In the early 1970s, a radical group of Trinity students began organising regular meetings to discuss issues of sexuality and its stigmatisation in Irish culture. This phenomenon was the first of its kind in Ireland, making our Q Soc the country’s oldest LGBTQ+ organisation. Spurred on by a shift in thinking and attitudes towards homosexuality, Trinity’s Q Soc played a pivotal role in the history of Ireland’s journey towards acceptance.
In 1970s Ireland, homosexuality was not only a social taboo but a criminal offence, included in the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. However, An Garda Síochána had not enforced the law for several years. Many of the country’s LGBTQ+ youth emigrated to more accepting cities in the UK or the United States, where they could live more freely as themselves. However, Trinity maintained a small but vocal group of LGBTQ+ students who were not afraid to speak out against the atmosphere of homophobia in Irish culture.
“Trinity’s unofficial LGBTQ+ society received immediate support from pioneering staff and activists, including then English lecturer and Senator David Norris.”
Trinity’s unofficial LGBTQ+ society received immediate support from pioneering staff and activists, including then English lecturer and Senator David Norris. In October 1973, Norris, along with nine other activists, founded the Sexual Liberation Movement on Trinity’s campus. Although the group split not long afterwards, the SLM continued to call for reform by protesting and organising groundbreaking LGBT events, including Ireland’s first ever gay disco.
While the SLM continued to push for change, the LGBT activism and community remained among Trinity’s students. Originally the Gay Society, it organised controversial events; inviting speakers from the United States and the UK, where sexual liberation was more advanced and certain LGBT rights were already established. However, it was not until 1983 that the Central Societies Committee recognised the organisation as an official society. Dublin University’s Gay Society was the first of its kind and the sole LGBT student society in Ireland for many years.
“The struggle to decriminalise homosexuality was intrinsically linked to Trinity’s student body and its unapologetically vocal Gay Society.”
In 1987, David Norris was elected to the Seanad by Trinity Alumni during his Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform. His advisors included Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, both of whom served as Reid Professors of Criminal Law in Trinity and went on to become Presidents of Ireland. The struggle to decriminalise homosexuality was intrinsically linked to Trinity’s student body and its unapologetically vocal Gay Society. In 1988, Norris took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, who ruled that the law against homosexuality infringed on the human rights of Ireland’s gay community. Finally, in 1993, the law was repealed after a long twenty-year campaign.
By the 1990s, the Gay Society had become the Lesbian and Gay Society and subsequently the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Society. Despite extensive debate, transgender students were finally included in the organisation in the early 2000s. Today, Q Soc is an accepting community of students who welcome members of all backgrounds and gender identities through their inclusive events throughout the academic year. With weekly coffee hours, movie screenings and guest speakers, Q Soc is a safe space for students to express themselves freely and enjoy all that college life has to offer.
“Q Soc, with the continuing support of the university, has remained active in the fight to protect the rights of Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community.”
Q Soc, with the continuing support of the university, has remained active in the fight to protect the rights of Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community. In 2015, Trinity awarded Senator David Norris and Rory O’Neill (aka Panti Bliss) honorary degrees on the theme of human rights for their unwavering activism on behalf of Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community. The society has retained a sense of its political roots and the activism that brought it into existence at such a critical moment in Irish history.
Almost fifty years after the Sexual Liberation Movement was founded on campus, Ireland is unrecognisably altered by the existence and impact of Q Soc. Irish culture has chosen acceptance and freedom over ignorance and repression, both of which were exemplified by the overwhelming support for marriage equality in the 2015 referendum. On the tail end of this pride month, Ireland’s progress and Trinity’s contribution to it can offer hope to those still living in fear that change is possible, and love can conquer ignorance.