The one-day festival takes place at the Ulster Folk Museum in County Down
A one-day festival at the Ulster Folk Museum showcasing the untold stories and experiences of rural LGBTQ + communities.
The Bona Palooza Festival, which began Saturday, invites historians, artists and storytellers who have an insight into the countryside’s relationship with gender and sexual minorities over the years.
Bona Palooza translates as “good gathering” with “bona” derived from Polari – centuries-old slang used by some gay subcultures.
The one-day microfestival at County Down museum is part of National Museums NI’s broader commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.
Thomas Wells, Creative Programmer at National Museums NI, said: “The Ulster Folk Museum represents a very special period in NI’s history, that period was before decriminalization. .
“The attitude of LGBTQ + people in rural communities must have been incredibly isolating, so it was right to start talking about LGBTQ + experiences on this website.”
Image source, Ulster Folk Museum
The microfestival will take place at the Ulster Folk Museum, Cultra
Dr. Maurice Casey, a research fellow at Queen’s University in Belfast, uses letters, photos and genealogical sources to reconstruct the hidden stories of homosexual men and women in the early 20th century in Ulster.
Dr. Casey said he was “delighted” to be able to attend an event that “offers members the opportunity to share their experiences with people who may not know much about the sexual and gender minorities living here.”
“Rural Northern Ireland has always been home to people from the LGBTQ + community, but unfortunately for centuries we have been forgotten due to discrimination and even criminalization.
“Many rural LGBTQ people may travel to places like Belfast, Dublin and London to find more tolerant social spaces. However, the often closely related nature of rural communities can also foster an unexpected atmosphere of acceptance.
“It’s important to admit that whether in the city or the country, male homosexual acts were criminalized until 1982 in Northern Ireland and until 1993 in the Republic of Ireland,” he said.
“What really interests me are these important stories yet to be told about how people found little moments of acceptance and romance in eras that we might initially consider a dark time for LGBTQ people, such as the beginning of the 20th century.
“My presentation will focus on a group of LGBTQ people associated with rural Ulster who lived with extraordinary openness from the 1890s to the 1920s.”
Image Source, Havelock Ellis Papers / Chancellor Dublin
Lily Kirkpatrick (left) and Gavin Arthur (right) lived with remarkable openness despite their ties to rural Ulster.
Among them is Lily Kirkpatrick, the daughter of a Presbyterian pastor from Crossgar, Co. Down, who met her great love writer Edith Ellis in Cornwall in the 1890s.
Also included is Gavin Arthur, grandson of US President Chester Arthur, whose roots were from Cullybackey, County Antrim. Gavin Arthur came to Ireland in the 1920s in search of a “sexual and political revolution”.
Arthur’s story includes acting roles, astrology, interior design for Jacqueline Kennedy, a commitment to Irish Republicanism, and an affair with gay rights activist and socialist Edward Carpenter.
‘Drastic change of attitude’
Research by The Rainbow Project suggested that LGBTQ + people living in rural areas experienced worse outcomes than those in urban areas. See the article : Magic Johnson on learning to accept his gay son: ‘He changed me’.
The study found that rural communities used specialist services less frequently, experienced depression more frequently, and experienced problems at school more often.
The charity reported that progress has been made in recent years as the number of LGBTQ + people returning to rural life has increased, and local Pride events show increasing visibility and diversity in rural communities.
Based in Cookstown, Tyrone County, Mid Ulster Pride was founded in 2019.
Mid Ulster Pride’s Jake Turkington said it was partly due to increased digital connectivity.
“Ten years ago, the conversation about LGBTQ + identity was limited. Even those of us who have been fortunate enough to avoid feelings of shame and slander have tried to understand our identity as children and without support.
“State education has failed most LGBTQ + youth in the countryside, so we looked for an online connection and community,” they said.
“What can be seen as a drastic shift in mindset has happened in many, if not all, towns in the middle of Ulster. Now more than ever, we see people realizing that we’ve always been around and never had a choice of who we are, ”they added.
Image source, Ceramics from the Preaching House
Peter Surginor will conduct a ceramics workshop during this event.
Peter Surginor, a ceramist from Killough, Co. Down, conducts a workshop at the event. His work deals with male and female influences presented in a different context.
“There has definitely been a change, there have always been gays in the countryside, now people can live in a more open way,” he said.
“I think a lot of gay culture is centered around cities, when people left, they had to run and leave … It’s safer now, they’re not being removed.”
He says his family is “like any other” because they take on “normal, mundane tasks” in the community.
“Every week is not a week of pride … [Events like this] show people in the most ordinary way … This journey must continue, there can always be a withdrawal of rights, as we have seen elsewhere,” added.