Sunday 25 February 2018

'I didn’t want to live anymore' - Traveller's torment before coming out as gay

Exclusive: Darren Collins says several friends have killed themselves - now he's speaking out to help

Darren Collins
Darren Collins
Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

A young man has told how he twice tried to take his own life over fears of coming out as gay in the Travelling community.

Darren Collins (21) has told that several of his friends killed themselves after struggling with their sexuality.

Now he has issued a heartbreaking appeal to other young gay Traveller men and women to seek help.

“I don’t want more people dying, I don’t want more young people dying for being gay.”

Mr Collins, from Tullamore, Co Offaly, has revealed that several young gay men in the Travelling community have taken their own lives after struggling with the stigma attached to sexuality.

Last year one close friend killed himself after his family refused to accept his sexuality, Mr Collins claimed.

Darren Collins said he is happier now
Darren Collins said he is happier now

“A lot of young Traveller men have to get married to a girl and have a family. They can’t come out and be happy because they can be disowned and they can be beaten up. It is tougher coming from a Travelling community than a settled community.

“Many in the Travelling community will bully you, laugh at you and call you names. I knew a lad last year who came out in the Travelling community and his family didn’t accept him and because his family didn’t accept him he took his own life. He couldn’t live with his family not accepting him.”

Mr Collins explained that he has been through a difficult number of years but now wants to help others.

He got engaged when he was 15 to a young Traveller woman and had girlfriends in between but realised when he was 18 that he was gay.

He struggled with his sexuality and ultimately his mental health. This resulted in two suicide attempts in the space of just four weeks.

Describing the ordeal Mr Collins, who was 18 at the time, said: “I didn’t want to live anymore and I could hear these voices in my head saying ‘What do you need to live for? You are going to lose everything. You are going to lose it all, what do you have to live for?’

“I could hear them getting louder and louder and louder and they were getting clearer and clearer. My mind just clicked like a bomb.

“I was found in my room by my parents and I was rushed into Tullamore Regional Hospital and then four weeks later I had a relapse again where I did it again.

“They brought me over to the psychiatric unit in Portlaoise."

Eventually his partner at the time convinced him to tell his family.

“My dad took it very well, he was totally okay with me. My mother took it very badly, she was hurt for around six weeks. She was thinking of other people. Was i going to be beaten up? Would I have a safe life? Could I walk down the street? Being a Traveller could I live a normal life? Would I have to move out of the town?

“When she saw me getting on brilliant in that six weeks that’s when the worry started to go from her. She could see that her son was happier than he ever was.” 

Despite his family accepting him Darren has revealed that he is still subjected to small-minded abuse.

“There is a lot of bullying of the gay community. To this day, I do get a lot of negativity. For example I was on a night out three weeks ago outside a club and this guy comes up to me and starts calling me ‘q***r, f****t a b** buster’ out of nowhere.

“I said ‘why are you coming up to my personal space saying this’? I didn’t know this person. This person came out of nowhere saying this.”

Asked how this made him feel Darren said: “It made me feel awful, it made me feel like s**t to be honest. Can I not go out in my own town without being called names?”

Darren explained that he believes the Travelling community needs to make further steps to improving attitudes to gay members.

“Being gay in the Travelling community is very difficult. I’ve been through it and I’m trying to get out there and help people. I have been through suicide, I have been through depression.

“Now I want to help other young people get the help they need.”

The rate of suicide in the Traveller community is six times that of the rate of the general population.

A study this year on young Travellers' mental health concluded that the current services are inadequate. The study involved 88 participants between the ages of 15 and 21 in three regions nationwide.

If you have been affected by any issues raised in this article, please contact The Samaritans free helpline on 116 123.

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