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Community stunned after sudden death of popular gay rights activist Susannah Toland

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Tragedy: Susannah Toland

Tragedy: Susannah Toland

Tragedy: Susannah Toland

The death of one of Londonderry's best known gay rights campaigners has been described as "a massive loss" to the community.

Susannah Toland (45), who passed away suddenly at the weekend, will be laid to rest later today after Requiem Mass at St Columba's Church, Long Tower.

Mass will be restricted to family members only but Foyle Pride has organised a Guard of Honour for Ms Toland outside the church where people will wear T-shirts in the colours of the rainbow in tribute to her.

Ms Toland, who was an only child, is pre-deceased by her mother Rhona who passed away in March.

A crowdfunding page has been set up by her long time friend and fellow Foyle Pride member, Kathleen Bradley to help ease financial pressure on Susannah's father Anthony.

She said: "Susannah was the only gay black woman in the Bogside.

"She was one of the first handful of people who walked down Shipquay Street in Pride in Derry when it started.

"She had real deep roots in standing up for the community and in standing up for herself.

"She was an original in every sense of the word and we are in so much shock right now and not being able to have the traditions of the wake and funeral in the way we should has made this so, so hard.

"What I loved most about her was that she cared about other people and while she fought causes publicly she also did silent work with friends individually that you wouldn't have known about."

Claudine Sheils has been friends with Ms Toland since the pair went to nursery school together and they represented Northern Ireland in a woman's football team during their youth.

She said: "We are totally devastated by Susannah's death - not just the gay community - the whole community because Susannah was a friend to everybody.

"I have known Susannah since we were nursery school age.

"We went to nursery, primary and secondary school and then we played football together for the Long Tower Youth Club.

"In 1991 the Long Tower Youth Club team won the Northern Ireland five-a-side championships which took us to Luton for the UK Finals.

"We also played for Derry City Ladies and for LGBT team, the Maiden City Ladies, here in Derry. Susannah was was a decent footballer.

"It will take some getting used to her not being here.

"I will miss so much not being able to go for a pint with her, not being able to play football with her.

"It is the little things that become big things."

Sha Gillespie from Foyle Pride also paid tribute to the popular Derry woman on behalf of the group.

In a statement the group said: "It's with a very heavy heart we learn of the passing of our sister Susannah Toland.

"Susannah has been an active member of the LGBTQ+ community for many years in Derry.

"As a young black queer woman when the movement was very much in its infancy in the city Susannah was one of the first people who had the courage and determination to be who she was, advocating and leading the way for others to have the strength to do the same.

"Susannah always had so much to give others and her kind and caring nature was infectious to us all.

"This is massive loss to the LGBTQ+ community and the city."

Anyone who wishes to contribute to the crowdfunding page set up by Kathleen Bradley can do so by going to justgiving.com and searching for susannahtoland

Belfast Telegraph