Since Cork Pride in August 2018, the Gay Project has undergone a momentous transformation – all the while maintaining the same core purpose of supporting gay, bi, trans and queer men.
This has been a hectic journey of change that has made the Gay Project more vibrant, more visible and more relevant.
The most notable change in the last year is the explosion of new community groups and activities. There is now something for everyone. These groups are:
• Cork Frontrunners LGBT Running Club.
• OUT LIT LGBT Book Club.
• GOLD – Over 55s Social Group.
• TENI’s Trans Youth Peer Support Group.
• Yoga Club.
• Gay Rambling Hillwalking Group.
• Reel Scene Movie Club.
• ACT UP HIV Activism Group.
• Trans and Gender Queer Coffee Morning.
• OUT Past 10 monthly Social Club.
• GBT Drama Group.
These are on top of the pre-existing:
• Parents of LGB Group
• UP Cork LGBT Youth Group
• Queer Vibes LGBT Coffee Social Group
These new groups and activities have come about as the result of suggestions from community members or the successes of smaller initiatives that transformed into something bigger.
On top of all of the new groups, we also ran two successful courses. The first - a personal development course for men facilitated by Robert Fourie, the second - art therapy led by Graham Redmond.
Spanning over two months these courses offered men an opportunity to explore issues like self-care, self-confidence, and self-expression and gave people an opportunity to make new friends or reconnect to their community.
We hosted a range of events, including the all-sparkling, all-dancing, all-singing Drag Extravaganza that saw 350 people visit the Gay Project on Culture Night, Cork’s first ever LGBT History Festival – Outing the Past, in the heart of City Hall, and a very special visit by the Laureate for Irish Fiction - Sebastian Barry. It also included some smaller events such as the Make-Up For Men classes, coffee mornings and a Christmas Party.
To tackle head-on the health inequalities faced by the community over the last 12 months, we have run a series of workshops on mental, physical and sexual health. These have included classes on consent, discussions about porn, workshops on emotional self-care, healthy cooking demonstrations and more.
One of the biggest changes has been to our space. Thanks to the wonderful artistic direction and unparalleled work ethic of Konrad Im, the Gay Project Community Centre has been transformed into a fresh new space. The Centre is now set up in a café style, with spaces for groups, a library, a shop and kitchen facilities. The walls have been painted, new furniture has been bought and work is underway to create a garden space.
In the last year we have grown from one to five staff . Last August, Michael O’Donnell joined us part-time to work on Communications, Campaigns and Community Development. He has recently become full-time, adding volunteer coordination to his role and he also provides a range of training and information workshops in workplaces and colleges.
Mark Holland joined us in March as the Community Liaison – welcoming people to the community centre, supporting some of the groups and reaching out to the community in a variety of ways. Most recently, Karen Collins joined our team in the role of Communications, updating our promotional material, doing work on our newsletter and more. Finally, we are presently recruiting an Education/Training staff person whose role it will be to develop our Find OUT education programme.
Since last Christmas we have recruited 13 new volunteers to our team. These volunteers are involved in virtually every aspect of service delivery in our organisation. One of the volunteers is Mark O’Brien - the librarian who manages the Out-Lit Bookclub which meets in the city library on a monthly basis. Another is Adam Lacey, who volunteers in the area of communications and design and has never failed to produce beautiful designs/logos when we needed them. Then there is Ashish the photographer who has taken photos for a variety of purposes and is always willing to help out.
Without the dedicated work of these volunteers and others we could not deliver the same high quality service that we do.
Some of you may have noticed that we changed our name and logo. In the past, the organisation has been called many things – most often the Cork Gay Project. For official purposes it was called the Cork Gay Community Development Project Company Limited by Guarantee (a mouthful to say the least!). To many it was known as the Gay Men’s Health Project, for others it was known by personalities – the place where Dave Roche worked or the place where Arthur Leahy was gone to (hence the name the Other Place). For the time ahead we have chosen the simple name the Gay Project which we hope will signal that our doors are open to all. We are delighted to have people travelling each week from Waterford, Tipperary and Clare to attend our events. We have also added a tag line ‘gay, bi, queer, MSM, and trans’ to say out loud that we support a diversity of sexualities and gender identities.
We have opened our self to new ideas and ways of working. Our work and actions have been led by feedback from the community. This summer we began putting together a formal strategic plan for the next three years so that we can continue to build a thriving organisation for our diverse community.
We have also collated some of these ideas into a policy proposal Making Cork the Best Place to be LGBT that we launched in advance of the local elections. These included big ideas like a dedicated HSE Gay Men’s Health Service and more novel ones like a rainbow crossing.
Recognising the value of community partnerships and shared knowledge, we have endeavoured to develop new allies and networks in order to raise a broader awareness of LGBT+ issues across the statutory and community sectors. To this end we have developed new partnerships in areas such as sexual health by being a founding member of the Cork Sexual Health Network.
In addition, we have also signed a new agreement with the Sexual Health Centre to provide monthly free Rapid HIV Testing in our centre. We have provided the first ever LGBT+ representative to the Local Drug and Alcohol Taskforce and we have participated in the Learning Neighbourhoods. Finally, we have worked to strengthen the bonds with pre-existing networks such as LGBT Ireland, ILGA Europe, CESCA and others.
SAME CORE PURPOSE
Despite all this change, our core purpose remains the same -we exist to support gay, bi, trans and queer men. To celebrate gender and sexual diversity and to campaign for LGBT+ human rights and policy protections. Like those who ran the organisation before us, we want to create a situation where everyone from our community can participate fully in Ireland’s economic, social, cultural, political and artistic life.
To put it more simply - we want to ensure everyone is enabled to live their best life. Whatever that might be.