We are currently upgrading the back end of GayCork.com, and hence the general website content is being redrafted.
The following is what people said when asked the question: “So how has GayCork.com affected / changed your life?”
I’ve met two incredibly smashing close friends through gaycork forums, and I’ve met a dozen others whom I’d gladly spend time with should I have the opportunity!
When I log into Gaycork.com, I find myself pressing the refresh button over and over and over again to see where a conversation is going or where an argument will end up.
Well I’ve only joined a few months ago and I love it. I am on the ‘scene’ in Cork approx 14 years and I’m only sorry that I didnt join the forum 5 years ago.
I found the love of my life by posting an ad on the gaycork.com classifieds, that was four years ago, I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have him.
It’s kept me in touch with Cork and it’s gay scene, a place I still find intimidating even now. I wonder if GayCork will result in less people needing to leave (Cork) to to find themselves as a LGBT person.
I’ve sought advice, given advice, confessed, listened, bitched, cried, laughed, cried with laughter, learned new things and different view points, had rows, made friends….
See here to read about more about people’s experiences of GayCork.com.
Peter Kelly a former Cork Councillor who now lives in New Zealand tells the us how being gay has affected his political life, and why he feels his visibility as a gay man is important.
By the age of 12 I had decided that when I finished school I was going into politics. As a naive teenager no one was going to rain on my parade – I was going to leave school and become a politician.
As I began to discover that there was a little bit more to this politics thing, I also began to be aware that I was different. It took me a few years to put a name on it or for that matter to even have cause to worry or be concerned about it, but by the time I was getting around to doing my Leaving Certificate I knew very firmly that I was gay.
It’s often said that being gay in 80s Ireland is very different than being gay as a teenager today. I suspect that all that is relative. It’s very hard to explain what goes on in your head, but society breeds you to be straight and when you realise you’re not, your whole world is turned upside down.
In many ways, I have been lucky in life. Despite feeling the oppression of a straight society, I have never been attacked or beaten because of who I am. Much has happened in the last 11 years. The European Court finally forced Ireland to decriminalise homosexuality in 1993. I was 25 and had met my now husband two years previously. Since that time, reforms of our Domestic Violence Legislation and the Equal Status Act have strengthened the equality structure within our society.
But it is still legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in Ireland. Our relationships are not recognised by this state. If I was dying tomorrow – aside from the tax burden that would be faced by my partner – he has no rights under the law. He is not entitled to be with me in the hospital. He has no say over my funeral arrangements and my family could contest any of my will provisions in court and be expected to win.
Discrimination is a fact of daily life for many gay people. Despite legislative support, getting compensation for being fired or discriminated against because you are gay is not the same as being protected and cherished as an equal under the law. Equality is not some noble ideal for other people to worry about. The very fabric of our democracy is defined by its level of tolerance, its support for diversity and its acknowledgement and celebration of difference.
Equality is not about special rights for certain groups. Equality is about the same basic human rights for everyone, whether you’re gay, or straight, male or female, black or white, able or disabled, married or single. Diversity is part of the strength of our community and it needs to be encouraged and nurtured. Compromise is something to consider when you are managing a budget or planning a road, but not when it comes to fundamental human rights.
If you fall in love with somebody who happens to be the same sex, the reality in Ireland today is that you have many fewer rights. Gay people are the last group of people against whom it is legal to discriminate. I believe that all people are created equal. Therefore they should be equal in the eyes of the law. That’s why I continue to highlight inequity and to campaign for equality. This is not just about gay issues – it’s my commitment as a politician to human rights. In my book every single person should have the same right to equality and justice under the law as everyone else.
Whether we like it or not one of the most important roles of any politician is to provide leadership. I believe that we deserve leadership that will appeal to the best in our natures, rather than pandering to the worst in us. I am tired of our country being divided by race, by economic status, by gender and by sexual orientation. This is not the Ireland I was taught to believe in. There is so much that we can accomplish if we are united as one national community. I am tired of a society that blames the problems of Ireland on one group or another, be it low-income people, minorities, gays and lesbians, disabled people, women, immigrants or any other easily scapegoated “them”. I want to see an Ireland where there is no them, only us.
I have no idea what it’s like to grow up in Ireland as a woman, as a non-national, as a disabled person or as a member of the Travelling community. But being gay I can understand the struggles and intolerance experienced by all these groups.
I’ve been through the frustration of a society that instructs you to be something you’re not. Instead of yielding to it, I have embraced that struggle and brought from it the tolerance and understanding that I bring to my work as a politician.
My visibility is a powerful weapon against those who would rather that gay people remain silent and invisible. In a post decriminalisation era, I often wonder how many people really appreciate the symbolism of this visibility. Because many of us can be invisible if we choose, standing up for equality offers gay people a unique opportunity to display our diversity, to show the public, and each other who we are.
The establishment of the Equality Authority was an important landmark change in the equality agenda in Ireland. I was privileged to serve on its advisory committee on Gay, Lesbian & Bi-Sexual Equality. Our report, Implementing equality for Lesbians, Gays & Bi-Sexuals in Ireland is a blueprint for the many areas in which discrimination in Ireland needs to be tackled. The Government signed up to implementing this report as part of the Programme for Prosperity & Fairness, which has come and gone and our blueprint for equality remains on the shelf.
For me, fighting for equality as a politician has been all about who I am. Instead of choosing between being gay or being a politician I have embraced both. It has given me experience and understanding that I don’t think I would ever have learned if I had grown up straight.
In March, 1991, I met and fell in love with the most amazing man in the world. His Hot Press personal ad, followed by my reply, lead to an awkward telephone call at half time during an Arsenal match and a first meeting two nights later.
A Supreme Court case in Ontario, Canada in 2003 ruled that marriage should be available to everyone regardless of gender. British Colombia moved quickly to update its laws to reflect this supreme court ruling and On December 30th 2003, we married in a small private ceremony on a farm in Mission, British Columbia. As one of only two out gay politicians in Ireland, many ordinary things I do in my life are seen as breaking new ground for equality and for society.
True equality will someday mean that I can marry my husband without anyone in the media or in the general public batting an eye lid and I intend to live to see that day.
We talk to Rita Wild, former co-ordinator of L.Inc, about the role of the centre and the issues faced by lesbians and bisexual women in Cork.
Rita Wild took up her position as co-ordinator of L.Inc, Ireland’s only lesbian centre, in early 2002. Originally from the North, she lived in East Cork whilst in L.Inc.
Friendly and articulate in conversation, her commitment to ensuring equality for all is ever-apparent. This, after all, is the woman who was instrumental in persuading Cork Corporation to officially recognize that at least 10% of Cork’s population is gay (as they do in the City Development Plan, 2001–2011), and to put in place measures to facilitate queers to participate fully in the life of their city.
It was there certainly before L.Inc, I think L.Inc is a product of it. So, for example, the Cork Women’s Fun Weekend, which is primarily a lesbian festival, although it’s open to all women, has been running since 1984. That’s the longest-running lesbian event in the world.
I think if you really look back historically, like the Fun Weekend and the women’s movement, and the kinda lesbian movement, would have begun at the Quay Co-op. There was a women’s space in the Quay Co-op. So because of the people involved with the Quay Co-op, the men and women involved with the Quay Co-op at the time were visionary enough to understand that for a lesbian community to develop, we had to provide a women’s space for that to happen, for that process to begin. They did that and out of that grew, really, the lesbian community in Cork, over twenty years. So L.Inc is a product of that, as opposed to starting it off itself.
And the lesbian history in Cork is only phenomenal. We’ve been organizing as a community for over 20 years. Originally the lesbians worked with the gay men in The Other Place, so that was kind of Cork’s gay project. But, you know, like the rest of the world, men and women found it difficult to work together, because their needs and priorities were different, and the resources were allocated different. So the lesbians seperated from The Other Place, Cairde Corcaí was the result of that, and then L.Inc grew out of Cairde Corcaí. So it was quite a painful separation. That now is history, and both organizations workly really closely, and do really well together.
So I’d that’s why, when you look at Cork compared to somewhere else, there are no lesbian organizations really, anywhere else in the country.
I guess it’s about different kinds of needs, really. What women want, and what men want are often very different. And there are quite often similarities in some ways. But mostly what we want is quite different. So women want the opportunity to hang out, to make friends and establish connections, in the way that women in the world generally do, so lesbians are no different. So, men want space to dance or drink or, you know, get a shag. So, I’d say that’s why it’s different, it’s not that one community is more skilled than the other community. They’re going with their own needs.
The Department of Justice made an amount of money available to women’s organizations, and organizations generally. L.Inc saw this as a very good opportunity to access funding. We were coming from an anti-homophobia, as opposed to anti-sexism base. So, we were successful in that application, and were awarded funding of €150, 000, over three years. That funding covers two salaries, but also programme costs.
The evolution of the groups would be an example of the approach we would take to community development. We tend to run seminars for specific groups and often those involved decide to carry on as an independent support group. For example, we ran a series of facilitated sessions for older lesbians, looking at health issues, family issues, retirement and pensions, facilitated by a lovely woman, Mary Lawlor. After the six facilitated sessions the group decided to carry on as an independent support group. So we provided space for them to meet, and we provided really anything they’d want. So, if they wanted to do assertiveness training, we’d get a trainer for them, but essentially, they’re a self-help group. Similiarly, the parents’ group, which is very active, was established by having a series of six seminars looking at lesbian parenting, and then the group decided to establish themselves as an independent group.
