Remembering Irish American LGBT rights activist Tarlach MacNiallais

LGBT people have obviously a generation deficit. The “Silent Generation” (born between 1925 and 1945) and “LGBT Baby Boomers” (born between 1946 and 1964) experienced the brunt of the HIV epidemic in the eighties and nineties. In 1981, when the first cases of then called Kaposi’s sarcoma appear in New York and California, they were on the frontline of the epidemic. They could only experience shortly the overdue benefits of the movement the Stonewall riots (1969) started.

By the end of 2004, there were 940,000 cases of AIDS reported in the United States and 529,113 deaths, the vast majority of which were gay men.

Today, it is these two already depleted generations that are most affected by COVID-19. It is a tragedy for our community which is in dire need for the wisdom, leadership, and inspiration from older LGBT people. Last week, we commemorated the life of Terrence McNally, a key activist and writer (Read: Broadway goes dark twice over in one month).

On Wednesday we lost Tarlach MacNiallais at 57 years old from complications linked to his coronavirus diagnostic. Tarlach was a gay activist from Belfast who helped run the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, which fought for homosexual inclusion in NYC’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Before moving to the US, MacNiallais campaigned for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, a highly difficult time and environment for LGBT people. He is survived by his husband of 18 years, Juan Valdez, who is also reportedly battling COVID-19.

The Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization requested inclusion in the Parade as early as 1991 and faced tremendous resistance. Read the article from the NY Times: “The Ancient Order of Hibernians, organizers of the parade, [said] there was no room in the March 17 parade for the 135-member organization.”

It took more than two decades before the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade organizers dropped a ban on gay groups in 2014. Today, the organizers of the Staten Island parade still ban gay groups, keeping a long-held tradition of segregation and bigotry. In fact, last month as the pandemic loomed, the organizers found nothing better to do than ban Miss Staten Island taking part after she came out as bisexual.

At Out Leadership, we feel the inability to come together to grieve the loss of our leaders is heartbreaking. Our thoughts and deepest sympathy are with the husbands and families of Terrence and Tarlach. We might not be able to gather but we will continue to honor the lives of heroes such as Tarlach.

Remembering Irish American LGBT rights activist Tarlach MacNiallais

Activist Tarlach Mac Niallais, second from left, facing a DUP picket at Queens University in 1983.