Formerly known as Parent’s Support, LOOK (Loving Our Out Kids) began quietly in 1980 with two sets of parents who felt that the loved ones of LGBT+ children might need help and support in adjusting to the fact of their child’s sexuality. This was a time when the Catholic Church still held sway over the country, it was also a full 13 years before decriminalisation, so tied in was the fact that homosexuality in Ireland was still a criminal offence. So while it obviously took a lot of courage for a person to come out, those who loved that person also had their own fears and worries in tandem.
The early group consisted of parents who, along with the help of Gay Switchboard, would support other parents, providing information as well as a listening ear.
While the country has thankfully moved on, there is still a need for the support LOOK offers, as Ruth Illingworth, their Chairperson, describes: “Ireland has changed a great deal over the last few decades. There is much greater acceptance of LGBT+ people now, as the Marriage Referendum showed. But learning that their child is LGBT+ can still be very difficult for many parents. They can feel angry or afraid. There can also be particular difficulties and anxieties for parents of children/teens dealing with gender identity issues. Our parents have experienced at first hand the issues around having an LGBT+ child, and can offer practical support for as long as is necessary.” Board member, finance officer and one of the facilitators at the parent support group, Ann McGuinness continues: “Many parents we meet with are okay with whatever sexuality anyone is but they discover it’s different when it’s your child. The group provides a safe and relaxed space where they can express concerns, ask questions, get advice, give advice, blow off steam, share real feelings without fear of hurting their child and work through any personal issues.
“It is also a place where parents who are struggling can come and work through the hard bits away from their children and hopefully come to a place where discovering their child’s sexuality or identity is just another part of who they are.” Tina McGrath, committee member and one of the facilitators at the parent support group, made an important point: “Parents feeling better can have a positive impact on their children too. Parents have a coming out experience too and this goes on through life.” Tina has been with the group for a commendable 20 years, joining after her own son came out. “My role at that time was taking calls through Gay Switchboard and sometimes meeting on a one-to-one basis when requested. The opening of our website several years later gave access to information to parents. There was still a need for parents to meet other parents. We decided to set up a drop in service in the BeLonG To office to facilitate this.”
Board member Walt Kilroy’s mother, Patricia Kilroy was very involved with the group in its early days along with other parents like Louise O’Donovan and Phil Moore. He stressed: “It’s great for LGBT+ people to know there is somewhere they can direct their parents to when coming out. I am not a parent but do understand that when a daughter or son comes out, there might be concerns, for the best reasons possible. Will they be happy, and safe, and well? Having someone to talk with about these things, and to get support, is important for everyone’s well-being.”
The positive impact LOOK has on those who avail of their help is incredible, as Ann describes: “Many people who attend the meetings leave with a hug and are usually smiling and thanking us for listening and telling them about our journey. I have seen people who were seriously struggling in the beginning and terrified their friends and family would find out about their child, end up marching in the Pride parade with them, waving flags.”
It has also had a tremendous effect on those within the group, as Tina elaborates: “It has opened up my life in a very positive way. I feel privileged to share my personal experience of being the proud mother of a gay son. I can talk about the difficulties in the past and also the changes that came about over time.” Ruth praised the team, saying: “Our parents are the real stars of LOOK - they are the ones who give their time to help those who need help. I feel honoured to be a part of LOOK and to work with such great people.” She concluded: “We are and will continue to be there for those who need help and advice, and our parents have the experience to be able to help parents on the journey which they themselves have already taken.”
LOOK hold support and information meetings on the first Thursday of every month. For more information on how to contact them, visit www.lovingouroutkids.org