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16 October 2014
BBC NI - Eyewitness

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Mark Stewart is a young gay man living in Belfast Image of Mark Stewart

I had my first gay experience when I was sixteen and I didn't realise that I was actually gay when I had it. I was nervous, and when it was all over, I felt dirty but I realised then, when I was about seventeen, that I was actually gay and I admitted it to myself. It really upset me because where I come from is a small community and everybody knows everybody and it wasn't that acceptable down there, where we had a few openly gay people that lived there. And everybody that I knew always thought they were dirty - and so I just sort of suffered it on my own for a year or two.

I worked in this takeaway café for, it was five and a half years altogether. I was there full-time whenever I actually told the, my boss, that I was gay and she didn't like it at all. She started, she cut down all my hours, then she said 'Oh no, I don't mind that you are gay, like, it's nothing to do with me', but she still didn't up my hours any, so I just thought 'Right, this is it, I can't handle this, you know, I'm going to go and get another job where I'm not, you know, nobody knows what I am, you know'. When I did live in Fermanagh I felt as if, you know, I was different and I was strange and you know 'Oh there was nobody else', you know. There was only a handful of people out there in Northern Ireland that is gay.

I met my partner that I'm with now, when…in Enniskillen. I'm really happy. He showed me the gay world in Belfast a couple of minutes, er, a couple of months into the relationship. I moved up to Belfast. I find it a lot better in Belfast, you know. I started work, the people in work, I just went in, they asked me was I gay, I told them I was gay, I wasn't embarrassed about it. When they asked where did I go out at the weekend, I didn't have to lie, I didn't have to say 'Oh, I was in such and such' which would be a straight club: I'd just tell them 'Yeah, I was in the Kremlin; I was in Milk; I was wherever' - everyone accepts it, everyone thinks I'm great - they don't care who I am or who I go to bed with.

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