LGBTQ+ Traveller, author and activist, Oein DeBhairduin, shares with Ed Redmond why Pride needs to remain a protest until all members of the community are valued equally.
Pride means something different to every individual. Many see it as a celebration, others see it as a state of mind, LGBTQ+ Traveller and activist Oein DeBhairduin describes Pride as “a protest on a personal level.”
“When it comes to the real engagement around LGBT Travellers and Roma we do have a bit to go. We just need to own up to this honestly,” he shares.
Remembering his first ever Pride in the early 2000’s in Galway where he “half ran down the road with people”, it was shortly followed by his first Dublin Pride in 2007 where he was joined by a group of LGBTQ+ Travellers who all took part in the Beady Tradition described by Oein as “a Traveller tradition where people would exchange buttons as tokens of remembrance.” Oein goes on to say that “we just turned up and became a part of the march.” As a member of the LGBTQ+ community Oein believes that Pride is something that “we all should experience,” however he believes that Pride needs to be more accessible in terms of the “intersectionality of it.”
When we talk about celebrating LGBTQ+ people, Oein adds, “Who are we actually saying? Are we celebrating all of our people and the situations that they come from?”
Growing up, Oein’s parents spent a lot of time pouring love into all of their family as a shield against a society that could be unwelcoming to their community. “They wanted to give us all the shields in the world because they knew that the world wasn’t always kind to Travellers. And then for them to discover there could be an additional barrier by the world, it came with a worry. It didn’t come with less love but it came with worry.”
Oein is very aware of the privileged position and the personal opportunities he has been afforded as a male gay Traveller. Having a good education, great employment and being a homeowner, he acknowledges that these opportunities are quite rare when it comes to the wider Traveller community. In 2012 a study was carried out on LGBTQ+ travellers in Dublin finding that most people were coming out around the ages of 23-24, with most being in a relationship associated with marriage. Only two mental health studies centring around LGBTQ+ travellers have been carried out, leaving what Oein refers to as “a huge gap” in what is known and what is needed.
In 2010, Our Geels - the All Ireland Traveller Health Study by Pavee Point and UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science, found that the life expectancy for Traveller men is 15 years or less, and for Traveller women is 11.5 years or less than the general population. It cited that suicide is seven times higher in young Traveller men and five times higher in Traveller women. Oein says, “Ask people about Travellers most people know nothing about our culture, they [only] know things about our issues.” He highlights the difficulties of being a Traveller and then having that “additional social pressure point of being LGBTQ+.”
Oein believes that better change is possible and has previously worked closely with Senator Colette Kelleher on the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 and is currently working with Senator Eileen Flynn, who is also from the Traveller community and shares many passions alongside Oein in regards to the community. Oein’s work within the Seanad is to try and further this change to help Travellers, expressing that “There is policy and barriers there that are so institutional that people don’t realise how deep they go and how problematic, dissociative and dehumanising they can be to Travellers and when you also add in the additional understanding that you may be LGBT, the world can look very different.”
Oein reflected on how in 2021, it is still illegal to be nomadic in Ireland. He elaborated, “You’re called a Traveller and you are denied the ability to engage with traditional practices of nomadism, because most halting sites you do not have access to in a nomadic sense. They are not there to facilitate nomadism. We are living in a society where Travellers are not allowed to travel. And when you deny a part of someone’s essential identity you do them damage and harm and you damage an entire society.” With the release of his new book, Why The Moon Travels, Oein has tried to spread the culture and stories of Travellers to help further conversation and implement change. Speaking candidly, Oein feels that Ireland is going in the right direction -depending on the day.
“There are days I think that Ireland can shine so bright and then there are days where you can hear about case upon case of horrendous things happening.”
The path to social inclusion is by having conversations with different people from oneself, people who are not just happy and healthy, talking to people who are further away from these spaces and experiencing things that we would never have experienced.
And until we reach what Oein describes as accessibility, visibility and inclusivity he believes that “Pride needs to remain a protest.”