• Lifestyle

The Pride of Drogheda / LGBTQ activist Peter James Nugent: ‘There is still a stigma’

Peter James Nugent admits the idea of suicide entered his mind as be battled with the prospect of coming out as a teen. Now, he talks to LouthNow.ie about his role in LGBTQ activism in Drogheda.

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Peter James Nugent pictured at the launch of the Drogheda Pride 2019 event. Photo Credit: Andy Spearman/DroghedaLife.com.

June marks Pride month across many parts of the world, with members and allies of the LGBTQ community commemorating the Stonewall Uprising and celebrating the diversity and importance of the LGBTQ community. It’s a celebration centred around love, respect and inclusivity and gives visibility to a group of people who have often been marginalised and stigmatised in the past.

Dublin can trace its first large-scale Pride event back to 1983, a protest march in response to the suspended sentences handed out to a group of young men who had murdered a gay man, Declan Flynn in Fairview Park. In Drogheda, Pride was not marked in a large scale way until 2016 when the towns first Pride event took place in McHugh’s venue in the town. Over 300 people attended the event and last year the town hosted its first-ever Pride parade, both organised by Peter James Nugent.

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It was during Pride in 2015 that Peter James began to think about what supports there were for young members of the LGBTQ community in Drogheda. His conclusion was that there was something missing. From Stamullen, Peter James, now in his thirties, recalls how difficult it was for him to come out at the age of 17. “I told my three best friends and they were so supportive and to this day I’d be lost without them,” he tells LouthNow.ie.

“My own family were a strict family. It was challenging at times because we could never say that word. But over time, [by the time] I turned 21, it was the norm. So between then, it was like ‘Oh my goodness, what do I do?’ Suicide definitely came into my thoughts because I didn’t know where to reach out to. I did go to Dublin to try and seek help and luckily I did because they put me on the right path. I went to Belong To about coming out and the right way of coming out. And then when I did come out – officially – it was like a new lease of life.”

Young people, emerging into a complicated adult world, a sea of grey area, can be forgiven for feeling ever so isolated as they discover themselves. They have questions and often assume they must be the only person in the world living with that particular uncertainty. It’s never the case. A self-described naturally positive person, this period of Peter James’ life made him realise that he couldn’t be the only person who felt that way.

“I said, ‘You know what Peter, everyone must go through the same’ and I was thinking there have to be more people in my situation, living in a small village with a lack of supports.” Having gone to Pride events all over the world, he fell in love with the vibe, the colours and the general feeling of happiness that it brought to him and his friends. He realised that this was what was missing from the Drogheda area and thinking small initially, started to scope out whether people would be interested in some sort of a group where likeminded people could meet socially once a month. “I did study hotel management so I was used to organising events and things like that. So I said maybe I should do something. If I don’t do something who will?”

The first meeting was planned to take place in October 2015 in the Westcourt Hotel and Peter James went about telling friends and family and asking them to come and support. With a laugh, he recalls declining hotel manager Valerie Sherlock’s suggestion of placing chairs in the room for the meeting as he thought there wouldn’t be enough people. To his amazement, about 40 people arrived.

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“People started arriving from Navan, people started arriving from Dundalk, people started arriving from Balbriggan and so forth and I thought ‘Oh my, mother of God, what am I going to do?'” With the help of his best friends, they set about making people comfortable with refreshments before asking the room for feedback on what they would like to see and do. When they all agreed that they would like to become part of a support group. Peter, once the shock had worn off, was ecstatic. “It was so exciting. It was like fireworks exploding.”

Since that first meeting in 2015, the support and social group have grown and relocated to the bigger venue of the Barbican Centre. They’ve also switched from a monthly meeting to a weekly one, taking place every Thursday evening. Like everything else, these in-person gettogethers have succumbed to lockdown over the past three months but are due to start again in late July.

“We do have an open-door policy. It’s a drop-in group so when people come in its confidential. It’s a safe place where young adults, aged 18 and upwards can come in for a cup of coffee or a cup of tea with like-minded people.” The group currently has ten volunteers working within it and offers a range of supports.

“We are a linked support group so if somebody does need to seek professional help we do have the links and services there that would be able to guide people in the right direction.” TENI, the National Transgender Network, based in Dublin, offers the group a lot of support and will come and speak to a group member if they are unable to travel to Dublin. Local suicide prevention group SOSAD also offers valuable support when needed, as do the Drogheda Red Door Project who offer sexual health screening once a month.

On top of all of these supports, the group also offers workshops – all for free to anyone who wants to drop in. There’s also the fun side of things. Depending on how many people are interested they organise monthly or weekly events, anything from a walk around the town to a game of bowling. “It’s quite nice for people just to be able to get out and be themselves,” Peter said.

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Making the decision to organise Drogheda’s first Pride event in 2016 wasn’t one made without worry.

“Of course, the very first year we were sceptical because we didn’t know what way people would react to it.” The trepidation, it transpired, was unfounded. Many local business owners and politicians were happy to support the group’s efforts. “I do think that Drogheda is a very safe place for people. I think a lot of people realise that it is a huge part of the community.”

In the run-up to last year’s parade, Peter went about getting the support of local businesses and the people of Drogheda did not disappoint. “Myself and my team went around all the businesses in Drogheda and last year the whole town was covered in rainbow flags, in windows and in shops, it was just absolutely incredible.” This year’s parade has fallen by the wayside for reasons outside of anyone’s control but the organising group were lifted by Louth County Council raising the rainbow flag at the council offices in the town. Newly elected Mayor Kevin Callan did the honours.

While the local community have offered the group support in many ways, some prejudices do still remain in society. “I do think there is still a stigma, but not as much as there used to be. I do think transgender rights are a huge thing. People don’t realise the hardship, the struggle of transgender people.”  The unfairness of an LGBTQ person having to come out to their friends and family is one that still remains. No one has to come out as a straight person is a oft-made point and an altogether valid one.

What would Peter James say to a person who may be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality? “There are always people out there who will listen, there are always people out there who have gone through what you are thinking. Be yourself. All it takes is one good adult to talk to. I would recommend telling one person that you trust and build up a relationship with that person. I always say to young people; your parents are the last ones that you speak to. I’d speak to your friend first.”

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