To celebrate 15 years in Dublin Pride and working to support LGBTQ Travellers and Roma – Rosaleen McDonagh, Traveller woman with a disability, playwright and Commissioner to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission takes a look back:
A Certain Kind of Pride
There has always been gay Travellers. We all knew of somebody who lived
unfulfilled, difficult lives. There was a certain sadness and shame that fell on their shoulders. Often we sat in silence while we watched someone’s life being diminished because of stigma. At times the only offering we could give was a poor effort at solidarity with a wink, smile, or a knowing nod from a distance.
Taking On Difficult Issues
Over the years Pavee Point took on some really difficult issues.
Conversations and programs concerning gender based violence, provided an opportunity to develop a Traveller feminist approach. The opening up of sensitive safe spaces, gave everybody more freedom. Gender specific roles were being questioned. Mental health and sexual health were being explored, with Beoirs and Feens.
The opening up of sensitive safe spaces, gave everybody more freedom.
The growing rate of suicide within the community is frightening. Everyone
knows someone that has taken their lives. Pavee Point also worked with service providers and NGO’s who had particular expertise. The work that Pavee has done adds to the ongoing struggle for equality within the community.
Then the moment came when Traveller activists of all ages, grandmothers,
mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins created a circle where we could protect and support our lesbian and gay colleagues, friends and relatives.
Homophobia and Racism
The question of homophobia began to open up. Gay Travellers, women and men, found courage to tell their story. Diversity does not weaken or fracture Traveller ethnicity, it adds a rich texture to Traveller culture. Diversity does not weaken or fracture Traveller ethnicity, it adds a rich texture to Traveller culture.
Diversity does not weaken or fracture Traveller ethnicity, it adds a rich texture to Traveller culture.
Developing and articulating the intersection between homophobia and racism was really important within the work of Pavee Point.
My first gay pride was awkward and nervous. My politics was put to the test. Being visible, in public, worrying about my family, my reputation – it was a testing moment, personally and politically- but it had to be done for my gay friends and for our community.
Moving behind the Pavee Point banner with Traveller activists was empowering. Settled friends and colleagues supporting us on. Looking into the crowd, watching gay Travellers move to the front of the throng of people, then stepping off the footpath, falling in behind our banner was very emotional. This analysis and the articulation brings a certain kind of self -determination and a certain kind of pride.
Some Travellers make secrets – the rest of us are secrets. Intersectionality is
where racism meets other forms of discrimination. Sexism because you are a minority ethnic woman, Ablism if you are Deaf or Disabled and homophobia when you identify as lesbian or gay.
Many Traveller or Roma people live with multiple forms of exclusion. The combination can be crushing. The marker of difference for me is Cerebral Palsy. That marker brought me to a dangerous edge of despair and
loneliness. Finding people going through similar experiences – brought real
understanding by way of solidarity love and friendship.
Many Traveller or Roma people live with multiple forms of exclusion. The combination can be crushing.
Lesbian and gay Travellers, had many different stories of homophobia, shame, lack of confidence, and fear of fracturing Traveller identity. Developing friendships with gay Travellers was the most
important empowering journey in my life.
Strength in Community
Suddenly we were free to talk and cry and swap stories. The racism came
from outside the community. Stories of hiding. Stories of fear at being found out. Stories of ridicule and bullying from people who mattered. Your family your community. The worry that you were never good enough or strong enough to belong.
As a community we leaned in to give strength and to amply diverse voices.