I asked four people from different generations, genders and geographies to share why LGBTQI+ community spaces were important to them. I was touched by the authenticity and rawness of their responses and inspired by forward-looking heartfelt determination. In spite of the clear differences between respondees, each answer echoes and resonates with the others and together they tell a story. Here is what they said.
‘I came to Ireland in 2015, 18 years old and ready to explore Cork. At the time I had been out and proud for four years and been to a few prides in Germany. Yet, I had never really met another out-queer person face to face. Seeing as I was an Au Pair, I didn’t have much opportunity to make Irish friends let alone meet other queer people. This changed when I found the UP Cork LGBTI+ Youth Group online. Suddenly I was surrounded by people with similar experiences to me. For just for two hours a week I felt understood in a way that even my closest friends back in Germany could not offer me. Now, twice a week I get to join a diverse group of young people in the Gay Project and in LINC to just hang out, have workshops on everything from sex ed to movie nights or healthy cooking and generally be young and queer. The community space in the Gay Project allows us to be ourselves outside of the judging eyes of our peers and teachers, and to feel a certain pride in being out and proud. Talking to older members of the community and seeing all that can be done is encouraging and motivates us to keep pushing. This why it’s important to provide spaces like the Gay Project in Cork and many more spaces like it are needed across Ireland.’
John & Bruce
‘The Gay Project is a welcome reimagining of the needs and services of the Cork gay community. The victories of the Marriage Equality and Repeal have shown the power of leading the politicians where the people want them to go. The loss of the Other Place is sad but allows us to look to the future for a community centre that can permanently serve our needs. We are pleased to see so much innovation and energy at the Project with activities and outreach to many groups that are neglected and hard to reach in our community. We have attended many good workshops, launches and fundraisers here at the Project since its reformulation. The attempts to connect the community with resources of the state and many private agencies seem extensive and are yielding results. We were greatly helped when we arrived to live in Cork a dozen years ago, by some of the staff and contacts we made when we first went to the Other Place. It is wrong to think we’ve come “far enough” that we don’t need well organised efforts in our community to push the continuing barriers and indignity aside. The Board and enthusiastic staff and volunteers are creating a safe and stimulating environment for the gathering of our wide LGBT+ family.’
‘I write this on the eve of going to a week-long event where no one knows me and I most likely will be the only trans person. It’s scary and I am very nervous while people can be kind they’re also often misinformed. I often find myself in these scenarios where I am thrust into the position of the educator. I become everyone source of knowledge to do with anything around gender identity. While I am happy to do this in a professional situation it can get frustrating when it’s in a social situation. In these interactions I know I have to be courteous, the trans person with the endless patience of others people’s ignorance. Cos I know if I’m ever annoyed or short with somebody it will not reflect badly just on me but on the trans community as a whole. This is a roll that can be quite exhausting. Sometimes I wonder if people even get to actually know me as a person beyond my gender identity. Funny enough the only places where I feel like I am just myself are in trans and non-binary spaces. There is that shared understanding of what it’s like to be us, where I don’t have to be the perfect trans person and I can just feel myself warts and all. It’s one of the few spaces where I don’t have to argue why my existence is valid.’
‘I must confess that it annoys me a lot when I hear people say that there is no longer a need for queer spaces or communities, due to recent progressive legislation and positive LGBT+ representations in society. It is amazing seeing egalitarian societal structures being set up for Irish LGBT+ people at such a fast pace. However, coming from Denmark where gay marriage, legislation protecting LGBT+ individuals and public acceptance of gay people have existed for a longer time, every week I am reminded that there are a lot of things we need to improve – all over Western Europe and at the most basic levels. That also requires a shared effort and active participation in making our local LGBT+ communities better. I volunteer at Frontrunners Cork dealing with registrations and promotional material, and as a LGBT+ helpline supporter at LGBT Ireland. Both roles are personally rewarding in so many ways; yielding new friendships, expanding my network, getting new knowledge and making me feel as an active part of the city. I think we will need to have local gay communities for a long time into the future and active members of such communities who make sure that there are safe and friendly spaces to get support and to socialise in. I am grateful to be part of such community initiatives, and hopefully one day, I may look back at what we as a community did for an easier future.’
There is much that can be learned from reading such powerful narratives both for us within the LGBT+ communities and our allies. Within the theme of space/place what is evident is the experience of belonging and authenticity referred to with some even pointing out how there are few other places where they can truly be themselves. Equally the importance of participation and contribution equally shone through in all of the testimonies within the language of ‘keep pushing’ and even expressions of gratitude for their ability to contribute. Moreover, many of the participants reported their experience of migrating from other countries or other cities/towns and the experience of welcome they receive. Importantly this feeling stretched beyond the dedicated rooms where these interactions occur and speak to the role of the ‘City of Sanctuary’ in providing this broader welcoming experience. ]
However, it is clear that we are not to become complacent. Perhaps most important and inspiring of all is the clear statement that there is still a long way to go which came through in all of the testimonies. For example, there is an ever growing need for a dedicated LGBT Community Hub in Cork so that these communities may continue to thrive and flourish. Indeed, all of the testimonies spoke about the work that is left to do within the language of ‘pushing barriers’; the experience of being ‘thrust’ into unfriendly spaces/places and circumstances and the extensive work that remains to improve this; the expression of a need for more ‘spaces like the Gay Project’ and even the combatting of the narrative that all of the work is done as is so eloquently pointed out in three of the stories. We see this as further evidence of the drive and passion that exists within the LGBT Communities in Cork and the importance of looking forwards toward the creation of new community spaces.