I grew up in Dundalk, a pretty normal childhood. I went to a Catholic girls’ school and was raised in a house with six boys and three girls.
When I was 16 I remember finding Lesbian Line’s number on the problem page of The Sunday World. I remember knowing that it was linked to me, but not knowing how. I tore out the piece of paper and one night I rang the line. When they said “Lesbian Line”, I hung up. That was the first time I’d heard that word said out loud.
We’d go to an over-16’s disco on a Friday night. I never really got why the heterosexuals in the group who fancied a fella would go, “I hope he’s there, I hope he’s there” and when he was there, there’d be a meltdown. And then I met somebody who I really liked that played on one of the football teams. And I started thinking to myself, “I hope she’s there”.
Coming up to 17, we were away on a football team tour. We were having a conversation at the back of the bus about who did you fancy and I said a girl’s name. They were all falling about the place laughing. But it was as natural to me as them saying who they fancied. So from then on I was probably out!
I rang back the Lesbian Line and they invited me to Dublin. The girl who answered the phone and another girl met me and we walked to Grafton Street and picked up a girl from Arklow and went to a meeting. At the meeting I was just staring at people really wanting to know who they were and what they were, I didn’t really care what the topic was.
After that, we went to JJ Smyths in Aungier Street. I remember I bought a pint, I’d never had one on my life. I never saw those people again, don’t think I ever went back, but that night they walked me to the door of JJ Smyths and told me how to get back to Busaras for the 12 o’clock bus. I ran the entire way, and when I got there I was dying for a pee. The toilets were down the stairs and when I closed the door, written on the back of the door was ‘Lesbian’s rule’. And that stayed with me forever.
I was working in the shoe factories here. I was a shop steward and went on to be the representative for women in unions in Dundalk back in the mid ‘80s. A lot of my activism came from that.
I remember taking part in a Leonardo Project with women in trade unions in Denmark. We were asked where did we see ourselves in ten years. Across the road was a red neon sign over a door and it said ‘Gay club’, and I said where I see myself is having one of those signs over a place in Dundalk.
A group of us LGBT+ people put a sign in the newspaper advertising an LGBT+ meeting and we hired a room. On the night, the room was absolutely packed. We continued those meetings, which were really just a chat, a cup of tea and people getting to pick up a copy of GCN.
All of this was happening in the shadow of the peace process. An advert in a local newspaper said, “If you are part of a community group that services people both sides of the border we would like to talk about the possibility of funding”. They came out and met us in my sitting room.
We said we wanted a community centre and a helpline. Then back in 1996 we were awarded 76,000 pounds. We moved into the building in November 1997, Senator Norris opened it on March 28, 1998.
Outcomers is a community centre. It provides information and support for LGBT+ people, their families and their supports teachers, youth workers, GPs, whatever the case may be. This is real grass roots stuff, this project was born out of LGBT+ people wanting a space for other LGBT+ people.
I’m the centre manager, at the moment I’m also the youth coordinator, I run all the youth programmes. I also deliver LGBT+ awareness training outside of the service. Then I have a regional remit of Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, so would have supported the development of LGBT+ groups in those areas. I do one-to-one support also whenever I can.
We also have a national remit. So I was part of LGBT Diversity, I’m one of the founding members of the national LGBT Helpline and then when it turned into LGBT Ireland I was there for the development of that. Now I’m currently the chair of the national LGBT Helpline.
We still need more work done with older LGBT+ people. Also, the inclusion of minorities, refugees and asylum seekers. There’s a massive amount of work that needs to be done around sport and forcing sporting organisations to embrace LGBT+ people much more than they do now.
We have so much work to do around rural Ireland. We need to establish services outside of the main cities, there should be an LGBT+ centre in every town.