Q Soc: A history of refuge, rights and recognition

Ireland’s oldest LGBT student society has been at the forefront of change in Trinity since 1974

Q Soc’s history is one of evolution and has coincided with the leaps made in LGBTQ+ rights in Ireland. As the oldest LGBT society in the country, its influence has been felt across many institutions in providing representation and is the largest LGBT student training event in Europe, with its foundation of Pink Training. It’s safe to say that Q Soc has acted as a place of refuge, celebration and remembrance for countless LGBTQ+ students in its 38 years of existence. Now with 350 members, it holds a significant place in society life as well in the hearts of those who have ever been involved.

The Sexual Liberation Movement (SLM) which led to the foundation of Q Soc – initially known as Gay Soc – had its roots in Trinity and sparked the Irish Gay Rights movement. A conference on sexuality held in Regent House was what spurred David Norris and his fellow members to create the group. This brought the issue of gay rights to the forefront of students’ minds. The SLM was set up shortly afterwards in 1974 and the group met in House Four, providing a space where LGBTQ+ students could discuss their sexualities in a non-threatening environment. Senator David Norris recalled what it was like being gay in Dublin during the 1970s: “People of my generation all grew up under the impression that they were the only one because there was complete silence on the subject. This was as a result of the church saying that homosexual behaviour was crime so horrible it must not be mentioned among Christians, that effectively smothered the whole thing”.

Gay Soc received official recognition from the CSC in 1983. Norris recollected “what really turned the tide was the members of the Students’ Union. They all joined the Gay Soc and they used all their names. I thought it was very decent of the Students’ Union people to join up because they got us over the boundary.” Those Students’ Union members formed the first official committee, reflecting the society’s acceptance within Trinity. It was during this year that Declan Flynn was murdered in a homophobic attack at Fairview Park. This sparked outrage and the first Pride protest in Ireland was held the following June. The foundation of Gay Soc in Trinity marked a shift in the fight for gay rights. In 1985, it organised a national Gay Soc meeting which saw students from UCD, UCC and UCG in attendance. Norris campaigned for UCD, UCC and Maynooth to have their own Gay Socs whilst also working towards the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Through the 1990s and 2000s, Gay Soc changed its name multiple times to become even more inclusive, eventually becoming Q Soc in 2012. During this time of change, the first Pink Training was held in Trinity. Since 1991, it has become the largest LGBTQ+ student training event in Europe as well as being the most well-attended event run by the USI. Pink Training focuses on training students on gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans issues including workshops on mental health, sexual health, allyship and lobbying. Every year, Rainbow Week spreads awareness of LGBTQ+ issues with Q Soc collaborating with multiple societies on events. From art gallery tours to coming out spaces, Q Soc takes over campus for the week, expanding its reach. This highlights the impact it has had on life in Trinity.

The society is ever evolving and becoming even more diverse. Current secretary Luca Caroli recalls how “[in] my first year even then which wasn’t a long time ago obviously, you could tell it could grow and become better. Diversity and inclusion has always been a theme in our society and it’s become better but still again, it could improve but in two years since I got involved, it’s become so different and in a good way as well”.

What hasn’t changed since its foundation is the support space provided to its members in the form of coffee hours. Nathan O’Gara,the current auditor, explained that “it’s somewhere that people can feel safe and be among friends. If they’re experimenting with gender or sexuality, it’s a place to explore that”.

Whilst Q Soc remains an apolitical society, it does get involved in matters directly related to its goals. During the Marriage Equality referendum of 2015, Q Soc members joined with TCD students in the marches in favour of same-sex marriage. Éanna O’Séaghdha,the current treasurer, recounted the “buzz” that was in the air the semester after the referendum was passed: “I think that year in particular there was a boom in membership because people felt very empowered. They were empowered by people agreeing to their rights rather than it just being legislated on within the Dáil”.

The issue of trans healthcare is now coming to the fore nationally. With a waiting list of over two years to be referred to the National Gender Service at Loughlinstown, accessible healthcare for trans people is at a crisis point. Protests have been held outside the Dáil with Q Soc in attendance with the Students’ Union. Those who have died because of poor access to healthcare, as well as those who have been the victims of transphobia, are commemorated every year by the society on Trans Day of Remembrance.

As well as hosting social events, Q Soc has taken on an educational role. It has run events such as a workshop about the state of trans healthcare and the treatment of trans people for health science students. The society has also collaborated with Intersex Ireland and ran an event which looked at intersex rights and issues faced by intersex people. In the run up to the most recent general election, a How to Lobby your TD event was held. This focused on giving people the tools to advocate for themselves, directing them to groups such as This Is Me, Intersex Ireland and Love not Hate, the campaign for Hate Crime Legislation.

The SLM’s leading role in the Irish Gay Movement says much about Q Soc’s – and by proxy Trinity’s – advocation for LGBTQ+ rights. However, Q Soc’s significance goes far beyond its impressive history. Its stand at Freshers’ Week has been a beacon of hope for gay, bi and trans students alike for decades, myself included. The safety and hope offered is invaluable. Pride flows from its room in House Six and permeates through campus as the society continues on the great work of its predecessors.