After 15 years of working as the Deputy CEO, Head of Operations, Fundraising, and Corporate Secretary for BeLonG To, the LGBTQ+ youth charity in Ireland, Oisín O’Reilly was happily appointed as the new CEO of Dublin’s Outhouse LGBT Community Resource Centre. When asked how he felt about coming to the new post, O’Reilly said: “This is a job I’ve wanted for years. I had said to Moninne [Griffith], the CEO of BeLonG To, years ago, that if this role ever came up she could take it as my notice. Then when it was advertised, she texted me the link and said ‘I’ll take this as your notice.’”
O’Reilly reminisced on his first visits to Outhouse when he was younger: “As a teenager coming in here I never thought that I would sit on the top floor in the CEO’s office. In a way, it’s a weird twist of fate, in another way, not.
“I’ve a great fondness for Outhouse, it’s the first queer venue I came into, and there are so many people who share that little thread of their journey as a member of the community - that Outhouse was first, or one of the first queer spaces that they came into - and I’m acutely aware of the emotional connection that the space, and the essence of what Outhouse is, has to members of our community.”
Rebuilding that emotional connection between Outhouse and Dublin’s LGBTQ+ community in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is one of O’Reilly’s most pressing goals as the new CEO. “I have a challenge ahead of me,” O’Reilly shared. “COVID hasn’t been easy on the centre. We’ve been closed as a physical space for almost two years and that emotional connection that Outhouse creates has been broken in a way, but we are trying to reestablish that with people in our community and people in our centre. There’s a lot of rebuilding for us to do, a lot of questions about the future to answer.” Some of those questions, according to O’Reilly, are the very pressing issues of accessibility, homelessness, and poverty in the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland.
“When I went in for this job, one of the things I had to do was present my vision for the future of Outhouse and one of the things that came up for me was the building itself. The physical space is not accessible, and by its nature is exclusionary to members of our community. There are no permanent community spaces anywhere in Ireland, that I’m aware of, that are fully accessible. And for a community that works towards equality, equity, and human rights, we have to fundamentally examine that principle and examine our space.”
In addition to examining Outhouse’s accessibility, O’Reilly expressed a desire to see Outhouse tackle the very serious issues of homelessness and poverty amongst Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community.
“The Fundamental Rights Agency Report in 2020 said that 38 percent of the community in Ireland would experience homelessness by the age of 30,” O’Reilly shared. “So that’s two out of five — it’s a shocking statistic. We have no emergency accommodation for LGBTQ+ individuals in the country and that situation is becoming more acute as the housing crisis and the cost-of-living prices spike.
“What role can Outhouse play, should Outhouse play, and how can we meet the needs of many members of our community who are facing lives of poverty? The housing question moves beyond the homelessness question and comes to the root of our ability to thrive as people. This is the first generation who are almost guaranteed to have a worse standard of living than their parents—what will that do to our community and what role will Outhouse be able to play in tackling these issues?” O’Reilly concluded.
Despite the monumental challenges facing the community, O’Reilly believes that, with the help of the community, coupled with his background in BeLonG To, his experiences have given him the tools he needs to effect change at the helm of Outhouse.
“Having worked in the community for all of my career brings with it some strengths and some challenges. I suppose I know the issues that affect the community intimately and I understand the politics of advocacy and how the state has oppressed the community in the past, but equally within that I’m always conscious that, having worked within the community, there’s an element of groupthink that can also prevail. So I suppose I’m keenly aware of the need to scan the horizon of where we are now versus where we’ve come from.
“Expectations are very high about what Outhouse could be, but at the end of the day, in the next 12 months, choices will have to be made about what we will and what we will not do. And some of that is going to be challenging and difficult. I worry about how some people might feel about those choices, because none of them are easy. But the need to make those choices and the ability to make those choices is something I’ve been acutely aware of during my 15 years at BeLonG To,” O’Reilly concluded.
We wish Oisin all the very best in his new role and may Outhouse go from strength to strength.
