Originally from Mauritius, Preet’s wonderfully positive disposition and upbeat charm stands in stark contrast to the struggles they faced in order to live openly and happily.
Coming from a country which isn’t very accepting of LGBT+ people, Preet explained the difficulties in growing up as a very feminine child who sometimes liked to wear female-identifying clothes. Beatings administered by family members became a regular occurrence.
When from the age of nine, a neighbour began to sexually abuse Preet, the cold realisation arrived that there was no one to turn to for help. With a lack of social networks or support systems to turn to, there was no one to speak to and no available information for a child struggling to understand how to deal with such a horrific situation. By all appearances “the only gay person in the village”, Preet’s was a culture where “the straight people are superior and you’re inferior.”
School too offered no safe haven. “No matter how much you’re being bullied, the principal, the teachers, they don’t even care. If you go and report bullying, they don’t even listen to you. So I have always, always, been struggling in my life.”
When Preet reached their mid-teens, things took a further disturbing turn. “My parents wanted me to marry a girl. In Mauritius a thing that is very common is exorcism, voodoo. They were thinking I am possessed, I am mentally diseased.”
For years, Preet was not only brought to exorcists, but also to psychologists in attempts to ‘turn them straight’. Any refusal would result in beatings from the whole family - their mum, dad, brothers and sisters.
After leaving school and starting work in an office, Preet decided to try and live life and embrace being a member of the LGBT+ family. To that end, Preet attended gay Pride in Port Louis, the country’s capital, in 2017. While there were around 50 people protesting the celebrations, there was also a police presence, so those attending felt safe.
The 2018 event, however, was a different story. Telling their family they were going to meet a friend, Preet left for Pride. Preet wondered why traffic was so terrible, the roads filled with cars. It soon became clear why. “When I reached the city centre I saw 900 people protesting.” Some had knives, some carried acid, many had weapons. “They were out of control. I said ‘I’m going to die’. I had my makeup on, and some of them saw me. I ran. A policeman grabbed me and pulled me inside a building and told me not to come out.”
Inside the building were other LGBT+ people hiding from the protestors. Some of the protestors came inside and filmed them, sending the videos to their friends outside. With only 100 policemen on duty, celebrations had to be put on hold. The police escorted Preet and the others out.
That night, Preet’s family gathered around the TV to watch the evening news. And suddenly there was Preet on screen at Pride. “That was horrible, they beat me, calling me a faggot.” When Preet began to receive death threats due to the attention brought by the news report, the situation finally became unbearable.
A friend in the UK suggested Preet should take a holiday and come visit. Preet agreed, but all the while knew deep down they would never return to Mauritius.
After their arrival, Preet’s friend suggested they apply for asylum in the UK. Having already lived in Dublin for a few years as a student from 2005, and knowing the culture, Preet thought it better to try Ireland. Preet came in from Belfast, and when given a form to fill in by a customs official, Preet immediately ticked ‘illegal entry’. The IPO (International Protection Office) told Preet they could apply for asylum and put them in the Balseskin Direct Provision centre in Finglas.
Many have described the situation for LGBT+ asylum seekers in Direct Provision where they can actually end up being housed with people carrying the very same attitudes they were trying to escape in the first place. This was definitely the case for Preet. Housed in a room with five men, the homophobic abuse continued. While management said they couldn’t do anything as there was no proof of violence, Preet was eventually transferred to another centre in Monasterevin.
The situation became even worse. Now there were eight men in the room with similar attitudes. Preet wrote to the RIA (Reception and Integration Agency) and the Department of Justice asking for their help. Preet was then transferred to a centre in Athlone where asylum seekers are housed in mobile homes. Preet’s new housemate was also LGBT+.
Since the new move, things have improved hugely. Preet’s housemate introduced them to the Identity group. With members coming to Dublin’s Outhouse from centres in places such as Sligo, Limerick and Athlone, Preet describes the group as “amazing”, praising the support and camaraderie they found there, saying the experience has proven to be both empowering and inspiring. Identity also arranges social opportunities in order to build friendships between the group and the local queer community. becuase, as Preet says. “We need to interact with Irish LGBT+ people and build up a network of people we know.” The group already have preparations for Pride underway.
While Preet has tried as much as possible to take advantage of any courses provided by Outhouse and the Westmeath community centre, there is a regret that those in Direct Provision are not allowed to work or to study properly. Even still Preet was adamant they wanted to express gratitude - “I really thank Ireland from the bottom of my heart because at least I am in a secure country. Irish people are the best people. I know there are restrictions in Direct Provision but I am very grateful.”