UCC Academy's EDI Taskforce is proud to support Cork Pride
Orla Egan has been an instrumental figure in telling the story of LGBT lives in Cork. As well as establishing the Cork LGBT Archive, she has written a book, the Queer Republic of Cork, Cork’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Communities 1970s-1990s. She has also written a play and directed a documentary on the subject. It has been a labour of love driven by her passion to raise awareness of queer lives in Cork.
“Having been part of the community since the 1980s, I was very aware of the really dynamic things that were happening during that time, like heightened political activism and all the social change campaigns coming out of the Quay Co-Op, Loafer’s bar, and the various other organisations. A lot of the first Irish LGBT activism had happened in Cork, and that was not visible in mainstream historical accounts,” says Orla.
Orla has strong links to UCC, having studied there over the years; she completed an MA in Digital Arts and Humanities in 2013, which enabled her to acquire some of the skills needed to establish the Cork LGBT archive as, an ongoing project. Perhaps the most important skill, however, has been one that is ingrained in her — perseverance.
“I really do think that this is a work of madness. It’s been done mostly by me on a voluntary basis for nearly 10 years. You would have to be crazy to do it but it is that madness and that passion that sustains the work,” she says.
Orla was recently invited by the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Taskforce at UCC Academy to address staff in an event to celebrate Cork Pride, which runs from July 23 to July 31; UCC is a sponsor of this year’s event. Orla also screened her short documentary, I’m Here, I’m Home, I’m Happy for Academy staff. She says the film is part of her mission to make Cork LGBT history more accessible for people. She has also curated the Cork Queeros photographic exhibition and developed an LGBT interactive walking tour of Cork.
“Not everybody wants to wade through archival boxes or a digital archive so I have tried to create more dynamic ways to connect with people. The film was part of that — and the book, the exhibition and the walking tour. I also wrote a short play that LINC drama group performed. It’s about trying to bring the history to life and make it more engaging for people,” says Orla.
She says the film is deliberately positive, to counter the often downbeat narrative on LGBT issues.
“I think that sometimes we tend to focus too much on the challenges, — which were obviously ginormous in the 70s and 80s, including discrimination and prejudice, particularly around HIV/AIDS. But too many times people think, ‘oh my god, it must have been so awful to be lesbian in the 1980s'. And I go, ‘no, it was so much fun, it was fantastic’. I wanted to focus on what happens when you find your community, make the spaces that enable people to have fun, thrive and connect, when you find your tribe. I wanted to tell that story. Yes, there were challenges but also there were amazing times.”
Orla says the staff at UCC Academy were very positive and receptive.
“Some people could relate to what was being told in the film, others had experience themselves or with family or friends who lived through that time. It resonated for people,” she says.
This is echoed by Alan Drumm, digital content editor with UCC Academy and a member of its EDI Taskforce.
“The talk was fantastic and the film was absolutely brilliant. It was real social history around Pride in Cork, told from an interesting perspective. The feedback was very positive. Orla’s work is designed to make you look at yourself and I think everyone did that. I think everyone in the room came away from it much more aware and educated in a very positive sense. It stimulated some interesting conversations. The community, the joy and happiness that was created really comes across in the film. It was wonderful. Everyone understood the value of having a strong community around you,” he says.
Ruminating on Pride, and all it stands for, Orla casts her mind back to the first Pride event in Cork in 1981.
“I have a Cork Pride leaflet from 1981. It is a double-sided pink leaflet that is basically just getting people to realise that gay and lesbian people exist in Cork in terms of numbers, and talking about the various issues and campaigns for change. Cork Pride in 1981 was a few people on Prince’s Street, leafleting, with a display board with information on it. The difference between that and a week-long programme of events, that is a huge contrast.”
She also offers a reminder about the origins of Pride and how the rights of LGBT people are still under threat.
“It is important to remember the radical roots of Pride, that it is a protest — and that everything didn’t get sorted when we got marriage equality. I have a teenager, and the situations in schools, it’s still really challenging, the prevalence of homophobic, transphobic and biphobic comments. We have to remember that there's still a lot of issues that need to be resolved.”
Most important of all to Orla is that Pride is accessible to everyone.
“I love the fact that Cork Pride has a free public event at the end of it, that anybody can come to and that it is bright, celebratory and doesn’t cost lots of money. That is important for young people, that they are coming to an environment that is full of positivity.”
Reflecting on her own role in preserving the history of the Cork LGBT movement, Orla says she had a clear and simple aim.
“I wanted to get to a place where Cork LGBT history was impossible to ignore. I hope I’ve succeeded.”
For more information about the Cork LGBT Archive visit Cork LGBT Archive
The UCC Academy EDI Taskforce would like to thank all staff members who attended our recent Pride event. A special thank you to Orla for taking the time to be with us. Thank you to our EDI Taskforce member, Nicola Stathers who organized the event so well.