In recent weeks, the upsetting announcement emerged that Galway’s Teach Solais may be forced to close its doors later this year. The centre, which is run by AMACH! LGBT Galway, has been an invaluable lifeline for the queer community in the West and to say its closure would be a loss is a massive understatement.
While giant strides have been made recently in terms of LGBT+ rights and quality of life, rural isolation is still a massive issue. As Cameron Keighron of AMACH! explains, “It’s the only visible space for LGBT+ people in the West of Ireland. We have people that will travel three or four hours just to come to a two hour talking session because we are the only people they can talk to, we are the only people that they’ve ever told that they’re LGBT+. People in their 60s and 70s coming in, having a cup of tea, who have never interacted with other LGBT+ people before because they were so afraid.”
Teach Solais hosts peer support groups and social events, working as both a drop-in centre and a wellbeing hub, and provides HIV testing once a month, but apart from all that, it’s also a safe space, a place for LGBT+ people to meet other LGBT+ people “and have an environment where they feel comfortable and respected and a place where they can be themselves.”
Fully reliant on funding applications, donations, fundraisers and community volunteers, AMACH! have applied to the HSE for core funding over the years, but to little success. Based on a forecasted budget, Teach Solais will be forced to close its doors in November 2019.
Cameron told us, “Funding for any community group is always a struggle. We were very lucky a few years back the city council gave us a one-off fee to source and rent a space, which we did, and that’s the space we currently have. We were very fortunate then to be awarded the Maureen O’Connell fund, but we’ve always been conscious that neither of those funding chains were sustainable. So we went about applying to our local HSE executive and we were told that they didn’t have any money at the time. We took advice from the HSE to apply for a specific grant that they said we fell under...within two days after sending the application we got a rejection letter to say there was no money and they didn’t fund our kind of work.
“We appreciate that the HSE is under pressure to fund many worthy health and wellbeing services, but this is truly a disappointment for this voluntary group that caters for an under-resourced minority group in the west of Ireland.”
In a recent public statement, Sharon Nolan of the Social Democrats said, “LGBT+ resource centres in other parts of Ireland qualify for funding through the HSE, and it’s increasingly frustrating to see Teach Solais being denied this same funding. There is a huge LGBT+ community all across Ireland that deserves similar opportunities for outlets as that living in Dublin and Cork.”
Members of the LGBT+ community who avail of the services Teach Solais provides told the group how much the loss would affect them.
Louise, a lesbian woman, told how Teach Solais was a “driver of social change” and continued, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that we would lose people, literally lose people...people who have come to rely on it as a social space, as an outlet for themselves – mentally, physically, socially.” Louise continued, “To then have that gone, that’s quite an adjustment that I think there are some vulnerable people would find that difficult to cope with.”
A resident of the nearby Direct Provision centre, Anthony, a bisexual male, told how it had become a place of learning for him. “When you are coming from Africa, it’s hard to understand these things, about being gay and stuff, because it is something which is illegal, you know. So you won’t have much knowledge about it, you know. We want [to] have more education. [It] is like a home, you know. Our home.”
Peter, a gay man and a retired healthcare professional who worked in psychiatric services, is a regular volunteer with the centre. He described “the buzz in seeing people arrive fearful, looking around them as they walk into the room for the first time, and then after a few visits you see this wonderful person starting to blossom.” He said the loss of Teach Solais “would have a devastating impact on the young people here, and I would miss it. It gives me something to do that I enjoy doing.”
Ger, a young non binary, trans, queer person described how the centre was literally a lifeline. “Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Teach Solais. There were weeks when I couldn’t get out of bed but I will always make it for a meet up in Teach Solais.” Ger continued, “It’s a home when I haven’t had a home. When literally I didn’t have a family, I had people here, and it’s been amazing...I see people who travel an hour and a half to come to groups that are held here, and it could be once a month and they can be their true selves.”
Cameron described the huge outcry in the community upon hearing the news, “The space means a lot to the LGBT+ community in the West of Ireland. There’s people that access different support services and different activities that we do once a week and it’s maybe the only social setting that they have. Maybe it’s the only space where a young trans person can come in and meet other young trans people. We have families that come into us who are worried about their young LGBT+ kids because they don’t know any other young LGBT+ kids. There’s no way to quantify and put into words how much the centre means to the community.”
So what can be done to try and stop the closure from happening? On March 29 at 7.30pm, Teach Solais will host a meeting to try and save the centre. They are inviting “all local elected representatives of Galway city and county council and representatives in the Dáil as well as representatives from all the organisations” that use the building. Members of the public who wish to support the campaign to save Teach Solais are also invited and encouraged to contact their own local representatives to ask them to pledge their support.
As Cameron says, “ We are hoping to rally support, to make a case for the Government to say that this isn’t good enough, that they should be funding resource centres like ours and they should be investing in the LGBT+ community in rural Ireland and in the West of Ireland.”
With many recent events showing the power our community holds when we work together, it is time to stand once more and ensure that this essential home for our LGBT+ family in the West is not lost.