A lifeline for LGBTI people living in rural western Ireland is in danger of closing.
Teach Solais, an Irish word meaning ‘lighthouse’, is providing much-needed services. It is the only LGBTI center in Galway, and all of western Ireland.
Some have criticized Taioseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar, who is gay, for cutting taxes while under-funding minority services.
How this LGBTI center in western Ireland is a lifeline for those in rural areas
The center opened two years ago after a seven-year campaign.
They initially asked for €90,000 ($101,000), to cover two paid employees, overhead and projects.
But, instead, the HSE only awarded them €5,000 ($5,600).
The group called it a ‘disappointment’. Without consistent funding, Teach Solais will close in November this year.
A GoFundMe has since been launched to keep the lights on at the center. Over €3,000 ($3,400) has been raised so far at the time of publishing.
Cameron Keighron, the chair of Teach Solais, told Gay Star News that everyone who works there is a volunteer.
‘We didn’t expect to take as much,’ he said. ‘People are donating hundreds of euro.
‘It’s great to see there is support out there for the work we’re doing. People don’t want to see it closed.’
Fighting rural isolation for LGBTIs in Ireland
Despite massive progress in Ireland in recent years, it can still be difficult to LGBTI in rural areas.
Some drive for three hours from tiny towns or villages to go to the center – the closest LGBTI space for them.
The center runs a helpline, offers peer support groups, free HIV testing. Teach Solais also provide a space, outside of bars, to give skills to those in the LGBTI community.
Keighron calls it a ‘backbone’ for the LGBTI community in western Ireland.
‘We’ve unified the community here. We have people who will travel hours because this is the only place they have.
‘There are people of all different ages and all different backgrounds.’
Threat of closure
But the threat of its closure is something facing multiple minority groups in western Ireland.
Varadkar, last week, announced tax cuts. This move was seen, and criticized, by groups that badly need government help.
‘The west of Ireland is underfunded everywhere – especially in minority communities,’ Keighron said.
‘The government needs to step up massively on supporting minority groups, not just the LGBTI community.’
He added: ‘We’re seeing issues that the east just doesn’t have. We’re tackling rural isolation, putting out education. A lot of people don’t even know what LGBT means.’
If the GoFundMe succeeds, it will keep the physical space open for another year. In that time, they hope to achieve sustainable funding.
‘Space for people to be 100% themselves’
Even though it has only been running two years, the center has seen massive success.
‘All of volunteers, we’ve become supports for people in the LGBTI community. We’ve seen families with young trans kids who have no idea where to turn. The next Pride, you see they have come together as a family.
‘We’ve seen people who move on and go into education or into jobs or come out to families.
‘We create a space for people to be 100% themselves. You can see the difference in their confidence.
‘You see some people outside on the street, afraid to come in. It might take two or three weeks to come in at all. But they do, and they move from sitting in the corner to engaging in what we do.’