Maria Walsh addresses UCD's LGBTQ+ Society. Photo: James Brady

Maria Walsh, the 2014 Rose of Tralee, has been presented with the second annual Foy-Zappone award by the UCD LGBTQ+ Society. The accolade was presented to Walsh at a ceremony on Monday 2nd February. Walsh made national headlines last year not only for winning the Rose of Tralee, but also for being the first Rose who is openly gay.

At the ceremony, Walsh was interviewed by Ruth Murphy, the Public Relations Officer for the society (Murphy also serves as the University Observer‘s comment editor). Walsh said that she hoped that being out in the media could start the discussion among families and young people about LGBTQ+ issues. She went on to state that she hoped it may give young people the courage to come out to their families, referencing her own experiences coming out. She did claim that she did not want to be known as the “gay rose,” saying that it is only a small part of her personality.

The position of Rose of Tralee is apolitical and Walsh cannot officially comment on debates such as the upcoming marriage equality referendum. However, Walsh went on to state that she would like to be married in the country she was “reared in” and that she was representative of “how gay people live in society. We just live.”

Walsh also discussed her role as an ambassador for the festival. She commented on how she saw the festival as more modern than it is sometimes perceived, being about “celebrating the women.” As part of her position, Walsh is involved with a number of charities, such as Development Perspectives and Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International.

Speaking after the event, Louise Keogh, auditor of the LGBTQ+ society, highlighted the positive impact of having an openly gay rose. She stated that it is “very important having someone who’s out in the media, who is Irish and [represents] such an Irish figure.” Keogh went on to commend the positive effect of a gay Rose on young people. She stated that they may now feel more comfortable discussing LGBTQ+ issues with their families.       

The award is named after Dr. Lydia Foy and Senator Katherine Zappone, who jointly received the award last year. Foy has been recognised for her twenty-two year fight to have her birth certificate changed following her gender transition in the early 1990s. She has brought numerous cases to the high court, yet has so far been unsuccessful in having her birth certificate changed. Raised in America, Senator Zappone has lived in Ireland since 1983 and has fought for recognition of her marriage to Dr. Ann-Lousie Gilligan. Zappone is also a prominent human rights campaigner, particularly for trans* issues.

Later this week, Walsh will make an appearance at Trinity College, hosted by Trinity Students’ Union.