So that’s how we work, really. We don’t see ourselves in a maternalistic role, “Oh, look at the poor old lesbians, we give them what they need.” What we’re about is developing a community, where women can meet their own needs, so if L.Inc fell apart tomorrow, if there was no L.Inc anymore, these women would still be able to carry on supporting each other, so that’s kind of where we’re coming from. So we’re not building a powerbase, as much as trying to grow a community.
The Lesbian Line actually ran down during 2001, and it was left for one woman to carry, which is just impossible. So when I came into the post in February 2002, there wasn’t a lesbian line operating. So L.Inc prioritized the establishment of a lesbian line. So we trained 13 fabulous volunteers, who now operate a fairly successful lesbian line. There’s a rota, with two volunteers each week. So, they do it maybe once a month, every six weeks. They have a once a month meeting, where they draw up the rota, and discuss any business, and analyse kinds of calls, which they then feed back to L.Inc, so that we’re aware what the needs out there are, as opposed to what we think they are.
What we’re finding, which is interesting, is that an awful lot of calls are from older women, who are either very, very closeted, or still in heterosexual relationships. Now, this isn’t what we anticipated, we were thinking that more younger women would be using the service, because that’s what historically you would have seen. So it seems that younger women are accessing the community through social outlets, through pubs, through the website—we’ve an awful lot of young women who use the website—but the people who need that confidential listening service are older women, who are isolated.
Ah, the website! The website’s brilliant, because it makes us look great! When L.Inc was operating out of two cardboard boxes, we had a fabulous website! So the world thought that L.Inc was this amazing organization, but it was really six women, a couple of wains and two cardboard boxes. That’s a real positive aspect of the website, because it’s a very cost-effective way to raise the profile of the organization, and allow hundreds of women access to information, and to each other, without you having to pay rent.
The website was the brainchild of a number of women, but spearheaded by Petra Stone, who’s a graphic designer. She worked with a number of women, and put the website together. Petra now runs it on a voluntary basis. Now, that can be a bit ad hoc, because if she’s really busy with her other work, our website can stagnate a bit. It’s an issue for us, because, it’s like, do we need a paid worker? Because the website is so popular, and it’d be awful if it wasn’t there.
Yeah, a significant number of people for a couple of reasons. Some younger women can’t come to the centre, because they’re not out to their parents. If you’re fifteen, you need an excuse to go into town at night. You can’t say “Mammy and Daddy, I’m going to the lesbian centre!”, y’know? Well, you could, but they might not be crazy about the idea…
That also has issues for us with child protection. Y’know, is this a suitable environment for a fifteen-year-old? That’s a question which we would ask, and no, it isn’t always, because quite often, it’s an adult environment. Without being patronizing, children need different things than adults, and they don’t need to be in an environment that’s highly sexualized, alcolhol-related, and that kind of thing, so that is an issue for us. It’s an area we don’t do terribly well on, but that’s because of resources again. We don’t have the resources to do it properly, so rather than do it badly, and potentially damage the young people, we don’t do it at all. So, that would be one reason why website users don’t use the centre.
Another reason would be location, because a lot of our users are from outside of Cork. And another one would be fear. It can take an enormous amount of courage to walk into a lesbian centre. But again, we don’t feel it would be right for us to hide ourselves up a back alley, in order to accommodate that, because that has an impact then on women who are out. They may feel more marginalized than they already are. So again, that’s a choice that we made very consciously, that we’d have a street-front, ground-floor, visible premises. And that’s difficult for some women.
Again, that’s one of the fabulous things that makes us look good. The magazine was produced from two cardboard boxes by sex lesbians and two wains. But because we had two graphic designers on board at that stage, it just looked fabulous. The thinking behind it was to provide a forum for discussion within the lesbian community. And also to just provide positive images and editorial around being a lesbian. And that was really because the mainstream gay press, again, is very male-orientated, and can be quite sexually explicit, so if you’re a lesbian parent, for example, you’re not really going to want to have the GCN lying around on the coffee table, for your six-year-old to go “Mammy, what’s that man doing?!” So there was a need there for some sort of publication that was more representative of what lesbian life looks like, so you know lentils and open-toed sandals and that kind of thing [laughs].
There’s a magazine group, with a total of maybe 12 active volunteers, and they split themselves into two, so it’s six women at a time that produce each issue. And within those groups, there’d be different skills. We’d have typesetting, layout skills, the graphic skills. We have one woman who’d get it ready for the printers, which really reduces the costs of producing it. And a significant amount of it is done through email, and the website, so getting the articles in and all that kind of stuff. So the electronic media that we have is very important.
We print 500 copies, which are distributed through our mailing list, which is a voluntary mailiing list, there’s about 350 women on it. And it’s also distributed through Loafers, The Other Place, The Quay Co-op and in L.Inc itself. Somebody said to me recently that it’s the only publication that the lesbians in Cork actually read from cover to cover. Which is quite amazing, really, every little bit gets read. And for each issue, we always have too much material. And other voluntary community magazines would always say that material is always a problem. But it’s never a problem for us, there’s always more than enough.
That’s a really interesting question, because we don’t actually have the figures, and again because lesbian parents are particularly invisible. So quite often, they’re living out their lives, waiting for their children to grow, so they can then come out. They may not be out to their families and the wider community, and they’re choosing not to be out, in order to protect their children. They’re making those choices because they feel it might be too difficult for their children if they were an out lesbian. If they’re living in, like, rural East Cork, that could be tricky enough for the kids, because they could be exposed to bullying and prejudice. So it’s a very difficult one to deal with.
What I can tell you is the L.Inc parents’ group, there’s about 25 of them, and if you look at our membership, which is about 350 people on our mailing list, then that’s less than 10%. But all the rest, including myself—I’ve got a 20-year-old daughter—so I don’t go to the parents’ group, but I’m still a lesbian parent. And there’s loads of other women who have grown-up kids. And there’s loads of women who haven’t come out before their kids were grown up. So I would hazard a guess and say it’s probably about 45%.
That’s really interesting, I mean that would be my own story, like I was completely out and bringing up a child, and I chose to send her to an independent school, because I could be out as a parent, and I felt that was important.
There’s a couple of issues, there’d be partnership rights. For example, I was away in England on a training course, and my daughter fell and cut her chin, and my partner, who was co-parenting, took her to the hospital, and she needed an anaesthetic. But my partner couldn’t give permission for that, because she wasn’t her biological parent, and she wasn’t related to the child by blood. So, that’s a real problem, because it endangers the children, that a parent can’t make decisions like that in an emergency situation. Parental rights should follow from partnership rights. Parental rights for non-biological parents is a major issue.
The second major issue would be education, and homophobia within the school system, so it’s a constant battle to get the school to take on board that you’re a real family. This isn’t a pretend family, this isn’t a one-parent family, this is a real and legitimate family—it’s just different from heterosexual families. So that’s a major and ongoing problem.
The third problem would be around health, and around the child’s health. There would be a view that a lesbian family is not a healthy family, which is of course, a pile of bollocks. You’re up against that with the health profession, so are you out? So if, for example, your child bangs its head off the wall, and you’re a lesbian parent, you’re less likely to take the child for psychiatric services, because you could be seen as the cause of the problem, which of course is a load of crap. The only cause of that would be a bad parent, and a bad parent could be a lesbian or a straight person.
This would also be held up by research. A child psychologist followed a number of families over 25 years from insemination, heterosexual and lesbian families. In the end he found that the children raised in the lesbian families were all-round higher achievers than the children from the straight families, were all-round more socially aware, were all-round more emotionally balanced, and generally were happier, healthier individuals.
That’s a really interesting question, and again I can only answer it anecdotally, because there aren’t the statistics to back it up. The experience of lesbians generally would be that at some point in their lives they would suffer from depression. That wouldn’t be the experience of the mainstream community in general. Now, it’s also not a bit of wonder they suffer depression, you know, you’d want to be super-human to be a lesbian in the world, and not have enormous battles on your hands, and have enormous stresses in your life which cause depression, similiarly to gay men. And I’d say gay men and lesbians would probably have similiar levels of depression. They wouldn’t have the same level of suicide as gay men, but again in the mainstream population, more men commit suicide than women anyway, so I think we just reflect society generally.
Homophobia generally in society affects women a wee bit more strongly than men. Lesbians are less visible than gay men, for example, and the reason for that is because it’s much more difficult for a woman in our society to be an independant actor in the world. Men are supposed to be independent actors in the world. It’s more difficult for a man to get the emotional support he might need because he’s pushed the other way, you know. So, for a woman, the whole process of being out can be excruciating. It means that she’s not a mother, necessarily, that she doesn’t adhere to the standards of femininity that have been socialized into her, that maybe she looks different. It’s harder, really, to be a lesbian living in this world than it is to be a gay man. Now it’s hard to be a gay man too, but it’s just that harder for lesbians because of society’s structure.
