March 1st 2017 was a historic day for Ireland. After decades of campaigning by Travellers and allies, activists and human rights organisations, there finally came the moment when the State recognised that Travellers are a minority ethnic group.
The excitement on that day was palpable. The intense emotion and pride of that moment when the Taoiseach made his address is something many in the LGBTQ community will relate to.
State recognition of Travellers, ethnic minority status is the culmination of decades of hard work, of raised hopes and false dawns. It was a battle to address a legacy of policies that resulted in discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion. This includes a history of efforts to ‘assimilate’ Travellers into mainstream society and efforts to discredit them as ‘failed’ settled people. It is yet another dark chapter in Irish history, where people not fitting the mainstream ended up ostracised and mistreated.
Many Travellers were active in the campaign for marriage equality. Some had been campaigning, advocating, agitating for many years. Many gave up hours, days, weekends to help out. It was vital to because it was about real lives and it was deeply personal. The campaign succeeded because those who wanted an equal Ireland came together as a community, in all diverse forms.
LGBTQ Travellers in Ireland have endured exclusion, discrimination and marginalisation. The success of the referendum was a step towards righting those wrongs, a step towards inclusion and acceptance. No-one would claim that marriage equality was ever going to be the solution to everything. Rights hard won can easily be lost, but it is a movement in the right direction. So too is the recognition of Traveller ethnicity. Recognising Travellers as a minority ethnic group is fundamentally about respect and inclusion.
Failure in the past to recognise Traveller ethnicity further excluded an already marginalised group. It led in some instances, to low self-esteem, poor self-image and a lack of pride in one’s cultural identity. This loss of pride in oneself can cause stress, shame and depression and can lead to drug and alcohol abuse and in some cases more severe mental health difficulties.
Pavee Point has long recognised the need to address the issues facing LGBTQ Travellers. We have looked at ways to be more inclusive within the organisation—in our workplace, internal policies and structures. We have embedded this work across all our programmes. In the past year alone Pavee Point have collaborated with external LGBTQ organisations such as BeLonGTo and GLEN to provide training and information for all our staff. We worked in partnership with TENI to produce the first culturally appropriate Trans 101 resource. We offer support for LGBTQ Travellers and we are continuing to grow and develop this work. We hope in the future to expand our work with Roma communities.
Pavee Point has a long history of marching in the Dublin Pride parade. This year we are hoping for bigger participation than ever, as we come together as a community, proud to be Traveller, proud to LGBTQ, proud to be both and/or just proud to be a part of any celebration of inclusivity and acceptance. We hope you can join us!
Pavee Point is a Dublin-based, national, nongovernmental organisation established in 1985 and committed to the realisation of human rights for Irish Travellers and Roma living in Ireland.
The organisation is a partnership of Travellers, Roma and members of the majority population working together to address the needs of Travellers and Roma as minority ethnic groups who experience exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination.
For further information please visit our website at paveepoint.ie, or contact us directly at Pavee Point, 46 North Great Charles Street, Dublin 1. Phone: 01 8780255 E-mail: @paveepoint.ie