Sydney Queer Irish (SQI) began as the brainchild of a group of queer Irish friends based in Australia. One of its founders, Irish-Australian Loretta Cosgrove, shares that the “vibrant group” has helped her embrace both her Irish roots as well as her queer side.

“I was born in Australia and was raised between Galway and Sydney,” she explains to Celtic Life International via email. With a day job as a production designer and art director, Cosgrove currently lives in Sydney, but work takes her all over Australia.

Cosgrove was Sydney Queer Irish’s president for a decade, and today, after the group shifted to a different organization model, she now acts as co-chair together with Brian Parkinson.

“We work closely together to lead a team of 20 committee volunteers and to deliver monthly socials and our Mardi Gras entry each year,” she notes. “Our group has a number of sub committees that help drive socials, Mardi Gras, and our presence in the Irish diaspora.”

In addition to the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, SQI also participates in the local St. Patrick’s Day parade each year, as well as other area events. The group aims to provide a platform for the queer Irish community in Sydney and elsewhere in the country. Participants may be Irish expats, Australians with Irish roots, or simply visitors. Members of all nationalities, orientations and ages are welcome.

“Sydney is far away from home for many of our members and SQI gives us a place to meet, socialize, and connect with other Irish people…”

Cosgrove says that the group’s main goals are “to support those who identify as LGBTQIA within, and connected to, the Irish and Irish Australian community in Sydney and New South Wales, and to be a role model for acceptance of LGBTQIA people from other cultures and nationalities in Australia and around the world.”

2015 was a big year for SQI: Lorna Hennessey of the Irish consulate approached Cosgrove to create an Irish-Australian float for the Jindabyne Irish Festival. This led to a meeting with the Consul General and, with the help of Tourism Ireland, they received a grant to create the float. That same year, Sydney Queer Ireland teamed up with the Yes Equality campaign, which saw Ireland legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

“History was being made and SQI members were a part of that,” remembers Cosgrove. Their voices both at home and in Australia was heard loud and clear. History was made once again in 2017, when same-sex marriage became legal in Australia. “Every year we grow as a group and gain more respect in the Irish community here in Sydney. We campaign on social issues and support where we can. Our members have petitioned for marriage equality in Ireland, Australia, and Northern Ireland, and most recently, for recognition of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament in Australia.”

In 2020, Cosgrove was honoured with the Presidential Distinguished Service Award by the Irish government.

“Attending the awards at Áras an Uachtaráin, meeting President Michael D. Higgins, talking fracking with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, having a glass of red wine with Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney was all very, very surreal. The award is the highest honour that can be bestowed upon an Irish Citizen living abroad.” According to Cosgrove, she is the fourth Australian person – and the first Australian woman – to receive the honour.

“These awards are important as they recognize the hard work of the Irish diaspora and their service to the people of Ireland,” she says, adding that Michael Ryan of the World Health Organization and actor Fiona Shaw were among her fellow honourees. “I was representing all the members of SQI who have created a sense of home in Sydney for the Irish and Irish Australian LGBTQIA community and to the greater Irish Community Groups who all work tirelessly to support and foster Irish culture in Sydney and Australia.”

Aside from material accolades, Cosgrove says that the lifelong friendships she has made, along with the evolution of the group, are among the biggest rewards. Recently, SQI decked out its Mardi Gras parade float for the 10th time with a theme inspired by Oscar Wilde and Sinead O’Connor. “From a small group of passionate individuals with the idea to create a support network we are now one of the most anticipated community groups on the parade route. We challenge ourselves each year to be better, more creative.

“We like to stay busy. We welcome anyone coming to Sydney to get in touch, get involved, and enjoy a wee bit o’ the craic!”