Depression would certainly be something we would see as a major problem, because it’s very often unreported because a lesbian isn’t going to go to a doctor and say “I’m depressed because the world thinks I’m a pervert”. She may go to be treated for depression, but the reason for it will never be explicit, and if it was explicit, it wouldn’t necessarily be recognized by the doctor as a legitimate cause of depression. I’d love to see more research done, so we could speak about it from a more educated point or view, but certainly anecdotally, yes, it’s a problem, and it’s not being tackled.
I think isolation would be a major conflict, and that could be isolation within your own family, or isolation geographically from the lesbian community. I would say that family would be the major cause of depression for lesbians. Particularly for a women, it can be extremely hurtful to be rejected from your family network, your birth family, because we’re socialized as girls and women to be very much involved in that family structure. Young men are socialized to kind of go out from that more; women are socialized to replicate that. So to be cut off from that, or to be rejected by that can be particularly difficult for a woman.
However, the lesbian community kind of balances that a wee bit, because it provides women with the opportunity to have a family of choice, as opposed to a family of birth, that’s extremely supportive. A feature of lesbians would be that they’re very supportive of each other. Of course, there’s always begrudgers, but generally speaking they’d be extraordinarily supportive of each other’s endeavours. That’s a great medicine for depression.
Oh, that’s a really interesting question. Career-wise, most women wouldn’t be out at work, so they live very compartmentalized lives—this is also a cause of depression—and that would be the case pretty much across the board. So Cork wouldn’t be somewhere where it’s OK to be out at work, generally, it’d be easier in an area like Dublin. However, that’s changing.
In terms of being a lesbian about town, socially, Cork’s probably one of the easiest places to be a lesbian in Ireland. Cork is a city of blow-ins, it’s used to having a lot of people who aren’t from Cork, and that’s because it’s a port. There’s been a Jewish community in Cork for hundreds of years. It has a history of having a cosmopolitan flavour to it. You know yourself, walking around Cork, you see all sorts of people, and that’s normal. Whereas I was in Waterford recently, and everybody was going around with the best clothes on. I was wearing jeans and a big wooly jumper, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. So that’s another thing, people who look different are commonplace in Cork, regardless of your sexual orientation, so that makes it easier for lesbians, who generally look different to straight women—not all of the time, but generally.
Socially, probably the best place in the country to be a lesbian is Cork, there’s an awful lot of social activity. There’s Loafers, which has always had a space for women. That’s unusual, most gay bars cater for the big spenders, who are gay men, and they don’t cater for the lesbians. It looks more like a lesbian pub depending on which night you go in there, you know if you go in there on a Thursday night, flipping hell, if you’re a gay man it must be dreadful, you know?! And, we’re the only lesbian community resource centre in the country. Because of all these things, you’re less likely to encounter discrimination in Cork than elsewhere in the country.
Yes, poverty is a problem for lesbians, and again it reflects mainstream society. Poverty is a problem for women generally. And if you’re a lesbian parent, you’re one of the poorest members of society. Children are expensive wee buggers, so the vast bulk of your income goes into looking after your child. Any single parent will suffer from poverty. Lesbian single parents suffer a wee bit more because they are often isolated from their extended families, and from extended social networks, so they’re more marginalized. And if they don’t have an organization that can support them, they’re extremely marginalized.
The other factors for poverty amongst lesbians would be low educational attainment. That would be because many lesbians, including me, were or are aware of their sexual orientation at a young age, and feel isolated in the school environment. So school wasn’t a happy experience for me, because I felt different, and so I left early. I then returned to education as a mature student, but that was because I was fortunate enough to have a supportive family, who I was out to. But if you don’t have that, then the chances of you returning to education are slim. So, subsequently the kind of jobs you can get are limited, because a lot of jobs would want a minimum Leaving Cert, whereas a lot of lesbians would have left school prior to that.
The other factor would be the kind of jobs you can now do. Because if you’re out, there are certain places you just can’t go into, such as schools. Y’know, church schools arguing that homosexuality is contrary to their ethos. Childcare is another area, because there’s a potential for somebody saying you’re a pervert. So women can limit the fields they will enter, and that leads to poverty. Also, isolation from the extended family can result in poverty.
Lesbians with children can suffer marginalization, because again, without an organization like ours, their only social outlet would be pub/club culture, which often doesn’t suit them, with the issues of childcare and so on. So, lesbian parents can feel quite isolated, without resources like L.Inc.
Bisexual women—there’d still be a lot of biphobia in the community, so what we find is that bisexual women won’t come out as bisexual. They participate fully in the community, but they kinda keep quiet about being bisexual, because they don’t feel safe. They expect to be marginalized, and they expect to be discriminated against. The same way as a lesbian in a straight women’s organization might well be fully involved, but not out as a lesbian, for fear of discrimination. So we’re hoping to do something about that at L.Inc, we’re going to run a programme for bisexual women, to look at their needs.
Absolutely. There’d be a couple of reasons why. It can be very difficult to not fit in, and lesbian culture is distinct from heterosexual women’s culture. We look different, we sound different, we do different things, and quite often, all a woman wants is to fit in. She’s not interested in politics, she’s not interested in equality, she just wants to live her life. So she could find the lesbian community quite alienating, because there’s a perception that you have to be a certain way.
Now that of course is a pile of bollocks, you don’t have to be any way at all, and the diversity that exists at L.Inc, like everyone’s here, there’s just such a diversity, from the one end your very femme lipstick lesbian to your very butch lesbian, and they’re all having a good time, so it’s more perception. But fundamentally, it comes down to homophobia, and it’s internalized homophobia, so some women don’t wish to identify with the lesbian community because they’ve bought all the crap about lesbians: they’ve no sense of humour, they’re all vegetarians [laughs]. And essentially they’ve bought into that, they’re suffering from internalized homophobia, god love them.
World domination! The ultimate plan is world domination, we’re going to take over the world, and run it on an equal basis! Actually, the plan would be to consolidate the resource that’s here. We need to secure funding, and we need a bigger centre. We also want to really work harder on the links with the gay men’s community in Cork. And to meet the emerging needs, society has changed so much that we can’t anticipate what the needs of lesbians will be in the future. So we need to build an organization that will respond to the future needs of lesbians as opposed to what we anticipate those needs will be.
The overall vision would be to improve the quality of life for lesbians and their families.
We talk to Dave Roche, community development manager with the Cork Gay Project.
Dave Roche is a man with a mission. Since stepping into his shoes as the Community Development Manager down at the Cork Gay Project, he has made it his business to fight anti-gay discrimination.
“If I had to describe my job in one phrase, it would be ‘combatting homophobia’” says the affable Roche. “Most of my work is actually not with the gay community, but with the mainstream community.” This work includes liaising with Cork Corporation, educational groups and others in a bid to raise awareness of gay issues.
According to Roche, we are still living in a society that is fundamentally homophobic. “When straight people say to me ‘What’s Pride for? What are you marching for, you have your rights. How can you be proud to be gay, if you’re telling me you didn’t choose to be?’ I say, ‘I’m actually not proud to be gay, I’m really proud to survive being gay in this country.’”
Originally from Kanturk, Roche now lives near Macroom. Having studied Social Science in UCC, he worked in the restaurant industry for a number of years before getting involved with community development.
He is pragmatic when speaking of the reputation of the project amongst Cork’s gay community. “I’m aware that most of the people in Taboo and in Loafers would see us as irrelevant, really. They think they’re sorted and they don’t need a project, ‘What the fuck do they do, anyway, it’s all boring, political types.’ That sense of apathy is something that we have to tackle.”
The Cork Gay Project—the official title of which is the Cork Gay Community Development Co. Ltd.—is an umbrella company, and within that we have two distinct companies, one is the Community Development Project; the other is the Southern Gay Men’s Health Project. The Southern Gay Health Project is funded entirely almost by the Southern Health Board, and the main company is sponsored by the Department of Social Community Welfare, FÁS by and large, through a social economy scheme, which allows us to employ up to five people a year.
And we set up what’s called the Social Economy Enterprise, which is a community doing it for itself type thing. It’s the third way, between total socialism and collectivism and the state handing you everything and total capitalism, it’s somewhere in the middle, it’s kind of doing it for yourself.
Apart from the full-time staff, we have a very solid volunteer base, which has been one of the changes since we took position in October 2001, the increase in the solidness of the volunteer corps, y’know, because there’s no structure for them to plug into.
We have an addictions group, which is highly successful, called Live and Let Live, and that’s largely autonomous from the project. We facilitate it. Ideally from a community-development point of view, these groups should be facilitated to the point where they can be autonomous, and work away themselves, then I’ve done my job. And that was one that was already there, and easy to work with, I can take no credit for it, that was just a self-growing animal.
We started the Theatre Group, the Self-Development Group, and there’s a Gay Men’s Literature Discussion group and the Film Club. That’s something that I’m really passionate about, the arts, that side of it. I had a concept last year of introducing the Cork Gay Award, it will be a national prize, €1000, a trophy, plus automatic entry to the film festival for a film under 30 minutes with gay content. We can start doing workshops around video-making, and that kind of stuff, and draw youngfellas in as well for the actual productions of the films, actors, backstage, that kind of thing.
