'We were supposed to feel shame. Pride was the antidote'
Loud, proud and unbowed.
Izzy Kamikaze says that her childhood dream was to "just to grow up and get out of Carlow." She achieved that ambition aged 17, when she moved to Dublin the day after she finished school.
Before the move, Izzy had never met an openly gay person. It took her two years to find the LGBTQ+ community, but when she did she threw herself into campaigning, volunteering and socialising. It was the early 1980s, and the scene in Dublin was "small, discreet and underground". One place that LGBTQ+ people congregated was the Hirschfeld Centre, a cafe, cinema and disco in Temple Bar, which doubled as a space for activists to meet.
Izzy took part in one of the community’s earliest marches – a protest against the leniency shown to the killers of Declan Flynn. The 31-year-old gay man had been beaten to death by a group of “queer-bashing” teenagers in a Dublin park in 1982. Suspending the sentences for the five attackers who had pleaded guilty to manslaughter, presiding judge Mr Justice Seán Gannon said: "It’s important the public should know it could never have been murder."
Izzy says the statement and sentences were: "Devastating for our community. We were being told our lives weren't worth what other people's lives were worth."
The anger and sadness felt by many became a protest march from the city centre to Fairview Park.
"It was frightening. We marched into the area where the murderers were from. Walking out there was not to be taken lightly."
Encouraged by the large turnout at the march it was decided to put on Ireland's first Pride parade, in June of 1983. Izzy recalls someone putting pink dye in the fountain at Trinity college and a "light-hearted and cheerful day".
Izzy, pictured right with loudspeaker. Photo by Clodagh Boyd.
However, the mood had changed significantly by the following year due to a bitter campaign over the introduction of the now repealed 8th amendment. Many LGBTQ+ activists had openly opposed the 8th which led to clashes with pro-life campaigners during the Pride parade.
"As we were going along St Stephen's Green a pro-life man stopped his car, got out and punched a marcher who had been prominent in the anti-amendment campaign."
The 1985 Pride parade attracted just 30 people. Izzy puts this down to the exhaustion of activists who were busy setting up services for those with HIV. It was decided to have a picnic instead of a march for the following year.
In 1991 the first ever Pride parade to be held in Belfast reignited the appetite for a Dublin event.
"We started to feel shameful that we didn't have a Dublin Pride. We made it our mission to make it happen."
Izzy and her Act Up co-workers set out to publicise Pride. The organisers were hoping for a carnival-like atmosphere and urged people to dress up by offering prizes for the best costumes.
Izzy wore a long cape with 'Zombie Lesbian Vampire from hell' written on it and others dressed as the fashion police. However Dublin wasn't ready yet for zombie lesbians and the organisers found themselves struggling to find worthy recipients of the prizes among the 350 marchers. They settled someone who they all agreed was wearing "a nice hat".
In 1994, the organisers received bad press for printing ‘scandalous' words on the cover of the Pride programme. Izzy says someone had to fall on the sword and so she resigned from the committee, though she says she has no regrets. "I'm only interested when something is scandalous anyway!"
She returned to the Pride committee in 1997, and was head of security and Garda liaison person for the following seven years.
By the early Noughties, Pride had attracted the attention of businesses and developed commercial involvement. Preferring grassroots organisation, Izzy co-founded the North West Pride in Sligo, which she helped to run for 10 years.
"I'm very critical of the commercialisation, it's contrary to the spirit of Pride, though I also feel it's inevitable. You just can't compete with businesses. At some point you find you just have to hand over control to them.
"We were supposed to feel shame. Pride was the antidote to that shame, but when you have groups like big businesses and the Gardaí looking to march in Pride, then you know the fight has moved elsewhere."
This year Izzy is going to Dublin but she will be joining Pride Alternative, organised by Queer Action Ireland.
"It's a movement that's not just happening in Ireland, internationally the LGBTQ+ community is demanding to take Pride back and shape it and make it into what we want.
"Pride is a protest. Pride is a promise to defend each other, it's a visible demonstration of the strength of our community to show that if they try and take away our slow and hard-won rights, we will fight back.”