"They wouldn’t accept me..."
STORY OF AN LGBT TRAVELLER
I met with John Ward from Ardee in County Louth as part of my interest in LGBT issues. While we talked, I photograped and John filled me in about his story and we discussed his feelings about his experiences as a young gay man in the traveller community
When working with John and hearing his story, it became apparent that being gay within the traveller community may not have the acceptance it may have in the 'buffer' or settled community. While in school, John faced bullying, not only for being gay but also for being a traveller. Hearing John’s story, the torment he felt growing up came across vividly. His story was startling. At the age of only 15 years old, John tried to take his life for the first time. He survived. From such a young age, he was struggling to see another mindset other than that that told him he couldn’t be who he is.
Only a year later, he was still receiving the daily torment, just the same as he had been subjected to through his adolescent life. Yet again, he thought it would have been better to take his life than to go on living. Again, he tried. Once again, he survived and recovered. This time he decided to inform his family and friends. He told me that he was terrified to tell his family as, to quote John himself, he thought that “they wouldn’t accept him”. It was to his surprise then that they treated him like any of the other children; they fully accepted who he is and they made it clear they love him unconditionally.
This moment of clarity from his family and friends gave John a sense of hope. After his second attempt of suicide, he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. This bipolar disorder was as a result of the constant emotional trauma he received over the years, the abuse he received about his sexuality and his culture. At the age of seventeen, John decided he had enough of the bullying within the school community and left education.
After hearing John’s moving story about his life, I came back and decided to research the rates of suicide within the LGBT community alone. The Irish Times reported last March that former Irish president, Mary McAleese, discussed the findings of a study ‘commissioned by campaign groups Glen and Belong To and funded by the HSE’ and characterised the the results as horrific. According to this report, 56% of LGBT 14-18 year olds, admitted to self-harming, while an immense 70% had suicidal thoughts and wanted to end their own lives. While there is work going on within the Traveller communities to raise awareness, foster acceptance and encourage support for those struggling with expectations, whatever else is faced by young people in these communities, the wider social perceptions of their culture and heritage doubles the burden. Only this year, was the distinct ethnic status of Irish Travellers recognised by the State.
The sense of hope and relief that John gained when his family told him they wouldn’t treat him any different, gave John a (somewhat) new lease of life and gave him the will to fight not only for his own rights but for the rights of other teens and young adults who are a part of the travelling community and the LGBT community. He has written his story for local newspapers in Dundalk.
To look at John, on first encountering him, you would think he is rather shy, yet when he believes in something he will speak out about it and fight for it. He has grown to realise that we shouldn’t care what people think of us, we shouldn’t care if people accept us or not. What is most important is our families and close friends accepting us for who we are. His final words to me were; “It’s your life, don’t give up. It gets better. You have to hold your head up high, stay strong and be proud.”
I would like to extend my thanks to John Ward for his enthusiasm regarding this project and for sharing his story with me. I would also like to thank his family for their warm welcomes and for allowing me to carry out this project with their family member.
McEntee, C. (2017) Story of an LGBT Traveller, Available at: (Accessed:___).
I am especially interested in social documentary photography. Over the last number of years, I have tried many different aspects of photography such as street photography, event photography, and others, but I have always come back to my passion for the documentation of social concerns. Issues that matter to me include self-harm and suicide awareness and making the LGBT community more visible. I like to represent topics working with people or objects that have meaning for people. Typically, I begin by listening to the stories of people who have insight into the topic and I always welcome their input.