In many ways, there’s never been a better time to be LGBT in Ireland. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community has seen attitudes become increasingly positive in the last few years, despite Ireland’s long history of discrimination against them. The 2015 marriage referendum was a huge victory for LGBT activists and their allies. It was the culmination of years of hard work, and Lou McCormack is proud to have played a small part in it
McCormack has become well-known face in Limerick’s LGBT circles. She’s been involved in activism in one form or another for years, and she isn’t shy about discussing the challenges she’s experienced. As Chairperson of Limerick Pride 2017, McCormack was responsible for the centrepiece LGBT event in the city. That role was a natural outgrowth of her experiences as lesbian woman.
“I started writing for a lesbian magazine in Australia at 18,” she says. “It was called Cherries, in Sydney. I met a lot of people through the magazine. One of the main bars in Sydney is called Stonewall – they were very in touch with activism.”
At the University of Limerick, she joined the long-established LGBT society, Out in UL, and quickly became a member of its committee, and eventually chairperson. But there were difference attitudes in Australia and Ireland.
“Australia felt like it was more rebellious,” she recalls. “Maybe that’s because I was younger. It was more of a protest. It felt less acceptable there. There was more of a protest atmosphere.”
McCormack’s time in college was indelibly marked by her involvement with Out in UL and she’s particularly proud of the society’s Rainbow Week event. Though she wasn’t directly involved, she’s especially proud that the weeklong celebration of LGBT culture is still going on. It was also in UL, while studying for a master’s degree, that she got involved in the equal marriage campaign.
“I got involved in Yes Equality. We drove around in the equality bus and I was knocking on doors asking people to vote,” she says.
Campaigning door to door was a new experience for her, and not always a pleasant one.
“It was completely new to me. I’d been out for 8 or 9 years at that point and I was so comfortable,” McCormack remembers. “I don’t know if ‘extremely humbling’ are the right words but it was perspective altering. You think you’re not vulnerable and then people close the door in your face. I was made physically aware that it [being LGBT] was not okay in some people’s minds.”
The referendum result was an emotional moment for McCormack and it convinced her to stay involved in activism.
“It was getting stale for me at the time, even though I knew the purpose of it,” she says. The referendum made her realise there was still work to be done. “We’re getting there but I realised we’re not as far along as we thought. I got involved in Limerick Pride. The community was there when I needed it.” She felt a duty to do for others what the LGBT community had done for her.
She became a member of the Limerick Pride committee and eventually rose to lead to group, organising the 2017 event. This year’s Pride focused heavily on youth, involving Limerick Youth Service and GOSHH, a local charity that serves the community. McCormack believes that young LGBT people are the future and older activists have a duty to help them.
She’s concerned about a developing split in the LGBT between those who believe marriage equality draws a line under past issues and those who want to push for more.
“There’s a wider argument happening now. We’re on the trajectory to 100 percent acceptance and there’s a divide in the community.”
“I believe to be part of the LGBT community, it’s important to fight for the rights of others, even if that’s not you’re issue,” she says. “I feel a sense of duty. Nobody won these rights on their own. We should support transgender people and bi[sexual] visibility. People helped us to get where we are, how is it right to step back now? We can’t step back.”
McCormack is unlikely to disappear from the LGBT scene anytime soon, but she has some advice to any up-and-coming campaigners.
“Look at history and get perspective,” she says. “Have perspective on other people’s lives. Some people take what we’ve achieved for granted after the marriage referendum. Look at history and understand where we came from.”