From contributor Izzy Kamikaze
Over the past few years, something really amazing has been happening in the sticks! Years ago, when I was growing up in a small town , the only possible option for LGBT people was to grow up as fast as you can, then get the hell out of Dodge. If you had money, you left the country. If you had no money, you went to Dublin and signed on the dole. The day after I left school, I went to Dublin and signed on the dole.
The notion that it would ever be possible for people like us to live openly in our small towns or rural areas was simply laughable. Over the years little communities developed in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Galway, Limerick, but the day when we could live freely wherever we damn well pleased still seemed as far away as ever…
Kicking it in the country
Over the past few years, so much has changed! Even five years ago, here in the rural North West (where I now live) there was not all that much going on. OutWest (which caters mainly for gay men and covers pretty much everywhere west of the Shannon) had an occasional social night in Sligo or Mayo; there was Outitude, an annual fun weekend for lesbian women and there was a Lesbian Line in Sligo; Eden, the mainly Galway-based club had an occasional gig here and North West Pride had recently sputtered to life and had got off to a promising start by attracting revellers from far and wide for a residential Pride weekend in Sligo. Other than that, and the usual informal networks of friends separated from each other by miles of winding roads, it was pretty much a desert.
Today? Well, San Francisco it ain’t! But at the last count there were something like 16 or 17 LGBT groups meeting in the North West (defined as a huge geographically, but sparsely populated, area roughly extending from Longford to Donegal and from Mayo to West Cavan.) That is an astonishing rate of progress! There are youth groups, support for parents and families, social groups, a choir… Existing groups have gone from strength to strength (most of them now have business plans to carry them through the challenging times ahead.) New groups have started, offering a lifeline to isolated people.
Representatives of agencies like the VEC, the HSE and the Garda Siochana are taking part in a regular focus group to work out how to offer a better service to LGBT people – for an Elder Lemon like me this is almost like falling into your wardrobe one morning and finding you are in Narnia!
Diversity in action
One of the main factors driving the change over the past couple of years has been the existence of the LGBT Diversity programme, which in 2010 put Development Workers into 3 regions with poor LGBT infrastructure. The North West was one of these regions and there is no doubt that the efforts of our Regional Development worker, Hayley Fox-Roberts (a lady with whom, some of you may know, I am intimately acquanted) have played a huge part in the progress. The groups in the region have had development support, been helped to access funding, been offered opportunities to meet with and influence policy makers. We have been supported to make business plans, build a Regional Network, contribute to a strategy for LGBT development and inclusion that will be our road map for years to come. The North West is awake and staying awake!
The LGBT Diversity Programme will sadly come to an end in December 2012, but the work has barely begun. Now, if there’s one thing you know about North West Pride, it’s that we like an excuse for a celebration – and this is a good one. The last ever LGBT Diversity North West Seminar takes place this Friday and Saturday (details here) A final (funded) chance for groups and interested parties to get together to share our experiences and plot our future (don’t worry, we will find other ways to do this again!) It’s in the Clarion Hotel which has a special accommodation deal. If you are in the North West, you want to be there!
Did I mention a party? That’s right, NW Pride will host a party on Saturday night! Like all NW Pride events, what it may lack in numbers, it will make up in friendliness, inclusivity and optimism! A mix of impromptu performance and Retrosexual disco sounds… please join us for Diversity Forever, a celebration and affirmation that the show must go on! All welcome!
Get your arse out to Sligo on Saturday, 24 of November. You know there will be craic and it will be mighty.