Voices From Afar depicts five people not born in Ireland but who live here now. They shared their stories with GCN about their new lives in Ireland. These portraits explore themes of homophobia, racism, sexual and mental health and Ireland’s Direct Provision system. Expect intimate, up close, personal and real voices sharing their truths and compelling you to listen and think.
Bulelani Cornelius Mfaco from South Africa explained:
“I travelled back to South Africa in January 2017 and while there, I learned that an openly gay woman who lived close to home was abducted and murdered for no reason other than her sexual orientation. She was not the first person to be murdered in South Africa because of her sexual orientation and would not be the last, as many have been murdered after her death for the same reason. I recall sitting with my little brother at home telling him that sometimes the best thing to do is pack your bags, leave and never come back to this place. And that is what I did.”
“There is nothing welcoming about being placed in a Direct Provision centre, stripped of your privacy, right to work, and the dignity that comes with both, your personal autonomy taken away with the stroke of a pen. You’re expected to eat whatever a contractor appointed by the Irish government decides, and they say when you can eat in the canteen. It’s humiliating. Everyday you watch people go about their day-to-day lives and you are reminded that you can’t do certain things that other human beings do. Even small things that people take for granted like the privacy you enjoy in the bathroom at home.”
“The experience with Irish people is different though. The work we do in the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) is made possible by the support we enjoy from ordinary people from all walks of Irish life. As a 100% voluntary group, MASI has been sustained over the years by solidarity in action.”
For his Voices From Afar contribution, Alejandro José, who hails from Guyana, highlighted the importance of good sexual health:
“I came to Ireland because I feared being raped, tortured, pushed into prostitution or killed for being a gay man. Being LGBTQ+ in Direct Provision is like being in jail and being used for sex so that no one will try to hurt you for being LGBTQ+. So-called straight men will have sex with you, and if you refuse, they will call you names or make fun of you.
“In Direct Provision there is no information on sexual health care unless you meet another LGBTQ+ person who might tell you about some LGBTQ+ group, and only after joining that group you start getting information.”
“Sexual health for me is being able to enjoy my safe sex life without being scared of what others might think, enjoying being me, sexually loving me, being in love with me. I do believe that sexual health and mental health go hand-in-hand, one cannot function properly without the other.”
Jordi Moya Roset spoke of how Ireland helped him accept his HIV status:
“I found out that I was HIV Positive when I was 18 in Barcelona. At the beginning, I was a bit frightened, because I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t have the resources or the information that they have now. I didn’t know that there were treatments allowing me to be undetectable and untransmitable.
“Once I found out that I could have a normal life and that I could do everything as before the diagnosis, then I told my parents, my friends came afterwards, and it was easy peasy.”
“I came to Ireland two and a half years ago. It gives me so much joy and it’s really easy to make friends here. I found that accessing sexual health services in Ireland was way easier than I thought. You don’t need to have any kind of residential bureaucracy behind it. I’m attended at St James’ Hospital in Dublin 8, and it’s an amazing service.”
“I invite the Irish community and everyone to speak openly about sex, because it’s healthy, it’s protecting the health of everyone. I think there is a connection between sexual health and mental health, because sexual health, unfortunately, it’s linked to a stigma. People are ashamed or embarrassed about talking openly about it or recognising they might have an STI.”
Indian man Pradeep Mahadeshwar used Voices from Afar to speak about his experience of racism in Ireland:
“I have come across racism often in Ireland. To my surprise, the inner circles of the local LGBTQ+ community have more hostility towards immigrant LGBTQ+ People of Colour than the outside ‘straight’ world. Most of my racist experiences are from the LGBTQ+ community.
“Experiencing racism on the LGBTQ+ scene in Dublin is not a rare experience, from the dating apps to the real interpersonal interactions, there is a certain amount of shame about being associated with Asian gay men; hardly anyone wants to correlate with them on the social scene or in a personal space. It is unusual to see Asian men as friends, hookups or dates.”
“Asian gay men are seen as undesirable and unattractive at the scene. We need positive role models and leaders from immigrant LGBTQ+ backgrounds. There is a timely need to openly talk about the mental and sexual health of immigrant LGBTQ+ people. We need to discuss sexual racism. The mainstream media and the general public have a definite image of immigrants as asylum seekers or students or IT professionals or healthcare workers – society must also see them as living, breathing humans contributing to the culture and economy. The community is getting diverse but it is not inclusive enough.”
In Voices from Afar, Preetam Kumar from Mauritius spoke about his experience of being LGBTQ+ in Direct Provision:
“I am originally from Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean, where being LGBTQ+ is still a taboo. Mauritius does not recognise same-sex marriage or civil unions and conservative attitudes about LGBTQ+ people are still commonplace. LGBTQ+ people face discrimination, notably in public hospitals, bullying in schools, in supermarkets, the workplace, almost everywhere. Hailing from a middle-class conservative Hindu family, I was considered the black sheep due to my sexual orientation. I went through exorcism, voodoo, a psychiatrist for years, just to turn me straight. My family thought that I was possessed and doing voodoo on me would cure me. That’s when I said to myself ‘enough is enough’ and I decided that I cannot carry on like that. Hence, I decided to come to Ireland.”
“Being LGBTQ+ in Direct Provision is just the worst thing you can imagine. You have to go through hell everyday as most of the asylum seekers are very homophobic. I have a shared room and communal bathroom with homophobic people who try to humiliate you.
“I am still in Direct Provision, and I am used to this hostile behaviour now. It’s like an ongoing nightmare. That’s why I strongly believe that the Irish government should build an LGBTQ+ accommodation where the rainbow family can live freely and peacefully.”
“Let’s get a fact right. Racism is everywhere and can never be eradicated from society. It’s all around the world. Some campaigns, speeches, trainings could help to create awareness. The Irish government should reach out to Direct Provision, schools, colleges, workplace and educate people that racism is a disease, and we should always embrace change.”
Voices From Afar will be presented as part of GAZE at Outhouse on Culture Night, Friday, September 23, 2022. It was produced by the Gay Health Network with support from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Community Integration Fund.
© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.
This article was published in the print edition Issue No. 373 (August 19, 2022). Click here to read it now.
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