Theatre director Oonagh Murphy wanted LGBT asylum seekers living with limited means across Ireland to experience Dublin Pride, so she asked for help to support the newest members of our society, reports Ciara McGrattan
In the midst of a seemingly relentless torrent of bad global news, a brief moment of sunshine broke through last month when 29 year-old theatre director Oonagh Murphy, together with the members of the Rainbow Solidarity Project (which has since been renamed I-Dentity LGBT Refugee Support), set up a fundraising page aiming to enable members of the group to attend Dublin Pride.
I-Dentity is made up of the remnants of a BeLonG To group comprised of asylum seekers and refugees from around the country. When the BeLonG To group lost funding last year, the members were left without a direct connection to an established LGBT network, an essential support for those not only coming to terms with their sexuality but also navigating life in a new country.
However, group members Nokuthula Mpofu and Siphiwe Moyo were not eager to give up this lifeline and decided to continue regardless, using WhatsApp as a central communication resource. But with the members spread across the country and funds at a minimum, the group’s possibilities were limited.
€19.10 per week
Most of I-Dentity’s members are under Direct Provision (DP), the government’s ‘cashless’ system of handling asylum seekers whose claims are mired in endless processing. Residents at DP centres receive accommodation, food and utilities, which are paid for by the state, along with a weekly stipend of €19.10 for adults. They are not permitted to work. This system has been widely criticised for creating “institutionalised poverty” and is seen as a ‘warehousing’ of the vulnerable newest members of Irish society.
So, for LGBT asylum seekers with a weekly budget of just €19.10, the ability to meet up with fellow LGBTs from around Ireland is severely curtailed. In need of assistance, members of I-Dentity reached out to theatre-maker Oonagh Murphy. It was through running voluntary theatre workshops at one of the DP centres that Oonagh became friends with members of I-Dentity, and so when they asked for her assistance reinvigorating the group, she was only too happy to oblige.
Initially Murphy assisted the group by helping them establish connections, putting them in touch with other organisations that support LGBTs and asylum seekers, but when it became clear that one of the things that the group desperately wanted to do was to walk together at Dublin Pride, Murphy decided to try and make it happen.
At first she just sought to cover some of the transport costs of bringing the group’s far-flung members back together, so she reached out to friends, hoping to get a few quid from her generous mates. She was little prepared for the reaction she got. “I just literally had asked a few friends to throw us a tenner basically,” Murphy says. “Then it just took off and became a situation where I was getting worried about all this money flooding into my bank account. So I turned it into a Go Fund Me campaign.”
Immediately donations began flooding in and the campaign grew into a phenomenal success, ultimately raising €4,175 and smashing its original target of €1,500. It seemed as if people, hungry for some positive news for a change, were eager to be able to do something good. And the outpouring of support didn’t stop at the financial assistance. A group of artists and designers, including John Gillan, made and designed the group’s banner and t-shirts, bearing their newly-rebranded name. Capitalising on the celebratory vibe of the occasion, the group even connected with a samba band and so were part of the most vital and vibrant sections of the parade.
This raucous celebration was an affirmation of life, but also meaningful statement for those I-Dentity members for whom openly expressing their sexuality orientation once meant facing possible ostracisation, violence or even death.
Zimbabwe-born 35 year-old, Siphiwe Moyo knows this only too well. “Life as a gay person in Zimbabwe is not easy,” she tells me. “Looking at the culture, looking at the community and everything you can be who you are but you can’t express yourself. You live your life in a cocoon, just living inside. You can’t express your feelings because it’s something that is illegal in our country. So it’s a very difficult position to be in.”
The significance of having the ability to celebrate one’s sexuality safely, in the supportive cocoon of like-minded rainbow revellers, cannot be understated. And for Siphiwe and the other I-Dentity members the outpouring of support makes them want to give something back to others in similar situations.
“I know the troubles that you have when you come into a new country: you don’t know anyone,” says Nokuthula Mpofu, also from Zimbabwe. “So, for these people that are coming in that are new, it would be nice for them to feel welcome and that they can be able to express themselves and can live their lives, because this a country where we are welcome.”
Pride Is Still A Protest
For Murphy, marching with the I-Dentity members at Dublin Pride was not just fun, but an act of defiance. It felt really significant to walk down the street and say ‘Pride is still a protest’ and to remind people that there are still countries in the world where love is illegal. For the people who are in the group, the reality of it is that they may never be able to live in the country where they were born because of their sexuality. It was quite an emotional thing, in terms of the politics of it.
The money raised by the GoFundMe campaign wasn’t just spent on a single day of fun at Dublin Pride. Thanks to the generosity of those who donated both time and money, I-Dentity will be able to sustain itself for the foreseeable future.
Future Of I-Dentity
“We’ve got very high hopes for the group,” says Nokuthula. “Firstly, we hope that next year will be bigger for Pride hopefully more people are going to join us. Maybe one day in the future we’re going open up a charity shop just to raise money for the disabled and our group. We hope that will come to pass.”
“We want to be an established group that will have support for everyone,” adds Siphiwe. “That’s why we call it I-Dentity because it’s a multicultural group open to people from different cultures and Irish people.”
The success of the GoFundMe campaign also helped to make our newest citizens feel welcome in their adopted country. “Just to unexpectedly receive all that love, we feel more welcome and more open to the great experience,” says Nokuthula.
“We didn’t know how we were going to be at Pride,” adds Siphiwe. “We are very grateful to Oonagh who came up with the idea, and to get such amazing love and support – it was an overwhelming experience.”
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