Luchia Fitzgerald: A lifetime fighting for LGBT and women’s rights
There are many stories of LGBT activists all over the world. One of the stories belongs to Irish-born Luchia Fitzgerald, who was part of Manchester’s gay liberation movement.
Together with her former partner, 69-year old Angela Cooper, the 72-year old Fitzgerald has spent her whole life fighting for the rights of LGBT and women– and still continues to do so today.
The couple’s story was made into a short film, Invisible Women, and shown at the New York Pride 2019.
The two were also featured on a BBC4 programme marking the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.
Luchia Fitzgerald: Escaping a harrowing childhood
Like Cooper, Fitzgerald was the daughter of a single mother in Catholic Magdalene homes, which were religious institutions where unmarried pregnant women were sent to live and work.
Fitzgerald said her childhood in Ireland was abusive both emotionally and physically. That’s why while she was living with her grandmother as a teen in 1961, she decided to run away to Manchester.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, she said her grandmother “found out I was a lesbian, basically, and she was threatening to put me into an asylum. She used to beat the daylights out of me.”
“A lot of young children did run away from home like myself. The attitude to the LGBT community was to put them into mad houses or lunatic asylums. Nobody would call them that now and rightly so,” she said.
Living in Manchester: Safe yet not safe
While Manchester provided some sort of haven for Fitzgerald, it still wasn’t all that safe as homosexuality was still considered illegal.
Fitzgerald said the Gay Village was “a really run down part of town where various outsiders congregated.”
“It was a place you could go and be yourself. It was seedy, but it was our seedy place. It felt safe,” she added.
Because she lived on the streets for a while, she was picked up by the police, which led her being sent by a social worker to get a lobotomy as a “cure” for her being a lesbian.
“The psychiatrist explained what they were going to do and it was appalling. I was still a Catholic, and the questions were so bad and rude and dirty I started getting suspicious,” Fitzgerald said.
“I got up and pinned him to the big mahogany table and ran,” she said.
Luchia Fitzgerald and Angela Cooper in Manchester
After suffering from a breakdown, Luchia found refuge and a job at the New Union Hotel, where LGBT people could be free to be themselves. While there, the older lesbians came and took her under their wing and looked after her.
It was also in Manchester that Fitzgerald met Cooper in the Picador Club, one of the few gay bars in the area at the time.
Though this meeting ignited a romantic relationship, it also eventually led to a lifelong political partnership. They both moved into the Manchester’s Women Liberation Centre, which they spent the next five years.
The two eventually established the Manchester branch of the Gay Liberation Front and painted in yellow, “lesbians are everywhere,” on bridges in the city.
At the centre, they helped by offering services like pregnancy tests and helplines for women suffering from domestic violence or rape.
Through a donation, they set up the city’s first women’s refuge, which was also the second one in the country. This later became Women’s Aid.
Inspiring LGBT activism in the coming generations
Likewise, they organized a massive demonstration against Section 28 of the Local Government Act pushed by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1988, which banned the teaching of same-sex relationships.
The two also set up a radical printing press, Amazon Press Women’s Co-Op. They also played in a rock band, the Northern Women’s Liberation Band.
At the start of the documentary, Invisible Women, Fitgerald said: “How could you sit on your arse your whole life and not get on the streets and fight?”
Despite her age today, Fitzgerald is still fiercely political as ever, believing that being a gay liberation activist is a constant battle.
“We’re trying to pass on that mantle to the younger generation because as we all know, it’s getting more and more right-wing everywhere,” Fitzgerald said.
“I believe with every bone in my body that if there’s something that needs doing let’s get it done,. So I’m never done. No, the fight never stops. It really doesn’t. It never stops,” she added.