In the eight-episode series Invisible Threads, James O’Hagan, a co-ordinator with LGBT Ireland’s champions training programme, talks to older members of the community about their life experiences. Some names might be known, like Eilish O’Carroll, sister to Brendan and who plays Winnie McGoogan in Mrs Brown’s Boys; and Louise Hannon, a transgender woman from Belfast who used the Employment Equality Act against an employer on the grounds of gender discrimination.
But mostly these are ordinary people who are retired or on the cusp of retiring, reflecting on their lives. What emerges is a familiar, recurring theme of oppression, of having to keep their identity under wraps for years for fear of what Irish society might think. Hopefully things have all changed for the better - but we mustn’t forget these stories which paved the way.
Luchia Fitzgerald talks about her fascinating life story in the opening episode. She’s a 74-year-old activist who ran away to Manchester as a teenager when it was discovered she was a lesbian. She is also a survivor of the Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork.
Still fighting for older LGBT people’s rights, what keeps her going? Luchia says a little voice in her head goes, “this happened to you, love - don’t let it happen to that person in front of you... That’s what drives me.”
Tom Cavanagh, a 66-year-old runner in Wicklow, was married and went through conversion therapy to try and lead a ‘normal’ life. He points to Stephen Gately coming out and soap storylines about gay people as important developments in society. “The loneliness of lockdown is nothing [like] the loneliness I had before I came out,” he admits.
Another commonality between the stars of this series is discovering that there was indeed a welcoming community waiting for them - once they found out they existed.
Sean Vail, who now lives in Skibbereen, West Cork, tells of life in the US navy, before he moved home to Texas after being honourably discharged after revealing his sexuality. He steps into a gay bar to be immediately accosted by “this very rotund man with a big bushy beard and bib overalls, and he said, ‘Hello darlin’, I haven’t seen you here before, you must be new around here!’”
He adds that the man become “like my gay father - he showed me the ropes”.
So with laughs scattered among the stories, Invisible Threads proves to be an important series.