As part of our aims to raise LGBT+ awareness in the West of Ireland for Pride Month, Connacht Rugby spoke to Rosie Dore, Chairperson of OutWest.
OutWest is a voluntary social and support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans gender people in the West of Ireland. CR: Talk to me about OutWest and the work that you do.
RD: OutWest is an organization that has been running for 25 years since 1997. We’re a social advocacy and support group, and we run many different events throughout Connacht. It started off here in Mayo, but we spread out to Sligo, Galway, Leitrim, and recently Roscommon as well.
We have a number of social events, so a lot of those are very important for people who are feeling isolated, but also just to bring the community together to be able to make friends.
We have a very wide age range at our events, from teenagers and young people to elderly people, and we also have people from other marginalized communities that have come in as well, so that's very important.
We also hold educational events pretty frequently as well. So yesterday, for example, we held a seminar event on how employers can be more LGBTQ inclusive in their workplace, and that worked really well, because we had different speakers from companies that were LGBT inclusive. So it was really informative on what can be done to make positive changes. We’ve also got another seminar coming up for teenagers and young adults covering LGBT issues, as well as one for parents.
We also have our drop-in centre which is open every Sunday in Castlebar Co. Mayo, and this is a nice, friendly, safe and inclusive space for people to drop in and have a chat and a cup of coffee.
We also have a rapid HIV testing service there now as well, which is really good. So it means that people can get results quickly in a confidential, safe kind of space, where they can get that support.
We also work in conjunction with LGBT Ireland for their helpline, so if anyone needs to talk to someone there's a volunteer trained ready to talk to them. So we have quite a lot going on! That's fantastic. Have you found more people are now reaching out to OutWest, particularly over the last few years?
Yeah definitely. I only joined OutWest last year but from what I’ve heard from the previous chairperson, and from what I’ve seen myself there has been an increase. COVID maybe slowed things down a bit, but there has been a big increase in things like the drop-in centre. At the start there weren’t many people turning up but we’re now seeing more and more regular users and that word is spreading. We’re also getting more interaction on social media and things like that. How do you find Connacht as a province and the West of Ireland in terms of its support for the LGBT community?
Personally I only moved here last year so my experiences have been very new, but I have found it way more positive compared to where I lived in the UK, where there wasn’t much in the way of LGBT resources at all. So coming here I was like “wow there’s regular events”, and not just for Pride Month. So it’s amazing, I really wanted to be a part of that.
That being said, I do know friends for example who have not had great experiences. For example I have a friend who is a trans woman and she says she gets harassed walking down the street on a regular basis. I think that must be terrifying because she’s only young and the kind of things that are said to her are just awful. The awful recent attacks in Sligo also really hit home for us – it was quite personal. So I think in some ways, it’s great to know there’s so much going on, but there’s always those little things lurking in the background, especially in more rural areas, where people get isolated as well.
So I think it’s really important to have those connections and make sure people are being reached out to. This month we had the Leinster player Nick McCarthy talk openly about his sexuality. How beneficial is it for the LGBT community to have people in the public eye talk about their experiences?
It’s very encouraging. From what I can tell and hearing people talk, people still associate sports like football and rugby to be masculine dominated with a macho-type feel, and unfortunately there’s a lot of LGBT people who have been put off sports. So seeing that on the sporting side is encouraging, knowing that people have a role model to look up. Similarly people outside of sport, they can all inspire hope to people who are having a bad time. It’s definitely a positive yeah. Is there anything else you would like to mention?
I would love to ask people to just be mindful of people around you if they’re struggling. I’ve known other people that would use slur words an awful lot and they would say it’s just joking or banter. But for many people, even little things like that make you question everything. So even if you hear those things you’re not 100% sure if they’re joking or not. There’s always that little part that feels a bit unsure, and it’s not very nice. So I’d ask for awareness of how best to support people and be mindful of their environment.
Particularly in team sports that can make a big difference. If you’re all working together, the more relaxed and more at ease with each other you’ll be, which will ultimately make you happier and hopefully play well.
Pronouns is an important topic to talk about as well and how best to address that. Aside from being just basic good courtesy it can also have a huge impact on how comfortable and accepted a person feels when playing and interacting with others; but that if you do slip up and get them wrong, there's no need to make a big deal about it and cause awkwardness, just correct yourself and move on. To learn more about OutWest check out their website www.outwest.ie. You can also follow them on Twitter @OutWestLGBT, Instagram @OutWest.ie, or Facebook @OutWestLGBT.
For support call 094 9372479 or 1800 929539, or for more information call 087 9725586, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also donate to OutWest to help support the vital services that they offer - this can be done in any of the above contacts.