With Accelerate.LGBT in Dublin just days away, I was lucky enough to get to know Áine who works with Outhouse.ie. Read on to learn more about the incredible space they provide and the wonderful work they are doing to provide for the LGBT community in Ireland.
What does Outhouse do?
Outhouse is a community and resource centre for lgbt people, their families and friends. It’s based in central Dublin. Its primary goal is to offer a safe space for people to inform, meet, organise and make things happen. Outhouse is very often the first point of contact for people into the lgbt world and also the place in which lots of groups and organisations have been established. Outhouse hosts up to 100 meetings per month for 65 different stakeholder groups at the busiest time of year usually coming up to Pride in June.
Some of the groups that meet at Outhouse include AA, NA, Peer Support, social meet ups, Trans Peer Support meetings, counseling sessions, lgbt sports clubs, book clubs, theatre companies rehearse in our studio space, we have a drop in service for people and a café on site for people to meet friends and chat .
How did the idea for Outhouse come up?
When Outhouse first opened its doors in April 1997 (three years after homosexuality was decriminalized in Ireland) in leased premises in South William St, it offered something very unique in the city – a space in which a wide range of LGBT groups and interests could securely and safely develop along the lines that those groups themselves elected. It is still an entirely unique space in Dublin. The focus was on providing information, a safe drop-in space and café, as well as meeting spaces and support facilities for individuals and groups. Throughout the years of development this focus has remained central. In 2001, the present premises at 105 Capel St. was purchased.
If you’re open to it, can you share a powerful moment that’s happened within the walls of Outhouse?
About two years ago we had a call in the office from a social worker in the hospice in Harold’s Cross she was working with an elderly gentleman in his 80’s. He told her that he was near the end of his life and he was gay and hadn’t told anybody. She asked could he visit the center. A few days later he arrived with her and the community officer had a cup of coffee with him and a good chat. He told her he had finally come out and was accepting who he was. It was his time to be his authentic self and at that stage in his life it was very sad to think he had kept it a secret for so long but also deeply moving that he found it important to finally talk and share and he felt Outhouse was a safe space for this.
How has the climate around LGBT issues changed since gay marriage was legalized in Ireland?
The LGBT community has received the vote, love and support it really needed from the people of Ireland on the 22nd of May. It was an incredible moment in Irish history, so many people worked so hard to make it happen and I think it gave the community a confidence boost; however there is still a lot more work to be done. Homophobic bullying in schools is still an issue that needs work; elderly LGBT people needs support as this is a group that is not always the most vocal or visible and our Trans brothers and sisters need more support from the community. Great strides have been made towards equality and the referendum was an amazing accomplishment and something for Ireland to be really proud of but loads more to do.
The challenge for Outhouse in the future is to ensure that the State acts on its duties to combat the effects of decades of discrimination and abuse on members of the LGBT community, which has for many resulted in low self-esteem, substance misuse, suicidality, mental and physical health issues, poor educational and employment achievement, amongst already identified issues. Outhouse’s will advocate on behalf of its service users to ensure that there is sufficient budgetary finance for front-line LGBT services, which evidence has shown is best placed within a community setting.
What are the biggest roadblocks facing LGBT organizations in Ireland?
The biggest roadblock for LGBT organisation, specifically frontline service organisation like Outhouse, is financial and human resources. Recent research has shown that LGBT frontline services in Ireland are very poorly resourced and are heavily reliant on volunteers and their own fundraising efforts. The situation for Outhouse has been compounded in recent years because of a 23% cut to the Centre’s core funding as a result of the economic crisis. We recognize that there is no simple solution and we must engage with corporate and private donors as well as State agencies to address the needs of our communities. However, this engagement also presents a challenge for the Outhouse as the majority of staff resources that are available are entirely focused on delivering font-line services to our communities.
How has the LGBT community in Ireland impacted you? How would you like to impact it?
I was lucky when I came out, I met some really good gay friends that had very little issues around their sexual orientation, they are all deeply proud of who they are and it was great for me to identify with them and learn very quickly that there was and is nothing to be ashamed of. My parents were incredibly supportive and still are. I was worried about it for so long and a huge weight was lifted overnight. The scene was much smaller then, it’s pretty big now and very diverse which is awesome. I also worked in professional theatre for a long time so that was an environment was open and welcoming as a young gay person.
When I started working in Outhouse, I saw a space where the creative process and performance could help people in addition to the service provision provided by Outhouse. So I helped develop events such as spoken word events, a pop up music festival, and an LGBT film club, I also established the red room on the first floor as an exhibition space for LGBT artists. Creativity can often be a great outlet. Whilst loads of serious and important support services are provided I developed a creative strand within the center that did not exist previously.
Belonging to the community has helped me and when it came around to doing something for the referendum, apart from what we were doing in work, fundraising, providing space and doing a large volume of information and referral around the clock, I decided to join the Dublin South Central Yes Equality Team. We started with about 15 people who never knocked on a door to canvass in their lives (including myself), ten weeks later, on the last Saturday before the referendum the team had grown to 200 people who had become seasoned canvassers over ten weeks! And it was happening in different locations throughout Dublin City and all around the country. It was an incredible feeling of community spirit and belonging. It was an experience I will never forget.
Why are you excited about this event?
I am excited about this event as I think it’s a great opportunity to meet people and learn how to optimize the channels that Outhouse uses to serve the LGBT Community.
Follow Áine on twitter and make sure to check out Outhouse.ie to learn more about the awesome work they are doing! If you live in Ireland, you can also meet Aine and others from Outhouse in person on September 17th at our Dublin Event.
Photo taken by Donncha Ó Caoimh