With the launch of a new poster campaign, the journey towards acceptance of LGBT people within the Traveller community is underway, says Rob Buchanan.
From the outside looking in, there can be few subsets of the LGBT family that face more adversity in finding acceptance with their families than members of the Travelling community. So, it was with great curiosity that I attended the launch of a new poster campaign for Traveller and Roma Pride at the Children’s Ombudsman building. On meeting the young people there and listening to the speakers, my curiosity quickly turned to admiration and hope.
The launch of the poster campaign is the next step in a long, successful collaboration with the BeLonG To youth organisation. The poster itself and the work surrounding come from the combined efforts of dozens of young people, as a starting point for dialog and a doorway in to this little understood world.
GCN’s astrologist and gay Traveller from LGBT Pavee, Oein De Bhairdúin was the first speaker. His articulate enthusiasm showed he was more than aware of the unique challenges within the Traveller and Roma traditions, but his sincere desire for people to find self-worth and love within themselves was inspirational.
For the estimated 4,000 LGBT Travellers in Ireland, those first steps of acknowledging your feelings and then reaching out to others like yourself can be even more daunting that it is for others. While many LGBT people in the settled community can face issues of acceptance from family and friends, very strong traditional family structures in the extremely close Traveller communities, combined with a lack of access to information, cause a whole new dimension to the problem. The new posters will help to create a dialog for LGBT Travellers and begin breaking that silence.
Director of BeLonG To, David Carroll is cognisant of the profound marginalisation faced by the Travelling community in general, along with its resistance to even discuss an LGBT identity. But as he said at the launch, we should not consider young LGBT Travellers simply in terms of vulnerability or disadvantage. There is huge potential and a growing confidence in that section of our wider LGBT community, where voices and opportunities are emerging for the first time. A once entirely invisible part of the rainbow is showing its colours.
Grassroots campaigner and former Chair of the National LGBT Federation, Ailbhe Smyth, spoke about the common ground and battles that all LGBT people face. Coming out as gay in the Travelling community is a collision of worlds, she said. It throws you in to conflict with your family’s traditions in the same that emerging feminism in previous generations was seen as a rebellion rather than an assertion of equality. She highlighted the courage that Traveller LGBT people display by standing up for who they are, saying that this is the best possible way to prove to their families that it is the right thing is to express their love and happiness as LGBT people.
Briggie Collins, a young lady from the Travelling community, spoke about the breaking of taboos around homosexuality and the subsequent shame and fear in the Traveller community. Until Briggie spoke, I had never thought about how fearful Traveller parents were for their LGBT children, because it would mean they could never be married or have children of their own, which are hugely important elements of the culture. I imagined how my own mother would feel if she believed I could never have a family, and it really brought the issue home to me.
This poster is a key step towards developing guidelines and safe spaces for young LGBT Travellers. Briggie talked about how Pavee Point has marched in Pride for the past five years and how hopefully this year even more LGBT Travellers and Roma people be on the parade.
The evening finished off with some music from two young BeLonG To members, and some traditional Traveller music on the squeezebox, while we mingled with the young people and looked at a fascinating exhibit about the Traveller and Roma culture. I felt like I had stumbled upon the beginning of something fantastic; a new part of the queer movement.
The courage of LGBT Travellers need to have in the face of traditional pressure, combined with the discrimination faced in Irish society in general, will inevitably strengthen and enrich the cause for all LGBT people in Ireland.
It may be a long road towards full acceptance and integration for LGBT Travellers in Ireland, but with enlightened people like Oein De Bhairdúin leading the way, I have no doubt the destination will be reached.
© 2014 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.