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"We still have a long way to go" - does a stigma still apply to being gay in rural Ireland?

A new documentary, The Only Gay in the Village, explores the reality for gay people living in Ireland’s rural areas.

SHAUNA KEOGH - at barbers with her mother Cathy 17-year-old Shauna Keane from Bannagher, Co Offaly

IRELAND VOTED FOR marriage equality in a landslide in May 2015.

But that doesn’t mean we live in an entirely equal society.

For those Irish who live in more rural areas of the country, issues still remain around not fitting in with how society long held that you should look and feel.

A new edition of RTÉ’s Reality Bites entitled The Only Gay in the Village, co-produced by documentary-maker Shauna Keogh, is due to air tonight. It questions whether or not

In it Tallaght-native Keogh, who came out herself just 18 months ago, deals with the issues seen by a variety of young gay people growing up and living outside the capital.

“It’s a subject that people find hard to come forward about,” she tells TheJournal.ie.

Casting itself took a while, putting the research in place, because people do have that bit of hesitancy, because of the subject matter.

Despite this, 32-year-old Keogh (who has been producing documentaries for over 10 years across the globe) says she approached the subject as she would any other.

Oein de Bhreaduin in Tuam 2 Oein DeBharduin

“You have to have the same mindset, which is that you’re really very lucky to have access to people’s lives in this way,” she says.

But there is a personal connection for me, because this is about rural Ireland, and you’re asking people about painful stuff in their lives. In the case of Shauna (Keane from Offaly, 17 years old), for instance, her parents opened themselves up to the cameras – I’m so grateful for that.

In Shauna’s case, her mother describes in the programme how her first reaction to her daughter coming out aged 14 was one of shock – she went straight to Shauna’s school to get help in finding a cure. But that was temporary.

Now, as the whole family prepares for Shauna’s brother’s wedding, her parents are determined that she be not just tolerated in her home place, but welcomed.

7/10/2016. IFTA Awards Shauna Keogh (right) and girlfriend Maria Walsh at this year's IFTAs in Dublin last month Source: RollingNews.ie

Regrets

Among the other stories detailed are those of Roscommon man Will Keane, who runs a farm in the only county in Ireland to vote a majority No last summer, and Oein DeBharduin, an openly gay man who grew up in the travelling community in Tuam, Co Galway.

Keane says not telling his father that he was gay before he died is one of his biggest regrets. DeBharduin, meanwhile, shares with his father how much the silence of his community when it comes to his sexuality has hurt him.

Will Keane - at his farm in Roscommon Will Keane

“I’ve been in these guys’ shoes,” says Keogh. “That made this easier in that respect, plus I wanted to make this. It’s about opening people’s minds about a tough subject.”

I met with some guys up the north – they’ve been together for many years, then they attended a wedding and when the slow songs came on they sat down.
Because they didn’t feel comfortable. We still have a long way to go in breaking those barriers down. The referendum was brilliant, and it’s great to have the national broadcaster backing programmes like this, but progression can take time, especially in rural owns.
Ultimately, the point should be that your sexuality doesn’t matter. It’s a hard road, but that’s where we have to get to. And if a documentary like this can make a difference, then it’s important that we get to make them.

Reality Bites: The Only Gay in the Village will air tonight on RTÉ2 at 9.30pm

Read: Seventy years ago today, the social history of Ireland began changing forever

Read: All lit up – a sneak preview of Dublin’s Christmas lightshow

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