From today's Irish Times
Delighted to see LGBT PAvee won an award
President hails inspirational success stories at Traveller Pride Awards
TRAVELLERS HAVE faced â€œmore than a few Everests of negativityâ€ so their stories of success are exactly what we need to hear at this difficult time, President Mary McAleese said as she presented the Traveller Pride Awards in Dublin yesterday.
â€œThey know the territory of obstacle courses very, very well. They faced into them with courage that never failed them,â€ she said.
Mrs McAleese said minorities within the Traveller community, such as people who were gay, had to cope with being doubly excluded.
â€œFor many kids who grew up . . . as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, we know that very often the first words of exclusion that they will hear . . . will likely be in their own home,â€ she said.
â€œYou can imagine the loneliness and the misery of that existence and the pressure it puts on.â€
She said the impact on that group, in terms of mental ill-health and propensity to suicide was â€œway, way in excess of other groups in the communityâ€.
One of the 10 Traveller Pride awards was won by the Gay Traveller Support Group, which took part in the Gay Pride marches in Dublin and Galway this year.
Accepting the award, Rosaleen McDonagh said gay Travellers were afraid for all sorts of reasons to make their orientation public. But she said Traveller culture was fluid and new generations were changing things.
â€œThere are a hundred ways to be a Traveller and being gay is just one of them.â€
ONE MAN'S STORY: TRAVELLERS CAN'T BE GAY - THAT ONLY HAPPENS TO SETTLED PEOPLE
I AM A gay Traveller man but for many years I suppressed my feelings.
Even now, I feel I cannot reveal my identity here because it might result in some people not being tolerant or accepting of my Traveller and gay status.
I was born in England, but I was always an Irish Traveller and all my experiences were based on a traditional Traveller way of life.
But there was always an inner desire to be somebody else. It was obvious that I did not fit into the role I was born into.
I rang the Samaritans to find out what was wrong with me. When it arose that I might be gay I was shocked, mortified and disgusted with myself. Travellers canâ€™t be gay â€“ that only happens to settled people, I thought.
I started to identify with gay people I saw on the telly and on the street. Everything added up but I was still asking myself, how can this be happening to me, a lorry-driving Traveller man, the bread-winner working in construction?
I often heard derogatory terms used by my family towards â€œqueersâ€ describing them as perverts, child molesters and weirdos. I thought that I could not bring this shame on to my family. I would rather have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. It would be much more acceptable to be dying than to be gay, let alone a gay Traveller.
In the mid 1980s my family spent some time in a camp in London opposite a gay pub. It took all my courage to go through that door one day but when I did, I met lovely people whom I admired and looked up to.
They were so confident about themselves. I realised that all the feelings I had about being a disgusting child molester were not true.
I started to sneak into the pub regularly but one day the men from the camp saw me going in and I was beaten up. That was the day I decided to leave my family and be true to my feelings.
Afterwards, I realised I had given up everything to be gay, to be alone in a bare flat without personal possessions; stripped of all my dignity and feeling the humiliation of my family.
Eventually I got my life back together when I got a job as a bus driver for children with disabilities. It struck me how similar the life of a disabled person is to the life of a Traveller. We both have to fight against prejudice and isolation.