We’re starting a thing called the Rural Gay Men’s Network, and that is firstly for people who don’t have any contact with the scene in Cork, that may be because they don’t want any contact with the scene in Cork, or because they don’t have the resources, in other words they’re 17 and they can’t get up to the city on the weekend, what with explaining to their parents, being isolated, or transport is an issue, the last bus runs at 11: there are numerous reasons why people can’t get to a city or an established scene. So what we’ve decided to do is set up this group.
How we do it is, we identify a need through people coming to us, so we’re in the project Monday to Friday, 10 to 6, we get x amount of phone calls. For example, there was a huge interest in TVs, there was a big number of enquiries about a TV group. We set up a TV group, the TVs come in, you support them, you facilitate them, and then they get to a stage where they no longer need the group. These groups are all needs-identified. we don’t decide “this is what they need”. This is something we get from a response on the phones, on the net, by mail, anecdotally from other people, so that’s how all our groups emerge, you know, they’re largely driven by the community. The contradiction is, a lot of the community don’t even know what we do, where we are, y’know?
I find that’s a slight problem, in that people assume that because they’re in the bars and the clubs and they’re out, that that’s it, that’s what being gay is about. And often they don’t realize, because they’re damaged, we’re all damaged, if you’re gay in Ireland, you’re not undamaged. You kinda grow up in a society that told you since you were this height, that there’s something wrong with you, and not absorb some of it. We all have absorbed some of it. And no amount of self-development is going to get rid of that in a 10-week course, you know? There’ll be residues of it, internalized homophobia.
So people find the scene at 17 or 18, like we all did, I did it, and you assume that’s what being gay is about. And all of a sudden, that sense of what being gay is about, ie the scene, becomes an inordinately large part of your life. And often, the self gets left behind. You latch onto that for a sense of identity, because you need to belong to something, but what happens often is that the damage that needs to be addressed isn’t addressed at the appropriate time, and we get the people coming back later, d’you know?. They’ll do the scene, and often only come to the project after being on the scene for quite some while.
Or else, some of the other ones are coming through the net, the net has been a huge sort of source for us there. D’you know, even the other day, I had two 17-year-old schoolboys, and their teachers had told them to go looking for us on the net. So that’s working as well.
Yes, that sense of scene can be a problem. And I know a lot of people would resist that notion, but the experience does show, and it manifests itself in many ways. You often get inappropriate behaviour from 40-year-old men who’ve just come out, and they go through what we refer to unofficially as their ‘second puberty’. All of a sudden, they’re out, they belong, they’re accepted, and they often behave quite irrationally.
And there is evidence to suggest it’s a large sort of problem with alcohol and recreational drugs on the gay scene, and I think that’s largely because our scene is based around pubs and clubs, and sex. And there’s more to being gay than pubs, clubs and sex. Even though I know a lot of the people in Taboo and in Loafers would see us as old fogeys, “Ah, what the fuck are they on about?”, you know? But that’s the reality.
That arose through our involvement with Outlook, the film festival. And the reason we got involved with Outlook was that there was a lack of positive images or portrayals of gay life in any form of art. If you ever see a documentary called The Celluloid Closet, it’s about portrayals of gays and lesbians through cinema history, but invariably they die. And there was some kind of a moral tale there, and that goes right up to even Philadelphia. Some of them were positive, but a lot of them were quite negative. So we got involved, and we tried to source films from around Ireland, and around the world that would show positive portrayals of gay life.
Out of that, a group of lads decided, “wouldn’t it be nice if we had a gay theatre group?” The key people behind it were definitely Tony Doherty, David Gordon and myself, by and large. One or two people decided, let’s give it a bash, and put on one show, and see how it goes. We started off with Tony Walsh, and Bridie and all that set, and put together one panto. It was such a success. The drama itself was very good, and the acting was excellent, but that was almost secondary to the sense of having your own theatre group, and your own mini-theatre space, and that whole sense again of belonging, and it’s OK, if we want to skit at ourself, that’s fine. We’re actually talking about doing a serious series of plays, and taking them out into the Granary, the Cork Arts Theatre, and going outside of the project.
There’s a counsellor, Martin. But we also refer people to counsellors, we have a list of counsellors. But we do have a counsellor service ourselves, for people who only want to come to us, and then we’ll work with them until such time as they’re ready to move on. We do befriending, in other words, if you contact us, we will go and meet you somewhere. Since we launched our website (www.gayprojectcork.com), we’re getting a lot of contacts through the Internet, school lads particularly, isolated rural men.
Given the evidence that we would have from dealing with people, families are incredibly accepting at the end of the day. We have quite a few parents contacting the project, and their attitudes vary from “How will we cure him?” to “What can I do to facilitate this being easier for him?” And the vast majority fall in the latter half—most parents will ring up with positive statements and ask “Look, what can I do to make it easier for him to tell me? I know he’s gay, I know what he’s doing, I want to make it OK for him.” And that’s lovely to hear. So I believe that the vast majority of families will be accepting eventually.
There’s still a lot of evidence to say that a lot of young gay men are homeless, because they’re thrown out of the family home, or because there’s a perceived threat at home of a negative reaction from the parents, they leave anyway, and probably fall into other ways of life like prostitution. You’d probably see it more in larger cities like Dublin, I know there’s a problem with it in Derry at the moment.
In my opinion, the family ultimately will be accepting, by and large, you’ll always get exceptions, of course. But the evidence would still suggest that a lot of young people don’t even go that far, they’re expecting a negative reaction, so they just go off, leave home, move city. I mean, gay migration is a huge thing. Very few gay men stay in the town they’re born.
OK, first of all, we have married men who are separated and living with their gay partners. That’s one end of the spectrum. The other end of the spectrum is the married man who’s ringing the helpline once a week crying, and the only connection he has to a gay scene is that phone call once a week. In the middle are largely the people who come to the group, and these are the married men who haven’t told their wives they’re gay, by and large, a small percentage have, and are investigating if it’s possible to beyond their current existence with their wife and children. It seems to be a lot more difficult for married men with children, because they have all this negativity—it’s understandable—about how people are going to react to their sexuality.
A lot of these men are rural, they would have grown up in certain areas where there would be expectations on them to marry and have children. One of the most common things you hear on the phone is “I don’t want to lose all this”. When you break that down, they really mean they don’t want to lose that sense of security, belonging in their local community, the house, the wife, the kids, the car, the job. And there’s an assumption there that you can’t have all of this if you’re gay.
It’s easy for me saying with hindsight, well of course you can have the house, the car, even the kids, as a gay man, because I’ve done my journey, but for a lot of these men they’re just becoming to come out. And they range in age from early 20s right into the 60s. It’s very difficult to explain to a 60-year-old man who’s discovered he’s gay, how he’s going to have a life, when the scene won’t accept him as it is, because of the ageism on the scene.
That’s the whole concept of gay and grey. If you look at the way the scene is, it’s largely based around clubbing, socializing, sex and drink. And not every gay man over a certain age is comfortable being crushed into a bar, having the Eurovision blared at him by all these little twinkies in clingy tops—attractive as they are [laughs].
Also, when you get to a certain age in life, other things become interesting to you, you might discover that gardening is OK, or other pursuits, so that the scene doesn’t become that important. And hopefully your self-development has come on at such a stage, if you‘re out that long, you don’t need to be constantly linked in to a bar or club to feel you belong. You’ll also have built up a very strong network of friends, and you’ll find your needs are met elsewhere, not necessarily by the pubs and clubs.
Now, that’s the positive reasons why people don’t go, because they’re comfortable and they can move away. The negative reason is that the scene isn’t a very welcoming place if you’re above a certain age. It’s notoriously bad for body fascism, ageism. And if you’re looking at porn on the net, all of a sudden, older men are a fetish. To find an older man attractive is a fetish, which I think is hilarious. I thought a fetish was if you tied someone up and burned them with cigarettes, but no, apparently older men are a fetish!
Yes, if you’re growing up in any other society, if you’re in the GAA, if that’s your community of interest, or rugby, or if you’re a traveller, or if you’re black, you will have older men and women who you will learn from, there’ll be a certain amount of education passed down, you don’t get that on the gay scene. Groups form and re-form constantly, and there’s no sense of connection to what has gone before. And I think there’s a price to pay for that.
We’re constantly re-inventing the wheel. You have people ringing up and saying “Wouldn’t it be a great idea if we did this?”, and we’re saying, “We have that, we do that, you just never asked.” So there’s that constant sense of re-inventing the wheel, and there’s very little connection with the generation of gay men that have gone before you. I think that’s breaking down slightly now, but that’s largely because of the project. We’re becoming more visible. But I’m aware that most people on the scene would see us as irrelevant, really.
Well something we haven’t even begun to look at here in Ireland is ethnic minorities within the gay community. I think it’s largely because the scene is numerically small when you compare it to San Francisco, Holland, London, or even Dublin to a large degree. But there’s no obvious ethnic minorites in the gay scene in Cork, like you’d see in Dublin. And I also think there’s a tendency for marginalized groups to want to marginalize groups.
