Galway has changed considerably since the eighties and early nineties when Nuala Ward, the chair of new Galway lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT ) group Amach! says she and her colleagues were met with indifference, fear and a lack of understanding.
Ms Ward remembers clearly the difficulty in booking venues for society events and the responses from businessmen and women when they were confronted. “They would say ‘We’re Catholics’ and I would think, “so am I,” she says. “Other people said that it would be bad for business.”
She believes that an invitation to GLEN (The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network ) to attend Aras an Uachtarain by then President of Ireland Mary Robinson represented a major breakthrough and brought a significant sea change in the public’s attitude towards the gay community. Nuala Ward was one of those who attended the Aras and says: “The Mary Robinson invite was a big boost for the LGBT community in Ireland.”
Ms Ward says that before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993 colleagues and friends in Galwegian gay and lesbian societies would often ignore her if she stopped to talk to them on the street. “I suppose they didn’t want people knowing, and if they were seen talking to me people might have known,” she adds. In the pubs and clubs we all chatted away but people felt like they had to be discreet she says.
In November last a decision was taken by the LGBT community in Galway to establish a registered company limited by guarantee to be an umbrella organisation for the interests and activities of the community in Galway city and county.
That organisation is Amach! and there were jubilant scenes at the launch on July 5 at Galway Civic Museum when special guest Senator David Norris officially opened proceedings. The group aims to celebrate the diversity within the LGBT community by encouraging active participation and positive campaigning. It is hoped that this will lead to a strong support structure for all members. Ms Ward says, “The community wanted something that would be more focused and more structured and sustainable”.
She says there is a major reliance on a “good core group of people” but there has always been a steady flow of voluntary members willing to help out. The LGBT community has now set up a range of subgroups which cater for the needs of members.
The pride group are responsible for the organisation of the hugely successful Galway Community Pride festival which will be held for the 21st consecutive time from August 19 to August 22 this summer. There is also a focus group which targets diversity policy in hospitals, and a film group who are currently producing a special Galway LGBT documentary.
According to Ms Ward, Amach!, ShOUT! - which caters for the LGBT youth - and the entire community are constantly striving to build a society of inclusiveness. “The purpose of Amach! and the LGBT community is to try to represent everyone equally in Galway city and county so it’s a big undertaking,” she says.
The next step is to get a resource centre which will act as a focal point for the LGBT community and Ms Ward says they are curretly looking at a number of viable locations for this centre.
She believes there is a strong community spirit in Galway and is proud that the LGBT community are part of this. “Between age, gender and sexuality there’s a wonderful diversity in Galway,” she adds.
While there have been murmurs of discontent in some quarters regarding certain legislative measures in the Civil Partnership Bill Ward says it is undoubtedly a positive first step. “I think it’s great that it’s happened, and that it’s on the agenda, but I think it’s unfortunate that children and same-sex couples have been left in limbo,” she says. Under the legislation gay people can only adopt individually, and if that person dies the child will require additional guardianship.
Ms Ward says that the same rights and privileges are not afforded to the LGBT community and their children as to heterosexual couples and that was fundamentally wrong. “Its a step forward but there’s a long way to go,” she adds.