Dave Roche: 'Being Gay and Grey is not as I thought it would be. It has its own special wonders'

'I am now the happiest I have ever been. I get to share my life with someone I love and do a job I adore."

Dave Roche, a founder member of the Cork LGBT Pride Festival and one of the country’s leading campaigners for LGBT rights, died suddenly at his home near Macroom in Co Cork, on July 1. Here is Dave, in his own words, on being Gay and Grey

I REMEMBER once when I was starting out in the restaurant business, being told that I would know I was successful when I had a full restaurant, and did not know anyone in it.

The point being that the product was good enough not to require personalities.

I had no idea that 30 something years later I would face this exact situation in my new life as a gay community development worker.

When I go out now on the very active “scene” in Cork, particularly around Pride, I am unlikely to know anyone except the very few from the old days.

The work of the previous two generations has been so successful in changing Ireland that many people may not even be aware of that work.

Ireland, and especially Cork, has become a much more welcoming and open space for LGBT people.

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When I first “came out” (I use the expression cautiously) in the late seventies, Cork was a much smaller and more homogenised place.

I knew almost everyone of the small band of pioneers who were the “scene,” and while law reform and marriage were many years in the future we somehow managed to carve out a life for ourselves despite the suspicion, ridicule and downright hostility that was part of daily life.

Of course, I now realise the damage done by the background stresses and the internalising of the negativity we faced but I can also remember the fun, the thrill and the sense of belonging that came with being part of this closed group.

I have to admit that while my friends and myself had some awareness of the early stirrings of something vaguely political happening at the “Quay Co-op” we were much more concerned with the next party or the latest fashions.

So, with ridicule as the norm we carried on and through mutual support survived more or less intact.

It was years later and with the horrors of the HIV/Aids epidemic still very much in my mind that I began the real process of “Coming Out”.

That is the internal dialogue that is essential to self discovery.

I realised that one cannot grow up gay in the Ireland I grew up in and not be damaged in some way.

That internalising of fear, stigma, disgust and ridicule leaves its mark.

The process of extracting it was the real coming out.

Around this time, I decided to reengage with formal education and went to UCC where I studied Social Science and began to understand the forces that shape our society and, subsequently, our lived existence.

I understood the need for, and the use of, liminal spaces but I decided that for real change to happen I had to cross these thresholds and try to effect some change myself.

So began a career in gay community work that has taken me on a roller coaster ride that has shaken that naïve teenager, that selfish hedonist, in my twenties, and that carefree thirty-something who turned into a greying, content, gay man.

Post referendum Ireland is a far better place, but while many people’s futures are more secure we still have a mountain of work to do about peoples’ present.

The present for those generations who began all of this is to be the first generations that will age as an “out” population anywhere.

While LGBT people have always grown old the new phenomenon now will be a visible aging community, and we do not know what that will entail.

Many older LGBT people were estranged from their families, are less likely to have children, and for many the career options they felt were open to them often came with little financial security.

They grew up in a country where they were anthologised and criminalised. I am sure our need will be similar to other aging populations, but there is likely to be distinct differences, too.

Older people are often de-sexualised in our society and often re-consigned to those liminal spaces in which we fought so hard to get out.

Do we want to give up a sexual identity that was so hard won? The environment that we create now for our elders will be the environment that will be relevant to this generation very soon.

I often wonder when I am working in schools, or with youth groups around the city and county, or when making some speech at an event, what the younger members of the audience see when I am in full-flight about equality, rights and Irish society.

Do they see a grey activist who is kind of interesting, but past it? Or, do they see someone who is politically gay, but could not actually be “doing it”? Or can they see they see me?

By me, I mean all of me.

The passionate community worker, the country boy who agonises about his garden, the lover whose heart skips a beat whenever Viber chimes.

The good news is that despite the constant rose pruning, I am now the happiest I have ever been.

I get to share my life with someone I really love, I get to work in a job I adore (if I ignore the admin), and I get to garden my own little slice of heaven.

I have also been privileged to have met and worked alongside the most amazing people over the years and have lifelong friendships that I cherish.

Being Gay and Grey is not as I thought it would be. It has its own special wonders.

Yes! It has been a good year for the roses.


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