National Lottery celebrating LGBTQ+ organisations during Pride

Cork LGBT Archive,
International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival and BeLonG To

This year, there were an incredible 36 finalists across the categories of Health and Wellness, Sport, Arts and Culture, Heritage, Community, and Youth, making the judges’ final decision a hard one.

Three LGBTQ+ organisations from Cork and Dublin made it to the finals in each of their categories, and while they didn’t take home the top prize, their incredible work was justly celebrated.

The first finalist was the Cork LGBT Archive which was included in the Heritage category. Its founder, Orla Egan, explained, “The Cork LGBT archive, gathers, preserves and shares information about the rich history of Cork’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. There is this amazing history there, but it was a hidden history, and I really wanted to bring it to light.”

While lockdown restrictions affected everyone, the Archive was able to continue its work. Orla described, “Ironically, in lots of ways, the Covid lockdown has been counterbalanced by an increased interest in and recognition of the Cork LGBT archive. It’s been a really busy year for us and we’ve been invited to participate in a huge range of events and seminars and collaborations. Deliver training, for example, supporting the creation of a digital archive by the Northern Irish LGBT History Project.

“In 2019, we did a fabulous walking tour in conjunction with Cork Pride, but we had to reimagine that last year. So we created an interactive walking tour, where we placed plaques on buildings of significance to the Cork LGBT community with a downloadable map, so people could go on the tour, and there were QR codes on the plaques, and that linked to exhibitions on the digital archive. So it literally was putting our history on the map and enabling people to engage with us in a Covid-safe way.”

Orla explained why funding for the Archive is so important: “It’s about creating opportunities for people to engage with this history in multiple ways. Whether that’s through the Digital Archives, through social media, through the Queer Republic of Cork book, The exhibition walking tour, film, theatre, talks. And I suppose for me, it’s really important to make sure that young LGBT people are able to access and have a sense of the history of their own community.”

So what does the nomination for the award mean to Orla? She described, “It’s a real honour for the Cork LGBT Archive to be one of six national finalists in the Heritage category. It’s also really important in terms of that acknowledgement of LGBT history and heritage being an important part of Irish heritage.”

In The Arts and Culture category, the Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival featured among the finalists. Gareth Hurley from the festival team filled us in on their foundation. “We were founded in 2004, and we’re the largest dedicated festival of LGBTQ+-related theatre in the world. In normal times, (and we know these aren’t normal times!) we would run our festival annually for two weeks starting at the May bank holiday. We invite productions from Ireland and all across the world to Dublin for two weeks, to celebrate gay identity and to share experiences of LGBTQ+ people on stage.

“Our mission is to celebrate the identity and culture of LGBTQ+ people through theatre as a medium. So not only are we celebrating our own culture and history, we’re trying to outreach to mainstream society as well, to make sure that the widest possible audience share our stories and experiences.”

Gareth reiterated the difficulties experienced by everyone across the arts sector as he described, “It goes without saying that the last 18 months have been really difficult for us and difficult for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community, but particularly in the arts community and theatre. It’s been a real struggle with stages dark, technicians and artists out of work. So to get this recognition is a real morale boost for everyone involved in the festival - all of our volunteers, our artists, and our audience members who’ve been very supportive.

“The support of the National Lottery and indeed, the Arts Council through the National Lottery, has been really invaluable to us. Our funding has been slashed because we’re going through very difficult times, and a lot of our friends and allies are also struggling. Our first step is to bring back LGBTQ+ theatre, to bring back those stages and to give a platform for artists to rebuild.”

Gareth wanted to express how essential the funding sourced from National Lottery players has been - “Even if you have never set foot in a theatre, the support is really important. Every year, we fly flags with the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival on the Dublin Quays, we advertise in the city, and around the country. What it sends is a message that Dublin is a creative, diverse and welcoming city for everyone who lives there and all the visitors to the city. To be able to spread that message, locally and internationally, is very important for all of us.”

The fine folk at BeLonG To Youth Services were a finalist in the Youth category. Their CEO, Moninne Griffith, described the necessary work they do. “BeLonG To is Ireland’s national LGBTI+ youth organisation, and we work to support young people all across Ireland, to empower them to be themselves and to thrive.”

As the country begins to emerge from lockdown restrictions, Moninne described how young people managed during those times: “The last year has been really tough for everybody. But in particular, LGBTI+ young people have really found it tough. Even before Covid, LGBTI+ people were at higher risk of mental health issues such as stress and anxiety and depression, and even sometimes self harm and suicide ideation, not because they’re LGBTI+, but because of the isolation, exclusion and bullying that they would experience.

“During lockdown, being at home, and not being able to be ‘out’ can be extremely stressful, or being at home and not being accepted for who you are, can be really isolating. It can really compound those feelings of exclusion, depression and anxiety. We saw an over 100 percent increase in the number of young people getting in contact with us over the past 12 months, because they were feeling so low, so lonely, and so isolated. So what we really do in a nutshell is connect young people, so they don’t feel alone, one-on-one with our telephone texts, email support, but also by providing them with safe online digital spaces. Spaces where they can just hang out with other LGBTI+ young people who have the same or similar life experiences as them. That reduces the isolation, reduces the loneliness, and also really reduces those mental health issues that they’re feeling.”

Moninne expressed just how much they appreciate the support of the players, and the funding raised with National Lottery, sharing it has meant that “BeLonG To has been able to reach out and connect with hundreds of LGBTI+ young people across the country, making sure that they don’t feel alone that they know that we’re here, that we’ve got their back, and that there’s somewhere safe for them to come to talk with a youth worker about something that’s going on in their lives.

“They can meet with other young people who are having the same experiences as them. They make friends, they learn skills, and they thrive. So a huge big thank you to all the players in the National Lottery for all your support over many years!”

This article appears in the 367 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 367 Issue of GCN