According to the Gay, Lesbian and Equality Network (GLEN), some six percent of the population of Ireland is either Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender (GLBT). In Longford, this means that just over 2,000 members of the community are GLBT, and for many it is deeply suppressed.
The Longford Leader recently spoke to two people living in the region about their experience coming out and the advice they have to offer those who continue to live in silence and fear.
Paul (not his real name) is a father of two living in County Longford. Over ten years ago, he decided to come out and in doing so lost his marriage. For him, accepting his sexuality was a long and difficult road.
“You kept your head down and you got on with your life and you fulfilled your roles as you were seen or expected. It was something that I personally hid for all of my younger life,” Paul said.
Anna is a mother and grandmother living in the Roscommon area. She believes that in her younger years it was hard for gay people not to get married.
“There wasn’t anything about lesbians around back then. You would find yourself having a crush on your best friend and wonder what was happening,” Anna said. “I got married but it was more of a friendship with the children’s father than a relationship.”
Living in rural Ireland, one would expect that people like Anna and Paul could be subject to isolation. According to Anna, this is not her experience.
“The people in my village are very accepting. I’m not afraid here that I’m going to be beaten up like I might if I were living in a major city. People are very kind,” said Anna.
However, that does not take from the fact that ‘coming out’ can be a painful and arduous process. Paul remembers when he first began to notice that he was gay.
“I remember having a horrible feeling when I was about 18 or 19. I found myself being attracted to a particular guy and not being able to do anything about it and not wanting that feeling. It was an horrendous feeling. It was internalised homophobia,” he said.
According to Paul, there are many hidden GLBT people living in heterosexual relationships around Ireland, afraid to tell their partners of their true sexuality.
“There’s quite a large hidden community out there and in my experience in Longford it’s very hidden...A lot of people are in relationships and it’s not just the relationship that keeps them together – it’s the mortgage, it’s the lifestyle, it’s how they are perceived by their family and their peer group,” he said.
For Paul, ‘coming out’ was a process which has led him to a new found freedom in his life.
“Life is on my terms now. This is me and if people don’t like it there isn’t a lot I can do about it.”
Both Paul and Anna agree that social contact is vital in the process of ‘coming out’ and to talk to experienced listeners. If you require further information, the following organisations will help: GLEN (www.glen.ie), Outwest Ireland (www.outwestireland.ie), ELLA (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the National LGBT helpline on 1890 929 539 (www.lgbt.ie).