By Kevin Byrne, Irish Consulate

One of the most striking transformations in Ireland in recent years has been the country’s journey towards greater acceptance and protections for members of the LGBTQ community. The passage of marriage equality by popular vote in 2015 took many outside of Ireland by surprise. The country’s ringing endorsement for same sex marriage spoke of Ireland’s place as an inclusive, accepting, compassionate society, but also the distance Ireland had traveled from a place unwelcoming to those who lived and loved differently.  Due to the hardship of those years, many gay and lesbian Irish people left Ireland in search of more tolerant societies - many of their stories went untold.

This June, the Consulate is partnering with the Midwest’s foremost LGBTQ community center The Center on Halsted in Chicago to host an exhibition called Out In The World which tells the stories of some of the trailblazing members of Ireland’s LGBTQ Diaspora.

The exhibition highlights 12 stories under six themes – exclusion, community, love, defiance, solidarity and return – which were chosen as they speak to significant parts of the Irish LGBTQ experience. The exhibition is diverse, with stories from the 1800s to the present, detailing experiences from the US to India and Chile. Some of the stories included are of of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) which was founded in a Japanese restaurant in New York city in 1990; the Brixton Faeries, a gay theatre troupe based in the UK in the 1970s, and an Irish participant in the Stonewall riots. This exhibition is a remarkable opportunity to learn about a past which hasn’t been publicly acknowledged or recognised in mainstream Irish exhibitions or history.
Speaking about the exhibition, Acting Consul General Sarah Keating said “the contributions of the Irish Diaspora to the cities and communities they made home is a source of great pride in Ireland and reaching out to Ireland’s large diaspora here in the Chicagoland area forms a central part of the work of the Irish Consulate. In recent years the Irish Government has placed an increasing focus on connecting with those men and women who left Ireland as it was not seen as a welcoming place for them. We hope that this exhibition will go some way towards recognising the contributions of Ireland’s LGBTQ Diaspora and may help to reconnect community members with Ireland.”

Aside from the Consulate and the Center on Halsted, Irish Community Services is keen to connect and engage with LGBTQ members of the Diaspora.
All are welcome to this free exhibit and you can visit at the Center on Halsted from June 2 through June 12. The building is open from 8am – 9pm everyday. Please ask for Operations at the front desk to be escorted up to the 3rd floor.