT Archive.  I am lucky to have access to a rich source of materials in the Arthur Leahy Collection and other smaller collections of documents, posters, newsletters and other items relating to the rich history of the Cork LGBT community.  See my earlier post on the archive here.  The Cork LGBT Digital Archive aims to preserve these materials and to make them accessible and available through sharing them on


Alisha and Josef

This commitment to collaboration led me to engage recently with the Exhibitionist Society – a group of third year photography students from the Dublin Institute of Technology.  “The Exhibitionist’s Society in Dublin Institute of Technology was established in 2016 with the central aim of creating an environment where students who have an interest in the Arts can work collaboratively with others, both inside and outside the college environment. This will allow students to build networks and connections while working creatively, utilising space and establishing their working practices.”


Alisha and Josef

One of the members of the Exhibition Society, Alisha Doody, was aware of my work in developing the Cork LGBT Archive and contacted me to ask if I would collaborate with them on a group project.  Alisha and Joesf Kovac visited the archive on 29 February to explore the materials, and Josef returned a few weeks later to photograph some items for their exhibition.

It was really exciting for me to see how these talented photographers engaged with the materials in a

Josef Kovoc

Josef Kovoc

different way to me – how they explored them from a different perspective, through a new lens and to see how they focused on image and content and symbolism.

The Exhibitionist Society also engaged with the National Photographic Archive and with Belfast Exposed.   They developed a website Aunt Sally’s Tea Dance in which they displayed and Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 16.34.16engaged with the materials found in the various archives.  It is a fresh and dynamic perspective on LGBT history.  “Aunt Sally’s Tea Dance deals with the politics of the archive and the subsequent visibility or invisibility of LGBT identity and queer Ireland by looking at the collected material in three archives, well established and in development……This website developed to present the findings from our engagement with the archives, archivists, researchers and curators. We focused on ephemera and photographs relating to ‘parade’ and ‘community’ to inquire how photography has been used to activate public attention, change public opinion and re-present LGBT movements and much of this material has not been exhibited in the public domain before.”

jkovaccork_08Last night I attended the launch of the website at the new Brunswick Collective in Dublin.  It was wonderful to walk in and see images from the Cork LGBT Archive displayed on the walls, including a giant copy of the poster for the third National Lesbian and Gay Conference in 1983.

1981 Gay conf leaflet1

Scan of leaflet

One wall held a display of items from the Cork archive.  It was so interesting to see items with which I am so familiar, displayed in such a different way.  One example is the leaflet for the first National Gay Conference in Cork in 1981.  I have scanned this item, providing a clear image in which the text can easily be read.   This has then been uploaded to the Cork LGBT Archive with attached metadata.

Josef Kovac photo

Josef Kovac photo

While clear and legible, the scan of the leaflet produced a flat image.  Josef Kovac photographed the same leaflet and this was displayed last night.  His image is much more three dimensional than the scan – it makes you want to reach out and pick up the leaflet.  For me this showed so clearly the importance  and benefits of enabling different people with different skills and perspectives to engage with the materials in the archive.

Another tangible benefit of the collaboration is that the Exhibitionist Society are going to donate the mounted photographs to the Cork LGBT Archive – a great start to building an exhibition for the archive.  And there are promises of further collaboration in extending this exhibition material!

Congratulations to all in the Exhibitionist Society for your work in creating Aunt Sally’s Tea Dance.

Here is a link to a video of some of my speech at the launch of Aunt Sally’s Tea Dance on 28 April 2016 – apologies for the poor quality but at least it gives a flavour of the event.  (The video is in two parts.)

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What I Wish I Knew Before I Started: Reflections on DPC Conference on Digital Preservation

I was delighted to win the DRI / DAH PhD Scholarship to attend the Digital Preservation Coalition conference in London on 22 January 2016- What I Wish I Knew Before I Started.   See my reflections on the conference in my guest blog on the DRI site and on the DAH PhD site.  Click here to read the blog.   Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 12.10.38

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Copyright Issues for Community Digital Archives

I was delighted to be asked to write a guest blog for the UCC Faculty of Law’s Blog on Copyright Issues for Community Digital Archives.  Check it out here.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 09.08.36

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