Dublin Pride rewrites history of struggle to fit gender ideology
22 August 2023
Fairview protest 1983, original image Altered image
In the Soviet Union there was a practice of revising the historical record to fit the latest position adopted by the Communist Party. A much-ridiculed element of this falsification of history was the alteration of old photographs to remove people or slogans that had fallen out of favour. However, it would be wrong to think that such deceptions are harmless curiosities from a different time and place. The recent example of the doctoring of an iconic photograph of a gay rights protest from the 1980’s by Dublin Pride shows that these Stalinist methods are very much alive in contemporary Ireland.
The photograph in question is of a march in Dublin in 1983 protesting the killing of Declan Flynn, a 31-year-old Aer Rianta worker who was beaten to death in Fairview Park in September 1982 by a gang of teenagers who wanted to “bash a queer”. The slogan on a placard which criticised Gardaí - “the police aren't on your side either” - was changed to instead read: ‘Trans rights are human rights’. There was no accompanying note to say the image was altered. This was called out by Not All Gays who accused Dublin Pride of “intentionally doctoring photographs” to push “propaganda”. In response a spokesperson for Pride said that there was no intention to mislead and that the alternation of the 1983 photograph was “deliberately obvious” and “openly discussed at the time”. They claimed that “the removal of the placard referencing the Gardai . . . was purely based on design composition and is not a commentary”. On the broader issue of policing, it was stated that Dublin Pride would “continue to work with our sectoral partners to ensure they improve when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues'' and had “no inserts in covering up for them when they fall down.” Such a response is indicative of an organisation that has been caught out and is making a desperate attempt at deflection. And like many such attempts the risible denial actually reveals more than the initial complaint.
Of course, there is every reason for Dublin Pride to be on the defensive. The brutal killing of Declan Flynn, and particularly the way it was handled by the police and the courts, was a spark for protests that have generally been acknowledged as the birth of the gay rights movement in Ireland. Dublin Pride itself claims to trace its origins to the Fairview protest. However, there is a clear attempt to revise the complicity of the state in these events. For example, despite numerous reports of violent attacks against gay men in the Fairview Park in the months preceding the death of Declan Flynn, there was no effort by police to increase security in the area. A news story contained in the Irish Queer Archive recounts the experiences of a man who went to a garda station complaining about queer-bashing months before the Flynn killing and “he was jeered and laughed out of the station”. Such attacks often become a pretext for police to harass and profile the gay community. The most notorious example of this was the questioning of hundreds of gay men in the wake of the 1982 murder of RTE set designer Charles Self. The men were not suspects as such; it was a trawl through the community. The injustice of the Fynn killing was compounded even further in the courts when five youths charged in connection with his death walked free with suspended sentences. In his decision to release them the presiding judge said that there was "no element of correction required" as they had "come from good homes and have experienced care and affection". It was this judgement that was the spark for the protest march to Fairview where the photograph of protestors was taken.
The doctoring of an iconic photograph by the Dublin Pride organisation exposes the degree to which the mainstream gay rights movement in Ireland has shifted to a conservative, and in the case of women’s rights an outright reactionary, position. While it may claim continuity with the era of protest that initially sparked the movement it has actually rejected that radical tradition in exchange for an endorsement from officialdom. The government and various state institutions are no longer viewed as obstacles to gay liberation but as “partners” in bringing about change. This is reflective of a broader shift in Irish politics in which formerly independent movements have been incorporated into the structures of the state. Pioneered by the trade unions, this social partnership model has now extended to encompass everything from women’s rights to housing and anti-racism. In this process grassroots membership organisations have been transformed into professionally staffed NGOs that are wholly dependent on the state for their existence. This puts limitations on what these organisations can say when it comes to policies of the government or the actions of state institutions. Often, they take on the role of “useful idiots” who use their status to promote the position of the government and defend the record of the state.
The promotion of the police at Pride events is a good example of this. The shameful record of the Gardai in relation to the persecution of the gay community has been wiped clean by the organisation’s embrace of “diversity”. Any criticism that could jeopardise their participation, such as that around the murder of Declan Flynn, is censored. The endorsement of the Gardaí also ignores the continuing repressive role they play in Irish society whether that be the supervision of evictions, the handling of anti-immigration protests, or the ending of workplace occupations. Diversity doesn’t dilute that fact. The claim by Dublin Pride that events, in which police participate in an official capacity, are in the tradition of protest is risible. On the issue of policing, it has taken a position that represents the worst conservatism and sectionalism.
Where Dublin Pride takes a completely reactionary position is on gender identity. In the doctored photograph the words on the placard criticising the Gardai are replaced by a pro trans rights slogan. Of course, that the concept of trans rights didn’t exist in 1983, shows just how recently this gender identity ideology has emerged. But more than that, it is undermining the very cause of gay rights that they claim to champion. The concept of transgender, with its central claim that people are born into the wrong bodies, calls into question the existence of same sex attraction and homosexuality. At its base it is homophobic. Add to this the undermining of women’s rights by the denial of sex as a material reality. This misogyny goes hand in hand with homophobia. It stands in complete opposition to the original spirit of the gay rights movement which saw itself in solidarity with women. Indeed, if you look at the photograph of the Fairview protest from 1983 you will see that the banner leading the march reads “stop violence against gays and women”. The position held today by the mainstream Irish gay rights movement drives a wedge between the two groups.
While the alteration to a photograph may seem trivial, it actually reveals the fundamental truth that organisations claiming to champion gay rights, in their pursuit of official endorsement and adoption of gender ideology, are quite prepared to betray both gay people and women. However, there is increasing opposition to this as new LGB and feminist organisations emerge and a pushback gets underway. The most high-profile examples of this have been in areas such as sports and prisons. That Dublin Pride were forced to remove the doctored image of the Fairview protest from their website after being called out by the Not All Gays group is more evidence for this.