Doug Ireland, a longtime LGBT rights advocate who switched roles from an organizer of progressive political causes and election campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s to become an internationally recognized journalist and commentator, died Oct. 26 in his home in New York’s East Village. He was 67.
Since at least the 1980s, Ireland has worked at various times as a columnist for The Village Voice, The New York Observer, New York Magazine, POZ Magazine, the L.A. Weekly, the Paris-based daily newspaper Liberation, and the French political-investigative magazine BAKCHICH, according to biographical information on his Linked-In page.
He served since 2005 as international contributing editor to Gay City News, the New York weekly newspaper for the LGBT community.
Ken Sherrill, professor emeritus in political science at New York’s Hunter College and a friend of Ireland’s since the early 1960s, said Ireland emerged in his early career as an “extraordinary” organizer of political campaigns, both for liberal-left causes and for progressive public officials, such as the late-U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y).
“He was an excellent campaign organizer,” Sherrill said. “He reinvented himself as an excellent journalist and most important he had a passionate commitment to justice.”
Ireland’s longtime friend Valerie Goodman told Gay City News he had been suffering in recent years from diabetes and the after-effects of two strokes.
“Despite chronic, at times debilitating pain and frequent hospitalizations, Ireland remained a dogged reporter and book critic in recent years, writing articles for nearly every issue of Gay City News,” said Paul Schindler, the Gay City News editor, in an article published after Ireland’s death.
Sherrill and others who knew Ireland said he became involved in the early 1960s with the new left movement initially as a member and later as one of the leaders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) beginning at the age of 17.
According to a Wikipedia biography of Ireland, he dropped out of the SDS in 1966 to devote his time and energy to electoral organizing against the Vietnam War, initially with several U.S. labor unions and later on behalf of anti-war candidates running for public office.
Among other things, Ireland joined the staff of the 1968 campaign of then Democratic U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who challenged President Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic Party nomination on an anti-Vietnam War platform. Although McCarthy lost his bid for the nomination to then Vice President Hubert Humphrey after Johnson withdrew as a candidate, the McCarthy campaign and Ireland’s efforts have been credited with helping open the way for the election of anti-war candidates to Congress.
Two such candidates, Allard Lowenstein of Long Island and Bella Abzug of New York City, won their races for the U.S. House of Representatives with Ireland serving as a lead organizer of their campaigns, Sherrill told the Blade.
“He was an extraordinary organizer,” Sherrill said. “He could bring people together who would ordinarily not talk to each other.”
Sherrill said Ireland succeeded where some left-leaning political advocates failed because he was “capable of supreme pragmatism” to achieve political objectives, even when, at times, he enlisted the help of machine politicians.
New York-based gay freelance travel writer and photographer Michael Luongo praised Ireland’s skills as a reporter as well as a commentator, saying Ireland developed a vast network of sources and contacts in the U.S. and abroad.
“I fully admired his work, always amazed at his network of contacts and how he was able to go deep on issues around the world relating to the LGBT struggle,” Luongo said.
Luongo said that in his conversations with Ireland in recent years, which were mostly by phone, he was moved by Ireland’s enthusiastic willingness to help him in his own work on travel related stories and to explain how he gathered news for his own reporting.
“My phone is always on,” he quoted Ireland as telling him. “I never sleep.”
Ireland went on to explain, said Luongo, “There were always people he knew in trouble who might need his help at any time among the activists and contacts scattered around the globe and throughout the time zones. That was what struck me most in my conversations with him,” Luongo said.
“You would simply read his stuff and wonder, how did he get that? And then I knew; he was on the phone, on email, constantly trying to find people to interview.”