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Wednesday, 3rd July 2024

Lavender and Green Alliance march in New York to celebrate 30th anniversary

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Brendan Fay (centre) pictured during the 2024 Queer Liberation March in New York last Sunday. Photos: Hernan Poza.

By Brendan Fay

Drogheda and Ireland’s gay ambassador in New York, Brendan Fay, the man who founded the Irish LGBTQ group Lavender and Green Alliance – Muintir Aerach na hÉireann after fleeing the repressive laws in his native country in the nineties, has written this report on the organisation's 30th anniversary

On Sunday last, June 30th, the Irish LGBTQ group Lavender and Green Alliance – Muintir Aerach na hÉireann celebrated Pride by joining the 2024 Queer Liberation March.  Our 30th anniversary theme and message is “Éirimid Amach le Chéile -We rise and come out together." 

Mindful of the recent anti-gay and transgender slurs from Pope Francis and the Vatican as well a repeat of the ban on openly gay men from seminary or ordination we began the morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with a witness for Pride Sunday.

At the Cathedral steps I was with my spouse Tom who I met at a Dignity Mass in 1996 and Maya Milton, transgender organizer whose family come from Dublin. We held images of two friends who were inspiring and courageous gay priests Fr. John McNeill (1925-2015) and Fr Mychal Judge of 9/11 (1933-2001). In 1976 Fr McNeill wrote the book “The Church and the Homosexual” and came out as a gay priest. Fr Mychal Judge became known as the priest to call during the AIDS crisis.  

We also held an image of Stanley and Kathleen Rygor with their son Robert.  A leader in ACT UP Robert died from AIDS related illness in January 1994. Stanley (1926 – 2019) was popular in traditional Irish music circles in New York and sang in his parish choir for over 20 years. Kathleen (1929 – 2021) from Birr, Co. Offaly was outspoken as the mother of a gay son. I am currently working on a documentary film telling their story.   

While welcoming the apology of Pope Francis, there is an urgent need for a more honest and open conversation in the Catholic Church and society. As LGBTQ communities honour Pride events in 2024 we are aware that in several countries people are suffering in silence, enduring harsh sentences, imprisonment, torture and threat of death because of their gender or sexual orientation. There is a lot more work needed to protect LGBTQ rights and stem the rise of anti LGBTQ prejudice here and in Ireland. We need stories to heal, give hope and raise awareness. 

The Irish LGBTQ group then headed downtown, negotiated a labyrinth of police barricades and unfurled our banner at 15 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. This was the site of the LGBTQ Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop founded in 1967 by gay pioneer Craig Rodwell. Irish artist and writer Krissy Mahan greeted the group from across the street with a T- shirt in Irish, “Saoirse don Phalaistín”. 

Lavender and Green Alliance joined the Queer Liberation March at Sheridan Square close to the Stonewall Inn and site of the LGBTQ uprising of June 1969.  Some of the group held images of friends and pioneers of the LGBTQ community as well as rainbow coloured BRÓD (Irish for pride) signs with images of the postage stamps issued by the Irish Post Office honouring the Irish LGBTQ movement. Michael Kane, wearing a t-shirt with a map of Ireland in rainbow colors, said it meant a lot to him to carry the image of Fr. Mychal Judge who died on 9/11. 

Along 7th Avenue seeing our banner, ‘Lavender and Green Alliance / Muintir Aerach na hÉireann celebrating Irish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, Heritage and Identity’ people photographed us saying how proud they were of Ireland’s global leadership on LGBTQ human rights. Others highlighted Ireland’s outspoken leadership for human rights in Palestine and Ukraine. We join the global call for a ceasefire in Palestine, freeing of hostages and access to urgently needed food and medicine. 

Brendan Fay at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York with his spouse Tom and transgender organiser Maya Milton from Dublin.

A New York Pride gathering is also where long-time activist friends meet. Gay community legend Randy Wicker, an organizer in the 60s, has been a supporter of Lavender and Green Alliance joining us in many St. Patrick’s parades.  Someone came to tell of his friendship and shared kayaking with Belfast gay activist Tarlach MacNiallais (1962-2020).

Another thanked us for years of campaigning for inclusion in the St Patrick’s Parades on Fifth Avenue and the outer boroughs.  Young people out for the first time came to speak of being proud to be Irish and the gift of accepting parents and friends.

We told stories of Malachy McCourt’s support for Lavender and Green through the years. Veterans of ACT UP remembered Robert Rygor and his leadership during the AIDS crisis. As the group marched downtown to Battery Park texts came in from Donegal LGBTQ community leader Jen McCarron congratulating us on our 30 years of community advocacy. 

Maya Milton who lives in the Bronx said, “I’m Irish American. I’m transgender and I am glad to be an organizer with Lavender and Green Alliance. When we are out and proud we can inspire others to be themselves and live their lives.” 

Pride is a time of human solidarity and community when LGBTQ persons come out of closets of silence, rise in anger and hope from our second-class status, remember friends, lovers and pioneers who have gone before us and experience the empowerment, fun and joy of belonging to a global movement for change.

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