The Demise of Community Groups

One of the most interesting features of the last couple of years in gay circles in Ireland is a massive increase in numbers attending large community based events such as pride. Dublin and Belfast now regularly extend well into the thousands and queues extend outside all the major bars as well as full houses at the extra official events off the main scene.

A curious thing which has happened is a disproportionate fall in demand for regular community support services - once very popular and well attended social groups in community centres are struggling to keep going. When I was involved with one particular group, who a faceless "steering committee" were trying to push aside to facilitate a "drop in" event, we asked how many were actually showing up to their previous events? Not one person, was the answer.

The shocking reality hit us immediately: the "steering committee" was trying to dislodge a group of 17 for an event that didn't have a single attendee. It seemed ironic, for a centre that appears to be chronically underused. Yet it is across the board. The once popular cafes run by some of the bigger centres are struggling to survive as they have few users - yet the number of people out is exploding? Why is this occuring?

I think the example above is a clear example of how out of touch with the reality of the communities needs can conflict with the agendas held by those who are volunteers for such organisations. Many of them started in a time when needs were very different, and in most cases they have largely continued to cater for the groups that they originally started working for. The problem now, is that these groups have evolved, and now have quite different needs. But empty community centres decry the fact that they are massively out of kilter with a rapidly evolving community.

Yet the example above fell on deaf ears outside of our own little group. Nobody even thought for 5 minutes that there might be something very very wrong with an "event" that was attracting no attendees. Blame instead the successful event that is doing fine. If ever there was a trap, this was it. Failure is a ripe opportunity for learning, but in this instance, it had clearly become a chance to blame somebody else.

There is another LGBT community group which I became aware of through an acquaintance a few years ago. At the time they were literally killing each other, and the internal politics appears to have been pulling the group apart. My associate told me that she was trying to get everybody working together.

Not long afterwards, she turned up with another group, dedicated to the same case. The original group survived, intact.

A year later, she broke away from the new group and now operates under a group name, for which for all intents and purposes, she appears to be the only member. I can't help thinking by now, that there is some kind of dysfunctional motivation there with this lady that wasn't being fed by those groups.

And yet, the same person sees herself as an "expert." The reality is that she is a highly dangerous, self-appointed spokesperson for a cause with a lot of doversity and uncertainty, and some of the "information" she passes to highly vulnerable people is misleading, unproven and highly dangerous to some of them. Yet she is now unstoppable as she now has her own "organization."

Its a classic example of how support groups and organisations are damaged by self-interest, narrow needs, bias and a desire to use them a vehicle for personal agendas. There can be a lot of jealousy and bitter infighting should anybody be seen to benefit more than others - I certainly think the group I was invovled in was a victim of this mentality.

Yet the same group has employees working for it who behave in a manner that is manipulative, coercive, invasive and they definite hurt others. Yet they are permitted to continue on in a group that is supposedly "helping" a vulnerable community. Let me just hope that the new round of cutbacks will force groups like this to be properly monitored without handing out vast amounts of taxpayers money for individuals and groups to create fifedoms for themselves, especially in vulnerable communities. We definitely need a proper feedback and control system for these groups.

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