There’s a very good book called How the Irish Became White. When the Irish were at the bottom of the barrel in the States, it was very easy for them to put all the negativity on the newly-released, ex-slave black population—“Well, at least we’re white, lads”. So they stepped up one rung on the ladder, but they had to step on the freed slave population to get to that stage on the ladder. So there’s that concept of, like you’d see it I’m sure in London to a large degree, how the Asian community of gay men tend to mix largely with the Asian gay community. And you’ve derogatory terms like ‘rice queens’.
So, I think there’s a tendency when you’re marginalized or hurt to want to hurt, or to seem other, or better, yourself. It’s not justifiable, of course, but it’s also very understandable when you’ve been at the bottom of the barrel so long. It must be comforting to think that there’s somebody slightly worse off than yourself. So I think that’s an issue that’s going to have to be raised very shortly in Europe generally. We’re so busy trying to find inclusion for ourselves, that we often don’t inclusion-proof ourselves, we don’t say “Look, are we excluding anybody?”
The same could be said for disability. There’s no obvious large disability community in Cork, the one or two that are there are only notable because they’re the exception. And we’re obviously doing something wrong, we’re obviously missing something, and I know it’s a debate in Europe at the moment, but I don’t know how to answer that.
First of all, you’ve got to define what’s ‘coming out’. I think it’s often one of the most misused phrases. Some people argue that coming out is telling your friends and family, and society generally, that you’re gay. I think that’s the latter end of the process, I think you’re already out by then. I think coming out often involves the very slow and painful process of telling yourself.
I think telling other people is probably less difficult than telling yourself initally, even though a lot of gay men would deny that they had trouble telling themselves, because they’re so caught up in the rush to be out, that they often forget the negative things, the negative part of telling yourself, you know, because despite how out you are, or how positive you are, and I’m as out as bejesus, and for as long as bejesus, I still rememberthe little bits of me that did say on occasion, “Christ, wouldn’t it be much easier if I was straight?” And I think if you haven’t said that to yourself, then you’ve really missed something, you’ve just really skipped something.
Having said that, if I had to choose a time to come out, it would be now, at the start of the 21st century, because you have legal structures in place to protect you. We’ve had decriminalization 10 years ago now. A lot of people when you ask them now, 17-, 18-year-olds, don’t even realize it was criminalized, which I find absolutely fascinating. I think that’s a deeper issue there, and I think that’s another reason we have a problem with community development often, in a community of interest, as opposed to a geographical community, is that if you’re growing up in a geographical community, or another kind of minority, for instance if you’re in the North and you’re a Protestant or a Catholic, or you’re a traveller, you’ll have cultural references all the time to your group, you’ll have ballads around you struggle, you’ll have ballads around your history, your great heroes, the same with the travellers, the same with Africans or Asians. But when you’re gay, you’ve no references, you’re growing up in a house that’s primarily straight. Who was it said once, “We all live in the house of straight”?
So when you come out, you join a community, you join the scene, as it were, and that’s your reference then all of a sudden, and you’re in, you’re fine. But the 13-year-old who’s still at home, in school, and doesn’t know that you exist at all, has no references, so there’s all that kind of struggle. Every single gay man that comes out has to nearly re-invent himself, because there are no cultural references, and that’s a large part of our work, actually giving people a sense of reference, being visible, being out there in the media, being on the radio, being in the newspaper saying “Look, there are gay men in the city, there are approximately 12,000 in the county.” So, getting back to your original question, yes, it is much easier to come out now.
Again, we’re going to have to decide what’s gay culture. Is it the slightly sanitized, heterosexualized attempt at gay culture we’re getting at the moment, GI, those kind of magazines, which is basically straight culture, but just being sold with a gender bias. Or is gay culture the opposite extreme, chaining yourself to railings, looking for gay rights? Or is it somewhere in between? I think there has been a tendency in a lot of modern media to sanitize gay culture in a lot of ways, if it needed sanitizing, or to basically take heterosexual culture, and just give it a slight bent. Glossy magazines like GQ or Hello! or IT, GI tends to be like that.
So, you’ve to first of all decide what the gay culture is, and if it’s bopping away in a bar all night, and drinking Smirnoff Ice, then yes, it alienates me, for example. If it’s political flag-waving all the time, and being boring, and only eating brown rice and having intellectual dinner parties, then that alienates me as well [laughs]! I think that there’s a blend in the middle somewhere. If it’s all darkrooms and S&M clubs, that kind of stuff, then it would alienate me and other groups, and so on. I don’t think that there is a gay culture, there needs to be some kind of definition around it. There’s a plurality of gay men out there, the same as there is of any other men.
Yes. Although there’s legislation in place to protect gay men in the workplace, it doesn’t always have the desired effect, because of internalized homophobia and a broader sense of homophobia in the workplace. Gay men who don’t come out at work will invariably do very well, if they’re talented. In other words, they’ll reach the top of their profession because they haven’t come out. If they come out, invariably they won’t reach the top of their profession. Unless they’re in certain professions, if you’re in largely service-based professions such as hotels, catering, hairdressing, that kind of stuff where sexuality really isn’t an issue, you can do reasonably well. But there are certain profession—banking, insurance—where the evidence would suggest that by being an out gay man, or a lesbian, you will be discriminated against.
We do a joint workshop with L.Inc, training for professionals, and a large part of the workshop is giving identities to those participating. We’ll have an Asian woman, a fifteen-year-old gay man, a married gay man, an out gay man, a non-out gay man, a lesbian, a wheelchair user, a heterosexual white, middle-class man, all kinds of different identities. We stand them at the end of a big room and we ask them a list of questions, such as “Would it be easy to bring your partner to your school, or workplace Christmas dinner?”, “Would it be easy for you to run for public office?”, “Would it be easy to reach the top of your profession?” They take one step forward for each positive answer.
And invariably, there’s only two who will ever make it to the top. People start dropping off along the way, the travelling man would find it very difficult to socialize in a pub, or he’d find it difficult to be accepted in other situations, so all the questions are designed to knock you back, for instance the wheelchair-user would have difficulty getting into most nightclubs in the city. So the only two people who invariably make it to the top of the room are the middle-class, white, straight man and the gay man who’s not out. His actual sexuality wouldn’t be the barrier, it’s people knowing his sexuality is the barrier. That highlights to me very much how there is still a price to pay for being an out gay man.
The reason that the legislation isn’t kicking in is because people need to be facilitated to get to a stage where they’ve dealt with their own internalized homophobia and they’re confident enough to challenge the system. The work the travellers’ visibility group has been doing, and the work that the traveller community have been doing, have facilitated the travellers, and they’re actually now quite capable of getting up and using the discrimination laws, almost ad nauseum at the moment, but the number of gay men and lesbians taking up court cases is miniscule, and that’s largely internalized homophobia.
Is poverty prevalent within the gay community?
This is something that bugs the living shit out of me. I spent the last two days racing at Mallow, being very affluent, and being up in the box, and looking down with my binoculars and having lunch, it was all very civilized, and I got into a conversation with some people, and they were saying “But sure all gay men are comfortable, all gay men have homes and cars and jobs, beautiful interior decoration, and you’re always so neat”, and y’know, all this thing.
And there’s this perception in mainstream society that because gay men don’t have spouses or children that their disposable income is higher, that they’re much more affluent, etc, and that’s true for the minority who do reach the pinnacle of their professions, of course. There are professional gay men out there who do have a lot of money, and do have second homes, and drive beautiful cars, and have beautiful apartments.
But the vast majority of gay men are not the ones you see at racecourses or at the dinners or at the auctions in the gallery or up in Jury’s Ball. They’ll be the ones who are taking low-paid jobs, usually the black market. They’ll be in hairdressing jobs where they’ll have to train at abusive wages for 4 or 5 years. They’ll have to take jobs where their sexuality won’t be an issue at all, where it won’t even come up, so that usually means like, way out of third-level education, often out of even second-level education—they leave early because there’s a perceived threat of homophobia in school, so they fall into low-paid jobs.
The tip of the iceberg that we see, the politicos, the social gay men that we see are, of course, very comfortable, but there’s a huge poverty, and that’s only financial poverty, because poverty goes deeper than finances.
There’s cultural poverty—the lack of connection to any deep sense of culture. This total isolation that a lot of men feel. Traditional ways of measuring culture in this country are the indices—do you have a fridge, do you have one car, two cars, etc. They’re very systematic, the government use them, but that’s not really what poverty is all about. Poverty is about quality of life, it’s not always about money or finances, and that cultural poverty, that sense of not belonging, and of falling into low-paid jobs because you left school early, you left home early, you can’t go into certain professions because you perceive there will be blockages.
So there is a huge level of poverty within the gay community, but we often don’t see it. The people who can afford to go into The George and pay, what, €6 for a bottle of Bud, that’s only one section of the gay community, there’s so much more happening below, and for a lot of gay men, I know from listening to them on the phone with the helpline, the cost of spending one night on the scene in Cork is beyond their means. It’s horrendously expensive if you’re not from Cork, you’ve got to come up, pay for accommodation, pay the prices in the pubs and the clubs, it all becomes quite expensive.
There’s no doubt about that. There is evidence to suggest that suicide figures, for instance, would be largely influenced by gay men’s deaths. Even the suicide figures in this country are false, they’re tweaked. There’s that denial in Ireland, again it’s a leftover, a kickback to the Church, of suicide. So often suicides don’t even get reported as suicides, so the figures are completely unrealistic, I think. The real figures need to be reported.
