To celebrate LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari is publishing a daily series of LGBT Heroes, selected by the magazine’s team of writers and special contributors.
PA Mag Lochlainn – LGBT Rights Activist & Politician
by Scott de Buitléir
Originally from Dungiven in County Derry, PA Mag Lochlainn worked as a French teacher in the town of Omagh in County Tyrone before becoming President of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association (NIGRA), campaigning for LGBT rights. Mag Lochlainn was one of only a hundred people who took part in Belfast’s first gay pride march in 1991, and played a key role in the organisation of each Belfast Pride festival since then. He was also involved in training police officers about homophobia and hate crimes, and helped his friend and colleague, Jeffery Dudgeon in his campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in the region by bringing the issue before the European Court of Human Rights in 1982. The success of this campaign led to a similarly successful case in the Republic of Ireland some ten years later.
Mag Lochlainn died at the age of 67 on 14th November 2012, having suffered for some time with kidney failure. Tributes across both the UK and Ireland were made in the wake of his death, including Councillor Andrew Muir of the Alliance Party, who praised him for being “an inspirational and determined campaigner for gay rights”.
Mag Lochlainn was also an active member of the Social Democratic & Labour Party, and the first member of any political party in Northern Ireland to be openly gay. SDLP leader, Alasdair McDonnell MP also expressed his “deep sadness” for his friend and fellow party member, who volunteered his time at McDonnell’s constituency office in the Belfast suburb of Finaghy. McDonnell also praised Mag Lochlainn for his work in the LGBT sector, calling him a “courageous and passionate person.”
On a lighter note, Mag Lochlainn was never one to hide from the crowd. ‘PA’ – as he was affectionately known amongst the gay community in Northern Ireland – would have been easily spotted during the Belfast Pride festivities each year, thanks to his colourful choice of fancy dress costumes. Only two months prior to his death, Mag Lochlainn took part in the first ‘Pride in Newry’ festival and parade, making it his last public appearance.