FOR Cork woman Kate Moynihan, LINC has always been “a safe place” to go.
The organisation, which works to provide support and achieve equality for lesbian and bisexual women in Cork, was founded in the city in 1999 and now has more than 1,500 women accessing its services, primarily around the city and county.
LINC is the only community development organisation in the Republic of Ireland working exclusively with lesbian and bisexual women. It has also expanded so much in recent years in terms of the services it offers and the number of women it supports, that it is effectively outgrowing its White Street home.
It sounds like a success story, and indeed we have come a long way on the path toward equality in the last 20 years. However, Kate, who is project co-ordinator at LINC, says there’s still work to do and were it not for the people who were willing to “stand out and put their heads above the parapet” campaigning for gay rights when homosexuality was still illegal in Ireland less than 30 years ago, we might not be where we are today.
“Nothing happens overnight, it’s all built on what goes before,” said Kate. “Before we had the rights we have now, there were people organising, and without them, if they weren’t willing to be visible, to stand out and put their heads above the parapet, we wouldn’t have the rights we have now. You have to have the few with a vision who are willing to put themselves out there, no matter what, to achieve equality or you won’t get anywhere.
Kate explained that before LINC was formally founded, there was work going on to support the LGBT community at grassroots level in Cork.
“In 1992, an LGBT group took part in the St Patrick’s Parade here in Cork at a time when LGBT people weren’t allowed to take part in the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York. It was quite incredible really.
“There was always campaigning going on in the background here and I was in that group at the time. We applied to Cork City Council for permission to take part and the council said ‘yes’. Cork always says yes,” she smiled.
After that, a few women came together with a view to finding a premises in the city where lesbian and bisexual women could meet, socialise and access supports.
“Our first offices were on George’s Quay, then on Prince’s Street and we’ve been here on White Street since 2005. Our aim is to improve the quality of life, health and wellbeing of all women who identify as lesbian or bisexual (LB) in Ireland.”
The organisation’s objectives include: building a safe, accessible and vibrant community centre (both actual and virtual) for LB women; providing information and support for LB women and their families; and informing and contributing to relevant policy development at local, regional and national level.
Kate, who used to “drop into LINC myself” before becoming a member of staff, says the organisation aims to achieve its objectives through various means: through advocacy, by offering different support services and by running different activities for LB women, both inside and outside the centre.
“Among other things, we have a drama group, a walking group, a cinema group, a book club, a 12 step support group for people who have suffered from addiction, and we support the LGBT youth group run by Youth Work Ireland that meets here in LINC once a week.
“We also do a lot of one to one support and offer support to parents of LGB people and we are just setting up a transgender support group for parents called TransParenCI, with the TransGender Equality Network Ireland (TENI).
“One of the main things for an LGBT community is to have social activities. We still very much live in a heterosexual word so it’s very important for us to have places we can meet and socialise. The centre gives people access to meet, to make new friends and learn new things.”
It all sounds very positive but again, despite the success of the marriage referendum and the work of other groups like Cork City LGBT interagency, Kate points out that real equality for women, especially LB women, has yet to be achieved. “There’s the perception that everything’s okay now because we have rights, we can get married, but it’s not really okay yet. There’s still so much to do.
“While things have changed hugely, there are still women who are afraid to come out, who are afraid of rejection among their own communities and families.
“In general, it’s still not seen as ideal to be lesbian or gay.
“We do a lot of awareness training in schools and colleges because lesbianism and bisexuality are still not accepted in many schools. It’s like if if a young girl in school fancies another girl in school, she instinctively knows that it’s not something that’s to be talked about. It’s not something that’s really accepted.
“There’s fear attached to how her friends are going to react and that’s something that needs to be addressed.
“Also, if you’re a lesbian woman living down the country or living in a small village, it’s very isolating.
“We’re the only delegated organisation in the country that works with lesbian and bisexual women, that’s dedicated to women alone, which means that we have women from all over the country ringing in to us or calling in to the centre.
“If you live in the city, you have access to lots of different things. But if you’re out in a rural area, you don’t have that access, so we provide that support. It’s really, really important for LB women’s mental health and their wellbeing and it’s important for them to have a place to come to.
“There is no real LGBT space in the city for socialising. There’s no real space for socialising without alcohol other than here. We try to provide that space.”
When asked why LINC is solely dedicated to LB women, rather than offering supports and services to the entire LGBT community, she simply said: “Because LB women’s needs are different. It has been reviewed from time to time but it always comes back to being just for women.
“Traditionally, women have always had to fight for their voice and that is no different in the LGBT community. It’s a space we fought hard to get and that we’ll fight hard to maintain while it’s still needed and at the moment, it’s still needed.”
Speaking of space, LINC is now fundraising to source a permanent premises in the city in order to provide a long-term stable base for LB women on Leeside. In 2015, the organisation received €100,000 in lottery funding to purchase a new building and aims to at least double that figure through fundraising efforts such as its now annual skydive, which Kate took part in last year.
“The skydive was a fantastic experience,” said Kate who is in her 50s. “I would definitely recommend it to anyone and it was a great fund-raising idea. We achieve a lot on a little budget here at LINC but we have a concerted campaign to raise funds for a new building where we can do more for more people. We are calling on the public to support our efforts.”
Kate said that what she hopes to see in the future and what LINC is working towards is that any woman who does identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender can live their life free from fear and be a fully active member of society, that they can be out and proud.
“What I would like is that when a child is born, it doesn’t matter what their sexual orientation is, that they’re completely accepted and supported to be whatever they want to be. The issue is not about being gay. There’s nothing in the world wrong with being gay, it’s all caused by society’s attitudes towards sexuality and that’s what we’re working to change. It’s about winning hearts and minds,” said Kate.
For more on LINC see www.linc.ie/, call 021-4808600 or email email@example.com. The centre at White Street is open Tues, Weds, 11am until 3pm and Thurs, 11am until 8pm.