Internalized homophobia. You can understand how people could be negative, or pick up negative vibes. If you’re watching television any night, from 5 o’clock until 11 o’clock at night, you’re constantly being fed straight, straight, straight. Open your newspaper, straight, look at every advertisement, straight. Everything around you, all the subtle hints, is straight, and you’re taking all this in, constantly.
So it’s impossible not to develop some kind of a self-hatred, now that’s the extreme end of it, but some kind of negative feelings about your sexuality. And unless you’re constantly aware of that, and you development is at such a stage where you can take it in, deal with it and dismiss it, it could become a very serious mental issue.
Often, if you look at the inappropriate lifestyles of a lot of young gay men, a lot of that can be linked back to low self-esteem. If you need to exist for two nights at the weekend out of your head, and if that is your life, and if that is what you perceive what being gay is about, then you obviously would have self-image issues, I would consider. I would actually say, quite clearly, there are self-esteem issues there. And I only know because I did it, it’s not as if I didn’t. I was the recreational drug user, we all go through that phase, that’s fine, but you need to stop at some stage and say “Why am i doing this?”
I suppose one thing that is needed above anything else, is an awareness within the community of what health is all about, and what being gay is all about, and not focusing on illness. We need to stop focusing on health as being about illness, and concentrate on health being about wellness. We need to take a much more holistic approach. It’s not just about your physicality, it’s about your spirituality, how you feel. It’s largely about how you feel about yourself, because once that’s right, everything else just falls into place, your behaviour changes, your whole thing changes. But it’s not an easy place to get to, I’m making it sound very easy, to get to like yourself is quite a difficult fucking journey. I’ve met people who are older than me, more experienced than me, who think they have it all sorted, but they haven’t.
When you think you have it all sorted, you really need to go back to the start again, because you’ve missed something. That awareness needs to come from the community itself, and I don’t mean professionally, and I don’t know how you’d facilitate this in any way, except maybe through peer groups, they need to start questioning “Why am I doing this? Why is my life two weekend nights that I can’t remember?” When I was 16 or 17, it was Slicks, and I did exactly that. Slicks was one of the gay bars.
It’s almost like the people that are out there in Taboo and Loafers and the club are halfways there already, they don’t really need much, it’ll come to them anyway naturally. It’s Johnny and Mary who are fucking living in Turrelton, he‘s playing GAA, he’s drinking too much at the weekend, he’s unhappy, he doesn’t know why, he doesn’t even know he’s gay but he is, they are the people I really want to get at. It’s the people that are out there in marriages, living halfway up mountains, playing GAA, drinking too much, being miserably unhappy, not knowing why they’re unhappy, they are the people I really think need to be targeted, and that’s this Rural Gay Men’s Network, I hope, is going to be a success.
No, there’s not enough. Again, you need to take a definition. By health, I’m saying everything, emotional, spiritual, I’m taking a real holistic approach to health, I’m not defining it down to antibiotics and drugs. Basically, before I begin to scratch the surface of health care and health prevention. A lot of the health prevention stuff that we take as given, like the Cork Gay Project, HIV Strategies in Dublin, the Gay Men’s Health Project in Dublin, they’re all crisis-driven. They arose directly out of the AIDS crisis of the ’80s. So they’re illness-orientated.
What health strategies have been doing up to now has been focusing in on behaviour problems, in other words, put on a condom, don’t drink too much, cut down on your Es. They’ve all been totally behaviour-focused. But the argument is that your behaviour comes directly out of your image of self, and that this is where we should be focusing. That’s where we’re starting to focus, but up to now, most health prevention, because it was crisis-driven, didn’t have time to say “OK, let’s tackle that. But if you do that, you effectively cut off an entire generation, and they’re lost, I’m not putting any effort into them, we need to tackle the next generation coming up. And that’s largely what we do in the project, I try to get into education, change school policies, that’s largely my job, it’s political, it’s not scene at all. So that’s where my job pays off.
Well, when we go into schools we’re only ever let go near the staff, we’re never let go near the pupils. We try to get them to challenge their homophobia. Progressive schools will invite you in, or youth workers or social workers will invite you in. I got a phone call the end of last year to know would I go out and talk to the Southside Education Network, a network made up of principals, vice-principals, chaplains, career-guidance counsellors, youth workers and social workers for the southside of the city. They meet on a regular basis to discuss issues that might be affecting education in their schools.
And I did this talk to the South Net, and they were looking at me as if I had two heads. First of all, how dare this gay man come in and lecture us professionals—forget the fact that I’m a professional myself, and I had as much academic qualifications, if not more, than most of them in the room, but I was a gay man, so I shouldn’t be lecturing them, there was a really bad resistance, and particularly from some of the older women, I found. So I was getting nowhere, and I was wasting my time with them for the whole afternoon, and I said “Ah, this is a total fucking waste of time”. And they just weren’t buying into the fact that homophobia was a big thing in their school. Again, there’s this huge denial thing, they don’t want to deal with it, they’re afraid to deal with it.
Well, at South Net I was losing them, we’d got up and had coffee, we were having a break, and of course it was a school, so we got scones and cakes, and I turned around and at the top of my voice, I shouted “NIGGER!” across the whole room. And outrage, how dare I, I couln’t use that word. So as soon as I got their attention, I said “Now, what’s the difference between that and ‘faggot’ or ‘queer’? How come you’ll react so violently if I shouted that across your schoolroom, or your schoolyard, but you’ll allow me say faggot or queer?” And then I had half of them in my pocket, the other half still didn’t get there.
But once we started talking about it, they did admit to me that it is used constantly in the schoolyard, that they’re afraid to challenge it, they can’t talk about it because the parents would come into them. One teacher told me that when she suggested having somebody from a gay project come in and describe what they do to sixth-years—these are young adults who are probably sexually active anyway—one parent said if you did that, he would pull his son out of school, he didn’t want his son to be taught to be a fucking queer. If you’re dealing with that level of negativity all the time, and I am when I go out to these places, the teachers are afraid to deal with it. The teachers that have tried to be progressive are labelled as being gay or lesbian themselves.
Schools have to take it on board, the Gay Project is at an inter-agency, you have the City Council, FÁS, Rapid, the VEC, Department of Health, and a few others, and we’re doing what’s called ‘equality-proofing’. We’re going into these agencies and the City Council is asking them “This is the law, this is the equality legislation, now what are you doing?” And if they don’t come up with adequate answers, they’re going to have to re-address their policies, and they’re going to have to come back, and we’ll be brought in at that stage then to help them with policy-forming.
There’s also the City Development Plan [2001–2011; a plan which puts in place measures to facilitate queers to participate fully in the life of their city], and it’s the first time it will happen in Ireland, in England, or anywhere like that. It’s quite a phenomenal piece of work, if we can keep going with it, with the resources we have. But the City are taking it on board now, at least. We will be in the schools. We’ve done Ashton, obviously, already, Midleton, more progressive schools. But I can’t see myself being up in Pres or Christians for quite a while.
Homophobic bullying is THE most prevalent form of bullying in schools, this is something that often shocks people, but it’s true. There’s a group called the Concerned Parents Against Bullying, set up by a group of parents, one of them lost a son who wasn’t gay, but he was perceived to be gay because he was a very gentle, soft, quiet lad, and he killed himself at 15. So this group set up, and 20% of their callers would experience racial abuse, 10% would experience size abuse, but 100% of the boys that called the line had been called ‘fag’ or ‘queer’ or ‘big girl’s blouse’. Not 99%, one hundred per cent. Now, it’s inconceivable that 100% of the lads ringing the line were gay, probably 10 or 12% of them were.
But getting back to the bullying, even if you take that half of them were gay, the figure is still shocking, that it’s the most commonly-used bullying tactic in schools. If you ask the small kids, 8 or 9, who are using “Shut up, ya queer“, ”Shut up, ya fag”, if you ask them what it is, they don‘t actually know, but they know that they’re dirty words. And I think that that’s really scary, so there‘s a negativity attached just to the word, before they ever realize what they’re talking about. We all do it, I often say still, if I’m not watching myself, “Shut up, ya girl”, and if you don’t challenge it at certain levels, it’s going to be problematic.
Third-level is notoriously homophobic. I did social science, and you’d expect there they’d be quite liberal. I was the only gay man in a class of 140. And I was there largely because I was a gay man, it was tokenistic, there was one lesbian there as well, it was very funny [laughs].
I did a thing at UCC for the LGB Society recently, a stand in the Boole Basement, it was part of their Pride thing, and I was a bit disturbed by their concept of LGB Pride. It was like, meetings half-eight, west wing, top-floor, it was very hidden, it wasn’t Pride at all to me. When I walked around the campus, there was no sign anywhere saying it was Gay Pride week, there was no flag, there was nothing to indicate it was Gay Pride week. There was a huge thing about Mícheál Martin and the smoking debate, that seemed to be huge, or there was some boat race for the rugby team that night in the Western Star, but nothing about Pride.
