The staff from Belly Cafe taking part in the Mullingar Pride parade last summer.

Midlands LGBT+ receive ‘many calls’ from over 75s, meeting is told

The LGBT+ project for the midlands receives between 300 and 400 calls a year, many of them from people older than 75 years living in rural areas who have never “come out” and “probably never will”, according to Christina Fitzharris, who runs the project.

So far, they have had no funding for Westmeath, but that is about to change and plans are being made for supports and services in this county.

Ms Fitzharris and Daniel Boyne, chairman of Mullingar Pride, addressed a meeting of the Municipal District of Mullingar Kinnegad in December, at which they highlighted the need for more supports and greater inclusion for gay people.

Ms Fitzharris said that during the Covid-19 pandemic, many older members living in rural areas were completely isolated. Before lockdown, they would have gone maybe to Dublin once a month, and looking forward to that outing kept them going, but that was shut down to them and they were cut off, many of them not having access to technology and other outlets available to younger people.

Mr Boyne grew up in Mullingar, but got away as soon as he could because there was nothing gay about the town. When he returned after 11 years, he found nothing much had changed.

He said young people are being bullied in schools and isolated in sports groups because they do not fit into society’s narrative of what they are supposed to be and that needs to stop or, like him, they will scarper as soon as they can.

We need something on the ground, supports, so people don’t have to leave because they don’t fit in, he said. Mr Boyne was the organiser of the Mullingar Pride parade, which was a huge success earlier this year, but then the momentum dropped, he said.

He called on the council and the public to be more aware of Mullingar Pride and to include them in events such as the fleadh and the turning on of the Christmas lights.

Chairperson, and mayor of the district, Cllr Hazel Smyth, revealed that she wasn’t invited to the turning on of the Christmas lights either and she is the mayor of the town! Cllr Smyth was instrumental in organising the presentation by Daniel and Christina to the council.

An LGBT+ project for the midlands was established in 2021 for adults, to reduce isolation and build a sense of community and inclusion. They have two staff members and 13 volunteers as well as 25 peer support groups and they receive more than 300 calls and emails a year.

Ms Fitzharris told the meeting of a disabled woman living in rural Westmeath who found their number on an old newspaper that was among groceries someone dropped in to her. That woman now receives phone calls from them every week or two.

They do as much as they can to reach out to people and to talk to businesses and organisations about what they can do to help, but Ms Fitzharris said that their resources and time are stretched. She said that the funding now available for Westmeath will enable them to expand their involvement in the county.

Members welcomed the presentation and vowed to help the project in any way possible.