I‘mBrendan Fox and I work as the curator of the Museum of Everyone (MOE), an inclusive portable platform for artists and creatives that aims to amplify a diverse range of voices and perspectives through both artist and community-led initiatives. Workshopping is at the heart of what we do. Since we launched in 2019, MOE has collaborated with over 160 artists and creatives, workshopped with numerous community groups, planted over 10,000 trees, raised money to educate young people who have been through the Direct Provision system, and had exhibitions exploring everything from Black Hair Culture with African Diaspora led by artist Breda Mayock to highlighting the Dublin Castle Scandal and the work of John Joly’s RGB photographic process with Alan Phelan. It’s a dynamic and exciting space and above all a place to learn from each other.
The workshops are centred on the participants and never have a prescribed outcome. We have an ethos of listening. We sit with groups and collectively develop creative strategies to explore problems together and to highlight or overcome societal issues through arts practice.
Last year a few months or so before Pride Festival I asked Han Tiernan to join the MOE team as our Queer Program Manager. Han’s area of interest is contemporary Irish LGBTQ+ history and expanding voices within the Irish LGBTQ+ community. She has a sincere sense of responsibility toward queer history and is passionate about sharing her knowledge and unearthing new narratives to extend the existing archives.
For her first project, Han hosted a series of queer talks on our MOE channel with topics ranging from ethnicity to disability*. Through these conversations with younger queer groups we realised that there was a sense that our community was somehow fractured. The pandemic had left many queer individuals isolated and feeling disconnected. Through further conversations, we realised that this was something that was felt even more deeply by older members of the queer community in rural Ireland who were also geographically at a disadvantage socially. We knew we wanted to elaborate on our queer program, tackle the issues we encountered when interacting with queer groups, and fundamentally knew we wanted to work more together.
Han and I ultimately identified a lack of intergenerational connection and a void between contemporary queer issues and the accessability of queer Irish history. We developed a proposal entitled REWIND << FASTFORWARD >> RECORD (RFR) an initiative aimed at engaging with LGBTQ+ community groups on a national platform to uncover queer histories and expand their retelling and relevance through artistic interpretation. As part of each regional exhibition, a series of local talks and workshops would generate new creative responses expanding the material as it toured to each new location around Ireland. This cumulative material would form both a historical and a contemporary archive of hidden queer histories and current perspectives of RFR participants. It is essentially an exploration of queer identity; past and present, and our aim is to connect us with both our history and our community.
RFR is an intergenerational space where younger queer people and the older community can share their personal stories and develop a better understanding of our collective histories as well as the issues facing the new generation. We received seed funding from Dublin LGBTQ+ Pride and began our first pilot project with Fatima Groups United (FGU) LGBTQ+ in Dublin 8. We developed a series of workshops that would respond to queer histories in Dublin. Historian Brian Crowley gave us an extensive and haunting tour of Kilmainham Gaol with the group which focused solely on the incarceration of queer individuals and sex workers. Through the subsequent workshop, it became clear that the tour had a profound effect on the group and the exploration of this history had given the group a foothold to discuss their own contemporary struggles as queer individuals. In late 2021 we received Arts Council funding and we were elated that our program could now reach across the island of Ireland and we could connect with groups that would have been impossible to reach without that support.
In March, Sean Kissane invited us to take a three-week residency in IMMA where our first RFR exhibition took place in conjunction with the Outing the Past Festival. We opened with a performance by the estimable Stefan Fae and over our time there we engaged with groups of both artists and non-artists and responded to The Narrow Gate of the Hear and Now: Queer Embodiment Exhibition. Workshops took their cue from the artworks of Derek Jarman and the AIDS quilt among others. In tandem with our pilot project in Dublin 8, we were engaging with Offaly Youth LGBTQ+ Group, many of who were under 19 years old and were budding artists. We bussed the group up to Dublin and toured the exhibition and the workshop that stemmed from their experience was both wonderfully poignant and massively instrumental in them sharing their own stories as queer and non-binary individuals in Offaly.