So, I did the stand anyway, and I took the Boole Basement, and I set it up there with a big, huge sign reading ‘Cork Gay Project’, like an almost-neon sign saying ‘Queer’. So I sat there for the day, and as you know, every 50 minutes the basement fills, they all sort of regurgitate out of the lecture rooms, and then they’re all gone again two minutes later. And nobody approached the stand, except two or three who thought I was part of the anti-war thing, so they wanted to sign a petition and two straight guys because I was giving out free condoms, and they were quite clear “We’re only here for the condoms”, and I told them “you’re quite welcome, take them”.
Not one person from the LGB Society came up to me. So I went for lunch in the main restaurant, and I met the entire LGB Society around one table, so I joined them obviously, and I said “Lads, a bit of support wouldn’t have gone astray, while I was on a coffee break, someone to mind the stand while I was gone to the loo”. And they almost unanimously told me that they couldn’t be out within college. And I found that very disturbing. They’re out in Loafers, they’re out in Taboo, but that’s not necessarily what being out is about. I didn’t blame any of them, because there would be negative consequences, I‘m sure, there are always negative consequences when you decide to do something which people perceive as other, or different. And you need to be prepared for that.
In my opinion, it’s probably one of the best places to be gay. As well as having a reasonably active commercial scene, there’s an awful lot more subculture structures going on than there is in Dublin. For instance, there’s a much stronger sense of community in Cork than there is in Dublin. You often have more options outside of a commercial scene in Cork than you would in Dublin even. L.Inc is extraordinary in its concept. We’re the only two really in the country [gay community development centres], there’s a place in Dundalk called Outcomers, but they’re at the stage where we were 20 years ago, where they meet once a month in someone’s sitting room.
In an ideal world, and this is totally aspirational, I’d like to see that I’d be out of a job in 5 years. Nobody ever needs to do this work again. Social workers should be working toward their own death, it’s not something you’re doing for a job. You need to be quite clear that it is your job, and not take it home, or else you’d fucking just lose it. So that’s an aspiration, that’s not going to happen of course, grand.
But what I would like to see in the next five years—I’d consider that long-term—I want partnership rights sorted out, and I want to be involved in that. But I’m quite clear that it’s not a gay issue. It’s a single person’s issue, it’s not just about gay people. Partnership rights are one of the battles we need to fight, in conjunction with the others. And with partnership rights automatically comes the adoption thing, but I’m not going to go into that, because that is so emotive, as soon as you start going into that, you get negativity into your face all the time. And that’s another thing about our job, you often have to be quite strategic. So that’s the long-term.
In the medium-term, in the next two years, is my dream of a fully-resourced community centre. My dream come true before I leave this job—and it will come true—would be to have a dedicated building, which would just be a community centre. It’ll be an accessible, properly resourced community centre, which would be very public and city centre, and it’ll be self-financing and viable. And there will be a cinema space, theatre space, art space, meeting space, coffee shop. It’ll have everything a community centre has, well probably more, because gay men can obviously do it slightly better!
I think we also need to build up a much larger sense of culture. By culture I mean gay art, gay drama, gay cinema, gay lifestyles, gay sexuality, everything. Gay men need to realize that there is a gay art out there, and it’s not all Tom of Finland, y’know? Now, Tom of Finland is great, I’m a great admirer of his, but it’s not all Tom of Finland, there‘s other aspects of gay art. There’s gay theatre, gay cinema, etc, etc. The planned new centre is a large part of that.
In the short-term, I think the biggest problem is the lack of connection that the project has with the out community. We’re of huge importance and influence on the non-out, most marginalized community, because they’re the people that use the project. Young gay men who are out don’t see the reason for the project. You could walk into Taboo tonight and ask them “Was it easy to come out?” They’ll all say yeah, or they’ll all have reasonably positive things to say, they don’t see what the project has to offer them.
Because they’ve been so marginalized for so long, there’s a sense of powerlessness, “Sure why would I get involved in politics, we can do nothing.” And that’s not the case. There are people who have been working in the political arena for quite some time, and getting stuff done. Ireland went from being really bad on law to being one of the most progressive, on paper, in Europe. That sense of apathy, that needs to be gotten over, and people need to interact more with the project, and direct the project more. Come in and say “Look, I really think there’s a need for a left-legged, black, transvestite group.” Well, great, I can do that, but they need to come in and demand it.
The indispensable GayCork.com guide to the most notable queer Corkonians.
Of Anglo-Irish descent, Bowen spent much of her life at Bowen’s Court, the family home, situated between Mallow and Fermoy. She achieved literary success at an early age, and led an extremely active social life. Her novels include ‘The Death of the Heart’ and ‘The Heat of the Day’.
(we’re guessing about 1980—), entertainer
A previous winner of Alternative Miss Cork, Fabula is widely regarded as being Cork’s First Lady. She has publicly declared that her heart will be always rest by the banks of her own “wino-festooned, pea-green Lee”.
Cork Councillor Kelly (Fine Gael) is one of the few openly gay politicians in Ireland and has campaigned for the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.
Danny La Rue
One of the most popular and successful drag queens ever, Danny La Rue was born Daniel Carroll in Cork in 1927. His family having moved to England when he was nine, Danny started his acting career during the war. He subsequently went on to star in a number of phenomenally successful West End shows, including ‘Come Spy With Me’ and ‘At the Palace’. Besides working in television and pantomime, he has also toured the world with his act. Noël Coward called him “The most professional, the most witty…and the most utterly charming man in the business”.
(1963—), TV presenter/comedian
Graham grew up in Bandon, where he claimed he only ever “watched television and…went to school”. He later studied Arts at UCC before decamping to London, where he gradually developed a stand-up comedy routine. This eventually led to his own chat show on Channel 4 and subsequent nationwide celebrity.
Edith Somerville and Martin Ross (Violet Martin)
(1858–1915; 1862–1915), writers
Having been brought up in West Cork (Somerville) and Galway (Ross), these second cousins didn’t meet until they were both in their twenties. They subsequently became lovers and literary partners, sharing a house in Castletownshend. Collaborating on a series of works about the Irish gentry, they found widespread acclaim, and novels such as ‘The Real Charlotte’ were well received at the time. Their fame now chiefly rests on the ‘Irish RM’ stories, which were made into a television series in the 1980s.
Louise Walsh (not Louis Walsh!)
Born and bred in Cork, Louise studied art at the Crawford School of Art and at the University of Ulster. Her work—mostly sculpture—has been exhibited widely and she has worked as artist-in-residence in several art centres and galleries.
Although she’s actually straight, Gaye earns her place on this list due to her comic novels ‘Mind that, ’tis My Brother’ and its sequel ‘Turtles all the Way Down’, both set against the backdrop of Cork’s gay scene.
In 2007 GCN had a small article about the 5th Anniversary of GayCork.com – though in the print edition they said 10 years by accident!
5 Years of Gay Cork
“It has helped open up my own idea of my sexuality. At the beginning I was very closedminded and now I think I’ve dealt with a lot of the internalised homophobia I used to carry about with me by sharing in the experiences, and acknowledging the opinions, of others.”
So says (Little)Timmy, one of the hundreds of members of the forums on gaycork.com, and he’s just one of many people who have found the same kind of self-affirmation from the website, which is an amazing five years old this month.
“There was nothing much on the web for Irish gay people when I set gaycork.com up,” says JP, founder of the incredibly popular site, “and certainly nothing for gay people in Cork!”
“The site hosted the very first gay forums in Ireland and became a template for the way gay websites have developed here afterwards. Gaycork.com was a precurser for the style of a lot of them. Chris Fildes at queerid.com spoke to me extensively before launching that site, and it was originally based on the gaycork.com model.”
In the five years since gaycork.com launched, Jonathan has seen major change in his native city for gay and lesbian people, and he believes the site has been integral to that evolution. “It’s allowed more people to come out and communities to form,” he says. “It’s affected people’s lives; several people have met their partners through gaycork.com. There’s a social life built up around it, we have regular meet-ups. We go to the cinema, for a meal, to the bars.
“It’s the best gay resource for Cork. People who don’t live in the south log on and are amazed by the level of entertainment and things to do for gay people in Cork.
“Currently, you can find a bustling gay classifieds section on gaycork.com, which is probably the second busiest in Ireland, next to Gaire; the forums are very active – people discuss everything there, from politics to celebrity gossip, to the Alternative Miss Ireland. There are regular columns and features and a directory of what’s on in Cork and beyond.” Although Jonathan’s commitment to the site has made it flourish over the years, he’s eager to pay tribute to the work of other people.
“Everyone who works on the site does so voluntarily,” he says, “and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for the work they’ve put in. The site wouldn’t be what it is without them.”
Visit www.gaycork.com for everything you need to know about the queer scene in the People’s Republic of Cork
Denis Clifford -whom was one of the original founders of GayCork.com – sadly passed away in June 2008.
Denis was a man of many talents, ranging from graphic design to journalism which proved to be his greatest passion in life.
In 2001, he was of of the founding members of CIT LGB which helped many students come to terms with their sexuality. In 2002 he was instrumental in the setting up of GayCork.com by designing the first version of this website and its logo. He also wrote a few articles, which remain on this website to this day.
After GayCork.com he went on to UCC to study arts and served as the editor of the UCC Express for one year. After that he was a freelance journalist writing many pieces, such as this one for the Irish Times.
