Young LGBT Travellers often come out into a world where violence and discrimination against them is rife, and after that into a gay community that often holds prejudices against them. Rob Buchanan meets Oein De Bhairdúin, who is helping change things for the better.
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 Youth Issue of GCN.
Last June there was a milestone in Irish LGBT history, which many in our community may have overlooked. Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, partnering with LGBT Pavee and BeLonG To Youth Services, launched the first LGBT Traveller Pride poster campaign, celebrating the largely invisible LGBT Traveller community in Ireland.
LGBT Pavee and Pavee Point have had a long and fruitful relationship with BeLonG To for the past eleven years, with a growing conversation about the particular issues facing young lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Travellers.
“With any minority group you have problems with people hesitant to reach out for help,” explains Oein De Bhairdúin of LGBT Pavee. “A lot of LGBT Travellers are not seeking help when they are in crisis, and this can lead to depression and suicide.”
The average age of people connecting with LGBT Pavee is 22, and because of concerns around anonymity it is primarily an Internet-based resource for the estimated 4,000 LGBT Travellers in Ireland.
Advocacy At Its Core
The website is an excellent resource with social and health information, and even advice and support for parents. It seeks to empower people to take those first steps towards coming out and finding self-acceptance.
Oein says that advocacy is at the core of the project. “It takes three forms. There’s Individual Advocacy, in which we aim to maintain and expand the platforms where LGBT Travellers and Roma can present their views.
Then there’s Systemic Advocacy, in the ongoing calls and encouragement to change restrictive laws, government and service policies, and community attitudes.
Finally there’s Parent Advocacy, in which we recognise that the issues in play are not bound by an individual alone but shared by their family and community.
Striving to allow the voices of families of LGBT Travellers and Roma be heard is one of our core objectives, in the hope of strengthening community awareness, building positivity and adjusting old and limiting practices.”
Some of the figures regarding mental and physical health that Oein cites are truly shocking.
“Statistically one in nine Travellers commit suicide,” he says. “That’s seven times more likely than their peers in the settled community.
“Even this high number could in truth be greater, as those statistics are disputed due to under reporting. These figures only take in cases where the verdict of death is directly reported as suicide, or where there were previous attempts or notes left.
“Far higher numbers are labeled as ‘misadventure’, when the reason might actually be that the person took their own life.”
In the most recent national Traveller census 42 percent of people self-identified as having mental health issues.
Self-medication with alcohol and increasingly drugs is also a major issue.
The primary health care unit in Clondakin did an LGBT Traveller health study a few years ago and concluded that 84 percent in the previous year had self-harming or suicidal thoughts.
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