By Noelle Mann
Growing up and accepting yourself and your identity is tough for everyone. Belonging to an ethnic minority group can make things even more complicated, and many Irish Travellers and Roma struggle to find their place in Irish society. If you also add in the issue of sexuality or feeling that your body does not fit your gender or any gender, it can be especially hard to simply feel comfortable with yourself and who you want to be.
When things go wrong, or if you need to talk to someone, most Travellers will turn to their families for help, but what happens if you need advice and you can’t approach your relatives? Support groups including http://www.belongto.org provide a great service, but, like the vast majority of LGBT+ support, are not Traveller-specific. Just how ‘open’ can you be with your counsellor or group if you are worried about them judging you for being Traveller or Roma? However, help is finally here. You can access Traveller-specific online support at www.lgbtpavee.ie and a new project in Tallaght provides face-to-face support. I called into Johnny Maughan at Tallaght Travellers Community Development Group to find out more.
All discussion is strictly private and confidential to make everyone feel safe.
Travellers’ LGBT+ Safe Place began when Men’s Health Worker Johnny started on a Community Development Course and wanted to do more to support LGBT+ Travellers and Roma. The project offers free counselling via the Traveller Counselling Service, one-to-one support appointments, information sessions and group activities. Providing guidance on mental, physical and sexual health, the group meets in Killinarden Community Centre on every second Wednesday evening per month, between seven and nine. All discussion is strictly private and confidential to make everyone feel safe.
Although the project has only just begun, the first meeting went so well that Johnny has high hopes for the future. “We had lots more numbers than we expected. The development group has also been really optimistic and supportive towards me and the project” he explains. “Just by hanging a rainbow flag in the office, and displaying positive posters about LGBT+ issues, people can come in and feel accepted by the community.” Johnny would like people to be informed about LGBT+ issues, and to better understand what it means to be gay, lesbian, transsexual or just different from ‘traditional’ ideas about gender and heterosexual relationships. He says, “There seems to be some confusion between gender and sexuality. When I told one relative that I was gay, they asked if I was going to start dressing up in women’s clothes!” Johnny believes that LGBT+ education in schools from an early age could clear up this kind of misunderstanding and also help LGBT+ children to feel more confident about their identity.
Often parents and family members of LGBT+ Travellers are key sources of support, but might not know how to help someone in their family. They are also welcome to contact the Safe Place for general advice and guidance in how best to support a relative. Johnny has been very fortunate so far in his experience as a gay Traveller and says that he has “never suffered discrimination for it, but I have for being a Traveller.” Unfortunately, he has lost a number of friends over the years that haven’t had such a positive experience. He says “If I can just help one person, support someone who needs help, then I’ll be happy.”
You can contact Traveller’s LGBT+ Safe Place by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling them on the special ‘phone number 0858430307. You can also point your web browser at the Facebook page ‘Safe Place TTCDP’.