Creating new safe spaces in Cork County for people who identify as LGBTQI+

It is important to fight for the rights of the LGBTI+ community, no matter where they are, says Sinead Huggins-Young, who tells NICOLA DEPUIS about initiatives to support people living in rural Ireland
Creating new safe spaces in Cork County for people who identify as LGBTQI+

Sinead Huggins-Young with her wife Esther.

CORK is a small city with a relatively small LGBT+ community. There are few resources for people who self-define as LGBT+ within the city, but in the county, there are even less.

In 2021, Youghal led the way for Cork county with their first Youghal Pride by the Sea event, and more recently, the newly formed Cobh LGBT+ group held its first meeting.

Events and groups like these are essential for helping people in rural locations feels more connected to a community that supports them.

In a recent interview I held with Scottish crime writer Val McDermid, she made clear reference to how difficult it is to be queer outside of urban society.

“A lot of people from rural communities… who are not part of urban society, for them the notion of being gender fluid or non-binary or queer is also still out of reach,” said Val, who recently spoke at the Lesbian Lives conference in UCC.

“If you have nowhere to be part of a community, it is very difficult to live your life in a way that feels comfortable. 

"I know the online community provides a way to feel comfortable to be yourself, but it’s still not the same as sitting down with people face to face and talking through your experiences and your feelings and just having a laugh with like-minded people.”

To show their support for the new Cobh LGBT+ group, members of queer liberation movement, Saoirse Aiteach, attended the first meeting at a coffee shop in Cobh.

Saoirse Aiteach is the advocacy strand of the Seeding the County project, which focuses on supporting the inclusion and participation of LGBTQI+ people in rural areas. One of the members who showed up to offer support is Cork-based filmmaker and activist Sinead Huggins-Young, who recently released a documentary called The Alphabet Mafia at The Regal Cinema, Youghal.

“The Alphabet Mafia is a derogatory term that came from America, and it means that the LGBT community are secretive and deceptive,” says Sinead.

Sinead Huggins-Young
Sinead Huggins-Young

“But then, the queer community took the name back and reclaimed it. So, I just thought it was the perfect name for the documentary.”

In the film, various members of the LGBTQI+ community, including Clarice Murnane, Stephen Young, Danny Kelly, Jamie O’ Herlihy, Wyatt Walsh, Kamila Walaszec, Grace Duncan, Ciara Mulcahy and Paul Stanton, are interviewed about their thoughts on sexuality, gender, the community, and terminology.

Pansexuality (the romantic, emotional, and/or sexual attraction to people regardless of their gender) is discussed, as is asexuality (the lack of sexual attraction to others, or a low interest in sexual activity).

The documentary was made under the umbrella of the Seeding the County project, and it will be used as an educational resource for rural areas.

“I remember being in secondary school and there was zero LGBT education. The main message I want to get out there with this documentary is that, you know, you’re not alone,” says Sinead, who is originally from Rosscarbery, West Cork.

“There are people like you out there in the sticks, basically. And it is important to educate straight people as well who don’t have a clue about anything LGBT. The documentary shows we all have these different struggles, but we just want to be treated like everybody else.”

Sinead also hosts The Gay Agenda, a monthly LGBTQ+ radio show on Youghal’s CRY104fm.

“We talk about all the homophobia that’s been happening, about different gay terms and what they mean, and we just try to get more awareness out there.”

The language of gender and sexuality is constantly evolving, and to help people keep up with it, Sinead is currently working on a book called The Book of Gay: “It’s a list of all different terms, sexualities, and slang. The tagline is - The good, the bad, and the ugly of queer terminology.”

The book came about because of Sinead’s attempt to educate her friend.

“They came out within the last couple of years, and they didn’t know what any of the slang meant,” says Sinead.

“And I was just, you know, talking normally. And they were like, oh, what does this mean? And what does that mean? So, I said I will make you a list. Things kept getting added to it and people didn’t know what half of it was. So, that’s how the book came about.”

Sinead lives in Wilton with her wife Esther, their dog Bear (who makes a guest appearance in The Alphabet Mafia), and their other pets. She admits things have improved since she first came out.

“When I was a kid, it was a completely different story. It wasn’t as open and free as it is now,” says Sinead.

“There has been a lot of change, and not always for the better, but it has got better in terms of people coming out and having accepting family.”

Sinead, Saoirse Aiteach, and Seeding the County will continue to support and open new safe spaces in Cork County for people who identify as LGBTQI+.

“Cork is not the best place to be queer, but we do not have it the worst here. It’s important to remember that there are enough countries out there where you could still be arrested or murdered for being queer,” says Sinead.

“It’s important to fight for the rights of LGBT+ people, wherever they are.”

You can find out more about The Alphabet Mafia, Seeding the County, Saoirse Aiteach and The Gay Agenda on social media.

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