Tarlach MacNiallais, Who Fought for Gay and Disability Rights, Dies at 57 - Press "Enter" to skip to content

Tarlach MacNiallais, Who Fought for Gay and Disability Rights, Dies at 57

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This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

The month of March began with a glorious Sunday morning, perfect for the St. Pat’s For All Parade in Queens that celebrates diversity and equality as much as Irish heritage and culture. Among the organizers was the gregarious Tarlach MacNiallais, who had worked long and hard for inclusion of the long excluded.

He was known for his decades of advocacy for L.G.B.T. and disability rights. “A battering ram on issues of importance,” according to Harriet Golden, a vice president at A.H.R.C. New York City, an organization that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, where Mr. MacNiallais worked for nearly 35 years.

Mr. MacNiallais died on April 1. He was 57. The cause was complications of the coronavirus, according to friends and family.

He was born Terence Nellis in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Oct. 9, 1962, the tenth of 11 children of John James Nellis, a bus conductor, and Una Nellis, a homemaker. He later adopted the Irish language version of his name, pronounced TAR-lock MACK-neel-ish.

As a university student, he protested against British imperialism and emerged as a gay rights advocate. He responded to the “Save Ulster From Sodomy” campaign — an ultimately unsuccessful effort to keep homosexual acts illegal in Northern Ireland — by helping to mount a counter campaign with the slogan “Save Sodomy From Ulster.”

He moved to New York in the mid-1980s and became involved in the protracted struggle by L.G.B.T. groups to be fully included in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade up Fifth Avenue. Many years later, he became a member of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade formation committee, and marched in the parade with the Lavender and Green Alliance in 2016.

Brendan Fay, a friend and fellow activist, emphasized that Mr. MacNiallais’s well-publicized activism for inclusive parades should not overshadow an equal passion. “Most of his life in this city was advocating for people with disabilities,” Mr. Fay said.

Mr. MacNiallais tested positive for the virus in mid-March and died at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, with the texted words of loved ones being read to him by a nurse. He is survived by his husband, Juan Nepomuceno, nine siblings and three stepchildren.

On that March Sunday, the day the city’s first case of coronavirus was confirmed, the St. Pat’s For All Parade moved joyously through a corner of Queens before ending in the Woodside neighborhood, where organizers gathered for an after-party at the Saints & Sinners Pub. Amid the singing and drinking and cheering, the booming voice of Mr. MacNiallais was “soaring above the lot of us,” Mr. Fay recalled.

Everything else, he said, “seemed far away.”


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