The power in our participants inhabiting their vulnerability as queer people is simply astounding to witness
The connection between both groups became apparent when the FGU group decided to come to Tullamore to support ‘Offaly Proud’, the launch of Midlands LGBT+ Project in Offaly and their fellow RFR participants. This coincided with the launch of the RFR exhibition in Tullamore which took the form of a series of flags designed by RFR participants - aproject facilitated by artist Anthony Haughey - and the unveiling of Joe Caslin’s work for MOE at Tullamore train station. Over this period, I hoisted the queer-inclusive flag at the government buildings in Tullamore, my hometown. It was a very emotional time as the recent murders of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee had sent shockwaves through our community. We felt their loss permeate through the work we were doing and connecting with groups at that time was a blessing for both Han, myself, and our participants.
In May we spent a couple of days in Derry during LGBTQIA+ Awareness Week ahead of our residency at the Void this August. The welcome afforded to us by Maeve Butler and the founders of Foyle Pride was extraordinarily formative. Eimear Willis of The Rainbow Project hosted a workshop orbiting an archive of the history of Foyle Pride and we were also honoured to have been invited to a screening of Different Journeys, a documentary on the formation of the festival. The “troubles” were deeply felt by the queer community there and individuals often received death threats and had to leave the country for safer shores during the 1970’s. Martin McConnellogue was one such individual and spoke passionately after the screening about his experience. This archive will be the instigative engine of our workshops in Derry this summer which will culminate in an exhibition at Void.
The rest of 2022 sees RFR working with groups at Uillinn West Cork Art Centre in Skibbereen, Limerick City, The Dock in Leitrim, and Galway Arts Centre where we are collaborating with the winners of the 2021 Turner Prize, Array Collective, who are known for projects that support gay rights, marriage equality, feminism, reproductive rights, and anti-austerity activism.
Through our encounters to date, Han and I have been overwhelmed by the bravery in people’s capacity when sharing their stories with us. The power in our participants inhabiting their vulnerability as queer people is simply astounding to witness. We have facilitated workshops with young individuals who have discussed moving schools three times due to online and physical bullying, others spoke of being ostracised from the Traveling community for being lesbian.
These young people were sharing their stories in an intergenerational group where older individuals discussed losing their partner to AIDS and the stigma attached to the disease or their families disowning them simply for being gay. The empathy that comes from such exchanges is incredibly powerful.
Through the workshops, we have witnessed older individuals develop a sense of responsibility toward the younger participants. This creates an environment that is nurturing and encouraging, and in turn, we have seen the younger participants develop a sense of respect for the more senior group members and realise that they are part of a larger entity, an Irish queer community that has battled through decades of history to ensure equal rights for us all.
A queer community that has lived through the snarls of the darkest bigotry, the punches of homophobia, a community once ravaged by disease and decimated by the media, that has fought the Catholic Church and the Irish government but, above all, a community that has survived. The new generation of queers in Ireland have new battles to fight and a fresh set of contemporaneous problems. But if we can do something to accommodate an understanding that they come from a long line of queer warriors these battles will be less lonely. The course of equality never did run smooth and our tribe has never been more multifaceted, colourful, or beautiful. This vibrant energy is apparent especially when it is encouraged in an open and creative environment. RFR workshops can also be a lot of fun and there is a great sense of kinship and camaraderie.
REWIND << FASTFORWARD >> RECORD has helped me locate my queerness. It is in the eyes of the shy non-binary kid from Derry who found the courage to be themselves despite the challenges of being misunderstood. It is in a cell behind the walls of Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, it flies at the top of a flagpole in my hometown. Our queerness is made tangible by our defiant togetherness, in our seeking each other out. It is reflected in our collective history and in the sharing of our contemporary struggles. It is in the empathy we extend to one another when we show each other who we are. It survives through our creativity and our willingness to be ourselves against the odds.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank our collaborator Sarah Edmondson and to acknowledge the support afforded to us by Jed Dowling and all at Dublin LGBTQ+ Pride, The Arts Council of Ireland, FGU’s Richie Keane, Curator Aoife Banks, Researcher Ellen Reid, Curator Sean Kissane at IMMA, Megs Morley at Galway Art Centre, Justine Foster at West Cork Art Centre, Eimear Willis at The Rainbow Project Derry, Maeve Butler at Void Derry, Queer Culture Ireland and all of our participants to date.
To stay informed of RFR projects or to attend a workshop series near you, follow us on @rewindfastfowardrecord