The last time I saw Denis was over the pride weekend in June 2008. He was just back from travelling around the world and we had a great time catching up. However little did I know at that time, that he would be taken away from this world a week later.
Denis, may you rest in peace. x
GayCork.com caught up with Richard to hear all about the latest Cork made gay film.
Interview by dermographik
Tell us about the new film.
With ‘Take a Chance on me’ we just shot it, it was totally unscripted, and it was done by people from the scene and by the LGB from UCC as well. We just said we will give it a shot and play it in January, one showing only. Since then people were interested in it and kept coming back to us and asking us, when are ye doing the next film? So we decided to go and do it more professionally this year.
It went back to last May where we came up with a story-line. We asked people would they be interested in writing a dialogue for the film. We sat down for four months from May to early September. We developed the story and the dialogue giving each person who was writing a different character to write for.
Are ye using the same cast again for ‘Genuine Deception’?
Part of the cast are similar, one or two actors from last years film. We actually had open auditions this year and they didn’t need to have acting experience. All they needed was to have an interest in the subject matter of the film and have an interest in running this project.
What we have improved on this year, is that we have gone fully professional with all the equipment we are using. We have also added in professional lighting and professional sound.
Last years ‘Take A Chance on Me’ was all improv. acting, what is the story in this film and what can we expect from it?
Last year we had a story and we knew what the story was going to be about, we knew the start, the middle and the end. But what we didn’t know what each person within that story was going to say to each other.
This year every word in the film is scripted so the actors have a lot easier job and it looks a lot more effective as well. The humour is very very high in this film.
The general story line in this years film is that, it’s about 2 friends trying to find out which is more important, friendship or relationships. Basically what happens is two guys meet this one guy and I can’t tell you an awful lot more what happens in between this, but it is really funny and it is very humorous.
I am sure a lot of people you know who are out on the scene or whatever, can identify with what happens in it.
Okay it’s probably more dramatic than what actually happens or in some cases maybe not as dramatic as the Cork scene (laughs). It’s a good laugh. Some scenes are serious but for all for all intents and purposes it is comedy and is very funny.
What inspired you to make ‘Genuine Deception’ and ‘Take a Chance on Me’?
Basically, looking around within my own friends and the people I know is what inspired this film. Anybody who knows the gay scene or who goes out on it will know that it is definitely not ordinary, it’s fairly extraordinary. Especially in Cork as we have our own unique style and humour in how we live our lives and I wanted to capture that.
The inspiration would hugely come from the fact that for gay people and our friends, every time we meet, is in bars and clubs. It was good to do something constructive with our time and like I said these people are talented, so what better to do than go away make a film you can look back at in years and be proud of.
One of the things we got going hugely for this film is that we have an original song that’s written and performed by Karl Fradgely. He has given us permission to use his song in the film and he is also acting in the film. He is playing himself and he is supposed to be a famous popstar who the characters go to see. We recorded Karl live in Jurys hotel singing acappella on a piano. The song itself is really really good.
Also this year we are not just doing it for the gay community but we are doing it for the Cork Film festival as well. We hope to have it accepted for next years Cork film festival.
Definitely not actor (laughs). The job I do in this film and in the last film is a director. So basically everybody else on the film is talented, what I do is that I put these talents together, make sure they work together properly and organise the right people to write it. Also I decide on the dialogue, what stays in and what stays out. Then I direct it.
Basically most of these guys live what’s happening in the film. So sometimes there is not a whole lot of direction involved.
One character in the film is called Kelly Clitoris who is a drag queen and Kelly’s story-line is when she hears country music she is off! I won’t say what she is off doing but you can use your imagination. Her story-line is very strong.
The cast generally knew when they got a script in front of them and they knew how to take on these roles because we see these characters every day.
What training/background do you have?
I produced video for about seven years. So my background is in production but I have a guy Sean doing production in this and he is really good. He knows exactly what to do, both of us can link very well. I can tell him what I want and he interprets it on video.
How are you going to fund and distribute the film?
Money is always a problem. Last year we made a film out of nothing. This year what we are doing is funding it through quizzes. Also we have two main sponsors Loafers bar in Douglas St and the Cork Gay Project.
The funding goes so far as we can produce it but after this you can have huge problems. Say if you use any piece of music in the film, you have to pay copyright for it. You are looking at €18,000 to €19,000 just to pay for copyright.
We might get away with that for something like the Film Festival. Where it is members only and it is not shown to the general public. So we are hoping we can get over that stumbling block.
We also plan to take it around to all of the gay prides like Dublin, Waterford and Galway and everywhere else. That’s our plan. Ultimately what we want to do is show people that we are doing this and they will hopefully be influenced and start there own film. In years to come it will develop.
It gives people other outlets to meet with people to spend time with people other than just the gay bars and gay clubs. To get out of that routine and do something constructive. As a community we don’t have many social clubs, we don’t have soccer teams that go on all the time. You need to do something constructive rather than sit in bars all the time. And gay people tend to be very colourful and artistic so why not do something that uses this constructively.
Going back to my purpose I basically just organise these guys. These guys have the talent and I just put them together and make sure they come up with something good at the end of the day.
So you can be likened to a pop svengali like Louis Walsh but with film?
I wouldn’t be so brave to say it (laughs).
Do you think Cork is a good place to be gay at the moment? If so, do you think it will come across in the new film?
It is definitely getting better. But I think if you ask anybody to describe what the scene is!. They will say the night club or the two bars and there is very little outside of that for people at the moment it, and we do hope this will inspire people to go on, it doesn’t have to be film it can be anything, to do something constructive and to do something you can measure at the end of the year and be proud of rather than to say that you have gone out X amount of time during the year and drank so many pints.
It needs to have another social side of it. I think one of the major problems is that we don’t seem to organise ourselves as a community. We are all in our own little pockets and groups. We don’t seem to network among each other and instead stay within our own six or seven people. The LGB is the only thing that I think that are doing a real lot for young gay people in Cork. They network quite well and they tend to have a lot of social events and go bowling. I think if we as a community could mirror that, then we would be doing a fantastic job. But it has not happened yet.
Do you want pursue a career in film?
Last years film was a bit of fun, it was a good effort by all of us who were only learning what to do. This years film you can’t compare the two because it is done a lot more professionally. It is structured that this project will continue years to come given that people will continue it. Myself Sean the producer are intending in doing shorts from now on.
So yeah maybe if it works, then yeah we will be delighted.
Does the film deal with a lot of gay issues?
Genuine Deception is not driven by gay issues. It is normalizing what people do on the scene rather than saying I have got a fierce problem with this. It is showing you just as you would in a straight film. This is our life and we have the same problems everyone else, so let’s get on with it. Last year was about Coming Out and people coming up from the country for the first time. This is different, it is about a group of friends. It is a film done by gay people and it is about a gay scene but it is not about gay issues at all.
We now need to normalize things and carry on the same as everyone else. We have the same hopes and aspirations as straight people. That’s the way we should be seen.
What are the locations in this film?
If you look at last years film. Basically what we have is a camera on a tripod inside an apartment and people put in front of the camera and told talk. That sums up what we did last year. That’s not taking from what the lads did last year, they put an awful lot of work and effort into it. This year’s is much different. We have used places like Jurys hotel there is a lot more outdoor stuff. Fitzgeralds Park is taken a few times.
No definitely not! (laughs) it is not that type of film. We have two or three houses. Loafers is in it as it is one of or sponsors. We didn’t actively go out looking or sponsorship this year but fair deuce to the Loafers management as they came to us and offered it. So we need to repay that by showing more of the bar. We are shooting in Taboo, The Other Place, a pizzeria in town and we are planning to shoot in West Cork as well. It moves very fast, people will definitely enjoy it.
When is the first screening or preview of this film?
The Genuine Deception premiere in Cork will be February the 20th. The tickets will go on sale the last two weeks of January and will be on sale in the Cork Gay Projects resource centre on North Main St.
They will be on sale every day form 9 am till 5-30 pm. The tickets are only 10 Euro this year. That includes meeting the actors afterwards, a disco with DJ Pat for the whole night and there is also a bar extension. I think for 10 Euros it is a very good deal. There are 500 tickets and it is open for people in Waterford and Kerry to come up for it as well.
They are 10 Euro up until the 10th of February because we obviously need to pay bills. We are a non-profit making and we have to get the money to pay for the costs. They will be going up to 15 Euros after the 10th of February.
Have you seen any of the plays in The Other Place and if so would you be interested if approached in turning one into a short film?, say for example ‘Coming In’ by Tony Doherty and David Gordon?
I have actually seen all the plays in the Other Place, ‘Coming In’ was particularly good and it would make a very good short.
But I must say if I was to choose to watch a film or something live on stage, live on stage is a lot more impressive. That was really really good what they did last year but I hope if somebody, or if we were asked to do it, could recreate what they did on film. Because to go back in and rebuild what they done would be a very difficult job.
You don’t think it would be as powerful in film as it was in theatre?
No, for the simple reason in the theatre you are less confined to a script as in film. Also in film you are not having the live action happening before you. In theatre the characters come across as less plastic and larger than life. Theatre is far far superior. That’s my opinion.
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