Why the LGBT+ History Month event at Hillsborough Castle was so important

Claire Mullaly · 7 February 2020

The LGBT+ tour was very busy, with people booked in from all over Northern Ireland and from seven different unions. It was a chance for us all to learn about the LGBT+ history of Hillsborough Castle which is not only a historic castle, but has been integral to the governance of Northern Ireland during the twenty six years of direct rule between 1972 and 1998. The Anglo Irish Agreement was signed here in 1985, which paved the way for an Irish role in the affairs of Northern Ireland and laid the foundations for peace in Northern Ireland today. Again when devolution was faltering, the Hillsborough Agreement was signed here in 2010.

The LGBT+ side of the tour covered amongst other things a Hill family link to Gentleman Jack subject Anne Lister. Also, how homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967 in England and Wales with the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, but remained illegal in Northern Ireland until 1982 until a challenge through the European Court of Human Rights forced change. The tour focused on the winning of equal marriage, with the first same-sex wedding in Northern Ireland due to happen next week. Again, this was a right not given — but won through the political manoeuvres of MP’s and campaigners, including trade unions and the TUC who saw injustice and built a cross-party consensus to amend the Northern Ireland Executive Bill of 2019 to include provision for areas that Northern Ireland lagged behind in such as equal marriage and the right to abortion. Had these issues not been resolved, it is doubtful that the Northern Ireland Assembly would be functioning again today after being collapsed for three years.

The theme of rights being won, not given ran strong in the history of Northern Ireland and LGBT+ Hillsborough Castle tour looked at our history through a lens often forgotten about. As Kris, the LGBT+ historian tour guide said, “change would never happen without activists on the ground fighting for it in Northern Ireland.”

Claire Mullaly, Prospect Digital Rep, She/Her

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