LIFE OF A GAY MI­GRANT IN IRE­LAND

More than half of those sur­veyed in a re­cent re­port said they did ‘not feel in­cluded in Ir­ish so­ci­ety’

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Aoife Mo­ri­arty

Ire­land may be known as the land of céad míle fáilte, but a re­port in the last months of 2018 sug­gests more needs to be done to make it a wel­com­ing place for LGBT mi­grants.

Far From Home: Life as an LGBT Mi­grant in Ire­land, pub­lished in Novem­ber by non- profit or­gan­i­sa­tion the Na­tional LGBT Fed­er­a­tion, sur­veyed 231 LGBT mi­grants from 48 dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

The largest per­cent­age of par­tic­i­pants came from Brazil, the US, the UK, Poland and Ger­many. Most peo­ple iden­ti­fied as cis­gen­der, with 20 par­tic­i­pants iden­ti­fy­ing as trans­gen­der. Twelve peo­ple liv­ing in di­rect pro­vi­sion took part in the sur­vey.

Some of the key rec­om­men­da­tions made in the re­port in­clude LGBT sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing for those work­ing in im­mi­gra­tion, bet­ter ac­cess to LGBT ser­vices in ru­ral ar­eas, more plat­forms for mi­grants within the LGBT com­mu­nity and the in­tro­duc­tion of hate crime leg­is­la­tion.

There were also calls for im­proved health­care, in par­tic­u­lar men­tal health ser­vices, with over half of all par­tic­i­pants rat­ing their men­tal health neg­a­tively, and an end to the cur­rent di­rect pro­vi­sion sys­tem.

‘We’ve still got work to do’

Ner­ilee Ceatha ( 50), an LGBT mi­grant from New Zealand, took part in the sur­vey as well as ini­tial work­shops to de­sign the re­search. A so­cial worker by pro­fes­sion, she first came to Ire­land in 2000 to be with her Ir­ish part­ner, Bar­bara.

“I think as soon as I open my mouth, peo­ple are aware that I’m not from here,” she says. “So it’s of­ten com­mented on, and there’s an as­sump­tion I must be here vis­it­ing. It doesn’t mat­ter how long I’ve lived here, that’s al­ways the open­ing ques­tion.”

More than half of those sur­veyed in the re­port said they “do not feel that they are in­cluded in Ir­ish so­ci­ety”. But Ceatha says that is not her per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The racism and homophobia that ex­ists struc­turally within the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem has prob­a­bly been the big­gest neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for me.

“But I do feel that my home is here. I feel very in­cluded in the neigh­bour­hood that I live in. I feel in­cluded in terms of my so­cial work pro­fes­sion and aca­demic net­works, and within the LGBT com­mu­nity.”

One of Ceatha’s pas­times is run­ning with Dublin Front Run­ners, an LGBT run­ning club set up in 2005 with more than 200 mem­bers. “When I first came along, the club was mostly gay men, and they were re­ally quite fab­u­lous at tak­ing me un­der their wing, be­cause there weren’t very many women run­ning with the club at that time.”

How­ever, she is quick to point out that Ire­land might not feel quite as wel­com­ing to oth­ers. “I’m very con­scious that in the re­port peo­ple have spo­ken about racism that they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced across the board. That’s re­ally dis­ap­point­ing. The LGBT com­mu­nity aren’t per­fect ei­ther. We’ve still got work to do.”

Two- thirds of sur­vey par­tic­i­pants re­ported fac­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion in Ire­land due to their eth­nic­ity or mi­grant sta­tus. Over a quar­ter said they had been treated poorly in LGBT spa­ces be­cause of how they spoke English or talked. Three-fifths said they didn’t feel con­nected to the LGBT com­mu­nity in Ire­land at all.

Sim­i­lar to the re­port’s au­thors, Ceatha is also con­cerned about the iso­lat­ing ef­fects of di­rect pro­vi­sion on LGBT mi­grants.

“Asy­lum seek­ers are some of the most re­source­ful peo­ple, who have had to come from hor­rific sit­u­a­tions and have man­aged to ac­tu­ally flee them. They have a huge con­tri­bu­tion to make, and in­stead we have peo­ple in the depths of nowhere, un­able to make that con­tri­bu­tion. It’s re­ally just tak­ing away their hu­man­ity.”

‘It’s painful in di­rect pro­vi­sion as a trans per­son’

Del­roy Zimiso Mpofu (28) is a trans­gen­der asy­lum seeker from Zim­babwe. He came to Ire­land in Oc­to­ber last year and lives in the Mos­ney ac­com­mo­da­tion cen­tre in Co Meath.

“If there’s one thing that’s very painful about liv­ing in a di­rect pro­vi­sion cen­tre as a trans or LGBT per­son, it’s that when you walk round ev­ery­one points fin­gers at you,” he says. “Es­pe­cially with me, be­cause I don’t have many phys­i­cal changes. Mainly j ust my voice has gone deep, dropped a bit. But ev­ery­thing else hasn’t changed much.”

Mpofu is on a two-year wait­ing list for an ap­point­ment at Lough­lin­stown’s gen­der clinic – the only adult clinic of its kind in the coun­try. In the mean­time, he has been self-med­i­cat­ing us­ing hor­mones from the Nether­lands.

But he is con­cerned about the ef­fects of un­reg­u­lated hor­mones on his body: “I re­ally feel like I have an im­bal­ance of hor­mones, like I’m not tak­ing the right dose.”

Back in Zim­babwe, Mpofu knew he was trans­gen­der be­fore he had even heard the term. “No one talks about trans­gen­der peo­ple in Zim­babwe. No one talks about gay peo­ple. It’s a topic that doesn’t ex­ist. The near­est thing I could think of was, ‘ Oh, prob­a­bly I’m a les­bian’.”

But no mat­ter how “butch” he dressed or acted, Mpofu was never at ease in his own body. “I wasn’t com­fort­able with be­ing called a ‘ she’. Not at all. I wasn’t com­fort­able with tak­ing my clothes off when girls were around, even when I was in a re­la­tion­ship. It was hard for me. It was like some­thing was wrong, some­thing was still miss­ing.”

While liv­ing at the Balse­skin re­cep­tion cen­tre in Fin­glas, Mpofu was able to see a psy­chi­a­trist “ev­ery two or three weeks” to dis­cuss his gen­der dys­pho­ria.

How­ever, since re­lo­cat­ing to Mos­ney last Septem­ber, he has been wait­ing to be trans­ferred to a new men­tal health pro­fes- sional. He says he misses the reg­u­lar sup­port the ther­apy ses­sions of­fered.

Mpofu is also a mem­ber of a trans­gen­der sup­port group at Out­house, an LGBT com­mu­nity cen­tre in Dublin.

Al­though a weekly al­lowance of just ¤ 21.60 a week makes reg­u­lar at­ten­dance im­pos­si­ble.

“I’d go more of­ten, ex­cept for chal­lenges with trans­port from here to there,” he says.

“There isn’t enough sup­port. For in­stance, there’s only one group that sup­ports LGBT asy­lum seek­ers and refugees. They give us trans­port money to try to cater for us, but they can’t cover ev­ery­thing on their own. It’s like we’re be­ing ex­cluded.”

Ner­ilee Ceatha (right) and part­ner Bar­bara Clin­ton with their dog Bruno. Be­low: Del­roy Zimiso Mpofu, who is from Zim­babwe and is liv­ing in di­rect pro­vi­sion in Mos­ney, Co Meath; Diego Ro­drigues Caix­eta, a sex­ual health out­reach worker from Brazil. PHO­TO­GRAPHS: TOM HO­NAN, NICK BRAD­SHAW

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