On Monday the Cork Gay Project announced that it had appointed a new coordinator Pádraig Rice, following the passing of beloved LGBT+ activist Dave Roche.
A graduate of UCC and the University of Oxford, Pádraig previously worked as Parliamentary Assistant to Independent Senator Colette Kelleher.
The Cork Gay Project, whose earliest meetings took place in the seventies, is an organisation committed to the inclusion of the gay community in the social, economic, cultural, political and artistic life of the wider Cork and Kerry area.
We caught up with Pádraig, following his appointment as coordinator, to get to know him and to discuss the most pressing issues facing the gay community in the south west of Ireland, and the vital importance of not just equal rights, but inclusion.
More recently, we had a new wave of LGBT+ heroes. People like Anna McCarty from LGBT Noise who post the enactment of the Civil Partnership Act inspired me
Who is your LGBT+ hero?
We are lucky to live in a time when there is no shortage of LGBT+ heroes.
For me, the people involved in the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform in the 1970’s and 80’s are certainly heroes. People like David Norris who first began challenging the law on homosexuality in the courts in 1980, Mary McAleese who was the first legal adviser to the campaign from 1975 – 1979 and Mary Robinson who followed her in that role. All LGBT+ heroes long before they rose to high office.
More recently, we had a new wave of LGBT+ heroes. People like Anna McCarty from LGBT Noise who post the enactment of the Civil Partnership Act inspired me and others to keep fighting for marriage equality, Laura Harmon who led the ferocious students for marriage equality movement and of course Panti who’s noble call from the stage in the Abbey will go down as one of the greatest Irish speeches of all time.
What is your favourite thing about Cork’s LGBT community?
It has to be the sense of community spirit. People really do look out for each other and very often go an extra mile to support one another. It’s great to know that there are people within the LGBT community you can call on or reach out to if you are ever in need.
What is your favourite book/author?
Without a doubt, its Nuala O’Faolian and in particular her book ‘Are You Somebody’. Fintan O’Toole put it brilliantly and better than I ever could when he said ‘The very pure strain of patriarchy that evolved in post-independence Ireland, where church and state were often indistinguishable, produced a noble tradition of female dissent. The long and illustrious list of women who challenged the status quo – and changed Irish society in the process – had no more eloquent an exponent than Nuala O’Faolain’.
Most worryingly we know that LGBT young people are two times more likely to self-harm, three times more likely to attempt suicide and have four times the level of severe stress, anxiety and depression.
If you could go for a coffee with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
Even though I’m not religious it would probably be Jesus of Nazareth. It would be great to hear his views on the modern Church which seems to have lost its way. I’d love to ask him if the Church founded in his name can ever go back to the simple tenet of loving thy neighbour or will it remain, as Mary McAleese put it, an empire of misogyny.
What is the most prevalent issue for the LGBT+ community in the south west of Ireland?
Given the diversity in the LGBT+ community across age, class and gender there are a whole host of prevalent issues. Three key ones would be mental health, sexual health and representation.
We know from our helpline that there is a great deal of loneliness and isolation in particular among older gay and bi men in rural areas. We also know from the LGBTIreland (2016) study that there are very real mental health challenges in particular for young people. Most worryingly we know that LGBT young people are two times more likely to self-harm, three times more likely to attempt suicide and have four times the level of severe stress, anxiety and depression. This is something we really need to address. We must ensure that government build up community mental health services and that the LGBT specific barriers are removed – for example, many mental health practitioners are not sufficiently aware of LGBT identities and appropriate language use in particular for bi and trans people. That assumption of heterosexuality can also be a real challenge.
I look forward to an Ireland where the inter-county GAA player doesn’t fear the lads finding out that he is bi.
There are also sexual health concerns in particular around the rising levels of HIV. Thankfully PrEP looks like it will be a HIV game changer and I want to help ensure that everyone who needs it can access it. More fundamentally we need a radical reformation of sex education for people of all ages that is both inclusive and honest.
Finally, across Irish life, LGBT people aren’t fully represented – which has a real impact. I look forward to an Ireland where the inter-county GAA player doesn’t fear the lads finding out that he is bi. When the Irish language superhero on TG4 happens to be lesbian. When the woman from the post office can feel happy to share her trans identity without fear of her shop being attacked. I think we have a way to go to achieve that level of inclusion.
In small ways, we can all help make our schools and workplaces more inclusive places through training, awareness campaigns and building visibility.
UCC recently raised the trans flag on its campus, what do you think organisations could do to improve trans and non-binary education?
It starts with being open and listening to the concerns and needs of trans* employees or students. Organisations should certainly review existing policies and procedures to ensure they are inclusive. Leaders within organisations should seek out information and if need be get external expert advice. In small ways, we can all help make our schools and workplaces more inclusive places through training, awareness campaigns and building visibility.
How can people get in touch with you/follow the Cork Gay Project?
People can pop into us at the Community Centre on 4 South Terrace – we run a drop in service every Friday from 1pm – 6pm. They can call us on 021 4300430. Email me on [email protected] or find us on Facebook or Twitter.
We really do want to hear from people. In particular, we want to know what we can do to enhance the lives of gay, bi, queer, MSM and trans* men in Cork or Kerry – so I’d encourage people to please do get in touch if you have any ideas or suggestions!
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