Emotional tributes have been paid to one of the country’s most courageous gay rights campaigners who has died suddenly.
Dave Roche, a founder member of the Cork LGBT Pride Festival, the CEO of the Cork Gay Project, a board member of the National LGBT helpline, and a driving force behind the Yes Equality Cork campaign and LGBT Awareness Week, died from a suspected heart attack while working on a DIY project at home in Terelton, near Macroom in Co Cork, on Saturday. He was in his 50s.
Arthur Leahy, a founder of the Cork Gay Community Development Project, knew Mr Roche for over 30 years and worked closely with him on advocacy in the 1980s, when homosexuality was criminalised. “There is still a huge sense of shock. He was such a vibrant character, so full of fun and energy,” said Mr Leahy.
He recalled how Mr Roche’s early style of advocacy involved “kicking the door in, shouting and roaring” but said as the years advanced, his friend honed his approach to become one of the most influential and effective advocates for LGBT rights in Ireland. He also paid tribute to Mr Roche’s partner, Paul O’Shea, who he said had been a hugely positive influence in his life.
Colette Finn, the chairperson of the Cork Gay Project, worked with Mr Roche since 2014 and said: “It was a privilege to work with him. He was a joy to be around.”
She paid tribute to his advocacy work over three decades which culminated in a Yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum two years ago. Mr Roche played a key role in canvassing rural Ireland in the months before the vote, fronting the Yes campaign in towns across north Cork.
“People like Dave did this work in the days when it wasn’t easy to come out and acknowledge your sexuality,” she said.
“Marriage equality was a huge milestone but there are still people struggling with being gay. Dave was still working on that, helping young people coming to terms with the fact that they are gay, and working with parents’ and spouses’ groups.
Clive Davis, who worked with Mr Roche in the Cork Gay Project for eight years, said the community was at the heart of everything he did, and that his pioneering work with young gay men through support groups like Unite, and his talks in secondary schools, helped create a new generation of leaders and campaigners.
Senator Jerry Buttimer said the city has lost an “inspirational advocate of courage” who challenged us to think differently and to act accordingly.
Mr Roche is survived by his mother, brothers and sisters. Funeral arrangements are expected to be finalised later today.
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