A West Cork LGBTI+ community group is hoping its work will not only promote quality and inclusion in the area, but help make a difference for more vulnerable members of the LGBTI+ community in rural parts of Cork.
BRÓD, which means Pride in Irish, was initially formed three years ago after the successful running of Pride by the Sea.
The group, which is based in Clonakilty, provides support to members throughout West Cork and Beara and is working closely with the West Cork Development Partnership through their SICAP Programme.
BRÓD Chairperson, John Fleming, is a native of Timoleague. He said that while he enjoyed a very pleasant experience growing up as a young gay man, that he is fully aware, that other young people don’t experience similar scenarios.
“I came out when I was 16. My family were very open and accepting of me coming out. I was the first person to come out while attending Clonakilty Community College. There were no issues and the school were very supportive. While my story was very positive, that is not always the case for other young people."
He explains that BRÓD has three main pillars, which they hope to achieve through various missions including community engagement initiatives, education initiatives and support offerings. Their three main strategies are visibility, advocacy and support.
“With regards to visibility, we are hoping to see more LGBTI+ members in West Cork and to become part of a safer, wider and vibrant community. We also want to create a bigger media profile,' explained Mr Fleming.
"With regards to advocacy, it is about joining the national fight for equal rights. We have come a long way in recent years with same-sex marriage. There are still a lot of issues out there, particularly for trans people where they don’t have rights. We are advocating for equal rights and inclusion. In terms of support, we are making sure all services get delivered. We are hoping to ensure more programmes are delivered in West Cork. It is important that we the committee members come from the community. We hope to work closely with LINC, The Gay Project and TENI in delivering these services.”
Part of their remit is to ensure they are available for the more vulnerable members of the LGBTI+ community, the BRÓD Chairperson explained. “We want to make a difference for our members. We are the only organisation based in a rural area. We want to make sure our two most vulnerable groups, the elderly and younger members, who live in rural areas have access to our supports. We also hope to set up an LGBTI+ Youth Group in West Cork.”
BRÓD have received great cross-party support from an array of politicians in Cork. Their hopes of creating a unique rainbow crossing in Clonakilty has gathered momentum. They are hopeful their novel idea will get the go-ahead. “Instead of it being a zebra crossing, it would have rainbow colours. All the councillors were very supportive. Councillor Paul Hayes brought it to Cork County Council and they are working with the engineers to manage it accordingly,” said Mr Fleming.
Working with schools is also a key priority for the organisation who are keen to explore all options available and to gain as much exposure as possible said Mr Fleming. “We would be looking to work with national advocacy organisations called BeLongTo and ShoutOut. It would involve going into secondary schools and talking about our experiences. It would be talking about the challenges we face and trying to deter bullying. There was always a high rate of LGBTI+ members being bullied in the past. These organisations are trying to encourage inclusivity and acceptance for everybody.”
Modern society in Ireland has changed at a ferocious pace. Ireland has become a lot more liberal in recent years, which has been greatly welcomed by John.
“Tolerance has improved hugely. The various referendums which have been held in recent years have driven that on. There are lots of social, political and religious factors which also contribute to that. People are now living more by way of diversity and inclusion. We can be seen as having a positive impact on a community, rather than as a threat. The more diversity we have, the more positive for everyone. West Cork is already a very diverse region. It is very unique. We are trying to promote that diversity in terms of gender and sexual orientation."
Mr Fleming says they are keen to get the message across that they are here to help those who need support.
"Often our community struggle for role models in terms of well-known gay or trans people. BRÓD are trying to ensure members of our community have positive role models they can look up to. All five committee members have enjoyed a lot of success in their lives and hopefully, this can inspire LGBTI+ people.”
He added: “There are still challenges, unfortunately. Homophobia still exists to a certain degree and it is still being experienced by LGBTI+ members. There have been a lot of incidents in person and online. This is very distressing for our members. While legislatively, we have got equal rights in terms of marriage, there are still other areas we don’t have equality. Access to health care for trans people is important. There will always be a need for BRÓD until we get to a place of full tolerance and inclusion. We are not there yet.”