John McGahon presenting members of Dundalk Outcomers with the Marriage Equality Bill
Coming out as a LGBT person is a significant experience in any LGBT person’s life, but coming out in Dundalk has been made easier by the existence of Outcomers – a LGBT support group which celebrates its 20th Birthday this year.
Bernie Quinn is the Social Inclusion Officer at Dundalk’s LGBT group, and was one of the founding members of Outcomers.
She is responsible for the day-to-day running of the centre in 8 Roden Place, Dundalk, and also deals with funders and community groups; as well as this, she develops training plans and promotes LGBT training and information.
Bernie spoke to Dundalk Democrat about the history of the LGBT group, the origins of how they formed and grew, and the plans for this year’s 9th Dundalk Pride.
“I was one of the founding members”, remembers Bernie, “I’ve been volunteering and a part of this group since probably 1993. We used to meet in Drogheda – we used to meet in the Resource Centre for the Unemployed back in 1993 and we were very aware of the political activity that was going on at the time.
“Over the years, the people that were in the Resource Centre in Drogheda – a lot of them were from Dundalk. We thought: ‘if there’s that many travelling to Drogheda – how many must there be in Dundalk?’
“There used to be a place here where Eno Restaurant is now and it used to be a kind of a healing centre and we used to rent a double room in that.”
Bernie recalls vividly the vibrant history of the LGBT group, the Outcomers.
“I remember the first month we rented the room in that and we put an advertisement in one of the local papers where it just said ‘LGBT Meeting’.
“At the time, when I went into that, the first night, I was absolutely shocked: there must have been 30 people in the room!
“It was a big double room and there were people sitting all around. I thought for a minute: ‘am I in the right group here?’ The place was full. From that on, we had a lot of monthly meetings in that centre.”
Demand for a LGBT group in Dundalk was high back then in the 90s – just as much as it is now. Homosexuality had just been decriminalised in 1993 and the opportunity to advertise openly about LGBT issues and groups was finally possible.
Outcomers was initially supported by European, Peace and Reconciliation funding for groups working with Protestant and Catholic people from both sides of the border.
Bernie remembers how being LGBT was the common denominator and people from North and South could mix regardless of their political or religious affiliations.
“People came to the centre from the North of Ireland and it was never asked: were you Protestant, were you Catholic, were you an RUC man, were you a Policeman, were you an IRA man? – it didn’t matter.
"If you were gay and you came from any part of the divide – if you were Protestant or if you were Catholic or if you were a member of the Defense Forces or if you were a police officer or whatever – that was the only place you went if you were gay.
“It was really interesting at the time, we had a great mix on our committee. There was Protestant and Catholic; there was North and South. So, Peace and Reconciliation met with the committee and we had great chats and they agreed that they would fund us.
“We wrote an application and they awarded us 76 thousand old pounds, which was amazing. And that was to secure a building, renovate it, turn it into a community centre and helpline, train up some volunteers and get it off the ground.
“It was European money to integrate the two areas of North and South. It was just the time of the Good Friday Agreement, 20 years, all that time. We were very lucky; we were very well placed at the time to be a part of that.”
After securing funding, Outcomers struggled for a time to find a suitable building for their centre. They finally did secure premises. In these early, formative years, Outcomers was finding its feet – learning about the different ways in which they could support LGBT people in the community.
Bernie witnessed how Outcomers turned to the important issue of health promotion when the HSE made contact with the group.
“Initially the work we did was just supporting lesbian and gay people. We had a helpline; somebody would ring the helpline and say, ‘I’m gay and I’d like to meet other people who are gay’ - we would go to meet the person.
“We had a situation where we were coming to the end of our Peace and Reconciliation funding and the HSE contacted us and we did some work for them.
“There was a great need for us to link with the HSE. There was a lot of work going on within the HSE around men’s health and women’s health – specific health areas and groups of people that they found very hard to have contact with were the LGBT community.
“So, the HSE saw that the need to support Outcomers was very important. We would have GPs come in and talk to Outcomers; it was really useful to have those kinds of conversations because it gave our service users the strength to go and be confident in what they were saying to their healthcare professionals.
“It worked really, really well. Our work started to change from supporting lesbian and gay in closed service to also supporting mainstream community who look at the issues that they had around people who were gay.”
Outcomers grew throughout its 20 years and during this time has supported and continues to support LGBT people in the town. It runs the National LGBT Helpline also for two days a week.
“When I answer the phone I say, ‘Hello, the National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Supportline’. And I always use the words because you never know the person on the other end of the phone has ever heard themselves called those words before.
“If they are only figuring it out for themselves there’s a fair chance that they’ve never heard the word said out loud to them about them.
“So, I would get calls and people would say, ‘wow, that’s what I am – I’m a lesbian; I’ve never heard it used like that’. Google can tell you what being gay is but it can’t tell you if you’re gay. The people who ring us have all sorts of questions about being LGBT and they want to tease them out with somebody.”
Outcomers was 20 years old on March 21st this year. This year’s 9th Pride event in Dundalk promises to celebrate the vibrant LGBT community in the town and is a testimony to all the hard work of Bernie Quinn, along with Youth Worker, Sandra Gojic, administrator and CE worker, Irene McCauley and all the volunteers at Outcomers. Bernie encourages people to contact Outcomers on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been an eventful 20 years and it is a huge milestone for Outcomers; Bernie is looking forward to what promises to be another brilliant Dundalk Pride and an opportunity to celebrate 20 years worthwhile work in the Dundalk community.
“Altogether we’re 20 years open – we’re hoping to mark that at Pride this year. The week of the 14th of July – that’s our Pride week. Saturday the 14th July – that’s our Pride Day and we’ll have a Youth Pride on the 13th July and we’ll hopefully have a launch: Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
"So at Pride this year - that is when we’re going to mark 20 years in existence.”