“You are not alone. There are people who will help. I will stand by anyone in this situation.”
Tullamore-based LGBT+ activist, Darren Collins is to speak today at a conference in Sligo, entitled Travellers And The Importance Of A Healthy Mind, which comes on the back of alarming figures about suicide rates in the Traveller community.
Collins spoke the Irish Times in advance of the conference about his own suicide attempts as a young gay Traveller.
“You’d hear people saying ‘don’t hang out with the knacker’,” he said. “And people called me ‘faggot’ and ‘queer’, even though I did not even know then that I was gay.”
When at 18 he discovered he was gay, Collins “could not accept it”. After an overdose and another occasion of self-harm, he was referred to a psychiatrist, who encouraged him to come out to his family.
“My dad said: ‘You are my son, I still love you. Nothing is ever going to change. You are who you are’,” Collins said. His mother took a little time to come around to the idea, worrying that he might have to leave Tullamore.
“But after six or seven weeks she accepted it and three years on, she still supports me in every way she can,” Collins said.
Telling his own story, Collins made an emotional plea to young LGBT+ Travellers who might be experiencing suicidal feelings. He appealed to them to confide in someone, and said he was there to help.
“Your family may not accept it immediately but they will down the line. You are not alone. There are people who will help. I will stand by anyone in this situation.”
However, he said that acceptance of LGBT people in the Traveller community is still a major issue, citing his own experiences after appearing on RTÉ’s Ray Darcy Show to tell his story.
“I’d say 50 per cent are good and will support you but there are 50 per cent who when you walk down the street will say ‘there’s the faggot who was on television’. But at the end of the day it only makes me stronger. Don’t get me wrong it is hurtful at times. It can upset you.”
Jamie Murphy from the Sligo Traveller Support Group (STSG) which is organising Monday’s conference in conjunction with World Mental Health Week, said the issue of suicide in the Traveller community is an emergency situation.
Traveller men seven times more likely to take their own lives than men in the general population, while Traveller women are six times more likely to take their own lives.
Collins told the Irish Times that after coming out, he no longer feels suicidal. “I am off my anti-depressants,” he said. “There is hope for everyone.”
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