THANK YOU FOR BEING A FRIEND
George Robotham’s recent departure as long serving Chair of Outhouse marks the end of an era for the vital community space. Outhouse Board Member David Carroll thanks a beloved teammate. Portrait of George by Paul Connell from his Path Finders exhibition.
George is well known to many for his long-standing activism and devotion to LGBTQ+ causes, at both Outhouse, and before this, as a long-term board member of the NXF. Many will be familiar with his approach to such work over the years; insightful and strategic, yet always amenable and approachable. A staunch defender of the spirit of social justice and inclusiveness, George has always remained acutely aware of the intersections of identity, including and beyond the sexuality or gender-based, which too often still adversely affect many in queer communities. Certainly, his particular interest in the capacity of LGBTQ+ communities to reach the most vulnerable in the provision of frontline services has always been to the fore in the development of Outhouse as a centre.
Crystalised in its simplest form, this has meant that everyone was made to feel welcome in Outhouse- a vision George upheld vigorously, and which continues to permeate through the building and its ethos.
George can be rightly proud of Outhouse, and its many achievements - writing in the 30th anniversary edition of this very magazine in 2017, he gave special mention to the many groups both formed in and assisted by the centre over the years. While some have gone on to become significant advocacy forces in Ireland, others have ceased to exist, reflective of the ever-changing, evolving needs of the queer communities themselves. All these groups, regardless of their size or resources, whether news-worthy or inconspicuous, felt a common welcome.
Fortunate to have been an employee in two of these organisations, I can attest to how George ensured Outhouse provided so much more than just a space, vital though this was. His advice was always measured, and his collaborative, unobtrusive manner of working ensured a sense of equity among the many disparate organisations and causes housed under the umbrella of the centre. As a founding director of the organisation, he brought a substantial expertise, based on his experience of developing community and voluntary sector development initiatives for the Irish civil service, and this served the organisation and the wider community with great insight. With this insight, he was aware of the capacity of internal politics to sometimes detract from the real changes needed, and remained convinced that many of these frustrations were best understood in the broader context of being symptomatic of a community still under-resourced.
From its original home on South William Street, Dublin, to its now 21-year presence on Capel Street, George has continuously been involved in shaping and supporting the work of Outhouse, its staff, volunteers, and services users, through a variety of roles.
Upon his professional retirement a couple of years ago, he threw himself further into his voluntary endeavours with the organisation. As chairperson, he steered the organisation expertly, through recessions and cutbacks and times of enormous social change, ensuring the centre has always remained a beacon, consistently delivering its important service. Those involved in the NGO, charity or community sectors will be familiar with how the demands of corporate governance, accountability, and value for public monies has increased in recent years. Under his supervision and expertise, working closely alongside staff, the centre has adeptly risen to meet these and other challenges.
In recent years, as Outhouse has steadily increased its own direct service provision portfolio, George also somehow found time to be involved in the lending of his support to these. The 2019 photograph of George accompanying this article, not only made him an unlikely (for those who know him, and his disdain for the limelight!) but entirely apt cover star of GCN, but was also part of wider European project and campaign, shining a much-needed light on the lives of older LGBTQ+ populations.
In coordinating Ireland’s efforts, and in previous strategy and policy-based work with partnering LGBTQ+ organisations internationally, George demonstrated yet more skill and grace. More tellingly, it illustrated another of his profound beliefs, in relation to the need for LGBTQ+ issues to be viewed on a transnational basis; for the exchange, support and validity of who we are, and our needs, to be viewed as worthy for discussion on the world stage. Reflective of this, the organisation’s particular thematic support strands serving asylum seekers, refugees, and other migrants, have also benefitted from George’s knowledge, and his enduring commitment - another important facet always at the heart of his activism.
There is little doubt that the vibrant and busy centre of today would not exist without these sustained efforts. Again, many will be familiar with George’s adept skill in orchestrating such a community contribution, whilst retaining the utmost humility and personability, and all the while bypassing any need for the conflation of ego.
Replacing him will be difficult, but nonetheless a task enthusiastically embraced by the organisation’s new chair, Seamus McManus, who, with George’s enduring support, will no doubt safely steer the organisation onto its next chapter. George will still be around to lend a hand (he has promised!) should it be needed. The organisation is at an exciting crossroads, embarking on a new strategic plan, and with the worst effects of the pandemic hopefully in retreat, both staff and board members are enthusiastic about the future and the full return to a busy centre. However, despite this energy, there is no doubt that his departure as Chair marks a significant end to this chapter of Outhouse’s long history of serving the community.
While partner Aengus and the rest of his treasured family will no doubt benefit from having more of his time, from an Outhouse standpoint, he will be missed by staff, board members and volunteers, past and present, all of whom have profited from his expert and devoted leadership.
In addition to all the wisdom and expertise, he’s also just remarkably good company, and this will also be sorely missed. Knowing George, while these feelings may be reciprocal, I suspect that what he will miss more than anything is the hustle and bustle of the centre at its busiest and the daily interaction with service users. The people, who, over the years have benefitted in countless numbers from his efforts in offering a space so vital.
At Outhouse, we’re acutely aware that the centre represents a host of different things to a rich diversity of people, and for George, this represented evidence of the very essence of the centre at its most vibrant and effective. Offering this safe place for support, information, and collective organisation remains a top priority for the organisation. For us, this is the George we will miss the mostin the thick of it, with sleeves rolled proverbially up, ready to get on with the work and all accompanied by the biggest of smiles, and the very best of intentions.
From us all, thanks for everything George!