Leprechauns are a part of Irish folklore, but their association with the holiday can cause undue misery for some little people, according to Gary Arnold, spokesman for Little People of America, a support group for Americans of short stature due to dwarfism.
"Some little people still cringe when they go to a bar on St. Patrick's Day," Arnold confessed. "It reinforces the traditional stereotype that we're nonhuman."
But this feeling is by no means universal. For every little person who looks upon March 17 with dread, there is another like a 51-year-old New York man known as Scotty the leprechaun.
Much of the year, he's a recreational therapist in a nursing home, but come the week before St. Patrick's Day, Scotty makes lots of green money by dressing up as a professional leprechaun.
"I will probably be up for 36 hours straight," Scotty told AOL News. "I will be going to bars and corporate events -- even bachelorette parties."
Scotty first dressed up as a leprechaun back in 1985, but decided to go "pro" about 12 years ago.
"I had talent and was outgoing, and thought I might as well use my size to my advantage," he said. "It's been fun and rewarding."
It's a natural outgrowth of his personality, he says.
"I've always been a happy guy, and I always took risks," he said. "I've tried to make myself happy and others as well."
As he sees it, when he puts on one of his two green-tinged leprechaun outfits, he gets in a good mood.
"When I meet people up close and put beads around their neck, I feel like the pope offering people a blessing," he said. "Everyone's happy and having a super good time."
Scotty won't reveal how much green he expects to earn by the time St. Paddy's Day is over, but says it's "enough for at least a couple of nice vacations."
But while he enjoys the job very much, working as a leprechaun is not something that is universally appreciated among little people.
Selene Luna, a 3-foot-10-inch actress and comic, has never worked as a leprechaun, but admits the occupation falls into a "gray area" for performers such as herself.
"I personally wouldn't do it," she admitted. "I am not interested in being a midget in a costume, but, for others, it's about making a living, and, after all, it's not forced labor."
Luna thinks of herself as an entertainer first, not as a "little person," and understands the need and desire to perform -- no matter the job.
"It's a privilege to make a living as a performer," she said. "And it's not like a little person has the same employment opportunities as others. So we're not in a position to judge what other people do."
Like Luna, Arnold doesn't want to pass judgment on how little -- or big -- people choose to earn a living. He says the goal of the Little People of America is to level the playing field so everyone has the chance to do the job he or she loves.
"Our goal is for people of short stature to have access to all employment opportunities," he said. "There shouldn't be employment opportunities strictly limited to people of short stature."
Still, Scotty admits that he sometimes gets flak for what he does for a living.
"Some [little people] are against it," he said. "They say, 'You're selling yourself.' But the way I see it, I'm not committing any crimes."
But even he admits he has some lines that he won't cross.
"In the beginning, I sometimes wore a sombrero filled with chips and salsa at parties," he said. "You know how it is: You have to see what works and what doesn't. However, I will not do dwarf tossing. Never ever! Thank goodness it's been outlawed in New York."
Although being a leprechaun is fun for Scotty, it's not always easy.
"The key is having a great sense of humor and passing it on to other people," he said. "You can't be sad or drunk. If you can't do the job right, it's uncomfortable for everyone."
Scotty the leprechaun does it to earn extra money, but for Brian Thomas, who is the full-time spokes-leprechaun for O'Sheas Casino in Las Vegas, it was more about the desire to perform.
"I've been doing this for five years," he told AOL News. "Before that, I ran a cell phone company in New Hampshire and sold it to go with my heart."
Thomas, 44, said dressing up as a leprechaun never was the problem that it might be for others of short stature.
"When I wake up and look in the mirror, I see Brian Thomas, not a little person," he said. "I am, but I don't use that negatively or worry about it. I get judged every day of my life and can't worry about what others think. I like putting a smile on people's faces and giving them a memory."
"I probably take 500 photographs a day," he said. "Amazingly, I've seen whole groups of people coming to the casino with my face on T-shirts they've made."
Although Thomas' character name is "Lucky," he is the first to tell people not to take his name too seriously.
"I don't know if I am lucky," he said, laughing. "After all, I'm still working for a living."
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