Friday, 15 May 2020

LGBTQ+ in Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities

Tersa Crew and 'Guinevere’
Senior Lecturer in Social Policy and Social Sciences Student
t.f.crew@bangor.ac.uk

Introduction

It is well documented that Gypsy, Roma, Traveller (GRT) communities face inequalities in health, housing, employment and education, as well as the worst racism and prejudice of any minority group (See Cemlyn et. al, 2009; Brown and Scullion, 2010; Heaslip, 2015; McFadden, 2016,18; Condon, 2019 for further details). This focus on inequalities, while much needed, means there is scant research on intersections of the GRT identity, for instance with sexuality.   

While there is little empirical research or statistics to evidence the experiences of LGBTQ+ people within GRT communities, anecdotal data tells us that homophobia is a hidden issue.  Many will hide their sexual identity due to fear of rejection by family and their community, and because of their religious beliefs (The Traveller Movement, 2017: 2-5). 

The following narrative from ‘Guinevere’ adds an important addition in understanding some of the discrimination that LGBTQ+ Gypsy Travellers can face within their own community.

Guinevere’s’ Story

It’s your punishment, if you had married a man God would have let him live but a woman marrying a woman is a sin and now you’ve been punished, be wise Guinevere, you’ve been given a chance to turn away from temptation and marry a man, or you’ll end up burning in hell with her.

Two days after my wife died, I sought solace in the church. I went to a Nawken-born priest, who had known me my entire life, from my Baptism to my Confirmation. As I cried in the house of God, he spoke those words to me. It was that day that I turned my back on the Catholic faith and the community I was born into. 

It is a common misconception that all Gypsies are the same, or that we only fall into two categories, Romani and Irish Traveller. However, the actual number of different groups of Gypsy Travellers is currently unknown.  If I was to venture a rough guess, I’d say it consists of between 100-200 different groups. All of these groups have their own distinct histories, practices and beliefs. As such its important to understand not every Gypsy Traveller group find the practices of people in the LGBTQ+ community to be wrong. Unfortunately, within the UK, Traveller communities that are largely pro-LGBTQ+ are uncommon. 

In recent years Gypsies have become something of a fascination among the gorger community, with television shows like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding in the UK and US giving viewers a snapshot into their lives and cultures.  American Romani Gypsy Ana, whose wedding to her female partner was featured in Episode 8 Season 2 of the US series, stated in an interview for the show that ‘In our culture, that (being gay) just doesn’t happen. It would be like a black guy in the Ku Klux Klan.’ The show’s production team chose to show an interesting contrast through the two weddings in this episode, with the second marriage being one between two first cousins.  This highlighted the fact that it was more acceptable to commit a type of incest then be a lesbian in Gypsy culture.  While many of the struggles faced by Ana and her fiancée were not necessarily unique to the gypsy community - such as wondering if her immediate family were going to be in attendance for the ceremony - the show highlights the harsh realities LGBTQ+ Romani gypsies often confront.

Being gay and out in the Romani community is an isolating reality: not everyone is as lucky as I have been.  My family all but left the community in support of my choices, but this, unfortunately, is a rare occurrence. A fellow gay Romani, Mikey Walsh, author of the Gypsy Boy: The bestselling memoir of a Romany childhood and Gypsy Boy on the Run was not only forced out of the community for being gay, but for many years after releasing his first book had to go into hiding from people his own father had sent to ‘deal with him.’ In theory, within the UK a father wanting to kill his own son for being gay would be considered an extreme case, however, in our community entire families can end up being rejected because of one person being homosexual. More often than not, the only choice if you want to live openly is to leave the community behind and build a life as a gorger.  Though slowly attitudes are changing, there is still a long way to go before our community is ready to accept us for being anything but ‘dirty’.

Bibliography

Brown, P., & Scullion, L. (2010). “Doing research” with Gypsy–Travellers in England: Reflections on experience and practice doing. Community Development Journal, 45,
169–185.

Cemlyn, S., Greenfields, S., Burnett, S., Matthews, Z., and Whitwell,., (2009). Inequalities experienced by Gypsy and Traveller communities: A review.  Equality and Human Rights Commission. 

Condon, L., Bedford, H., Ireland, L., Kerr, S., Mytton, J., Richardson, Z., & Jackson, C. (2019). Engaging Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller Communities in Research: Maximizing Opportunities and Overcoming Challenges. Qualitative Health Research, 29(9), 1324–1333.

Heaslip, V., 2015. Experiences of vulnerability from a Gypsy/Travelling perspective: A
phenomenological study. (PhD). Bournemouth University. 

McFadden, A., Atkin, K., Bell, K., Innes, N., Jackson, C., Jones, C., MacGillivray, S., and Siebelt, L. (2016). Community engagement to enhance trust between Gypsy/Travellers, and maternity, early years’ and child dental health services: protocol for a multi-method exploratory study. International Journal for Equity in Health,15, 183 

McFadden, A., Siebelt, L,. Gavine, A., Atkin, K., Bell, B., Innes, N., Jones, H., Jackson 2, Haggi, H., MacGillivray, S. (2018). Gypsy, Roma and Traveller access to and engagement with health services: a systematic review.  European Journal of Public Health. 28(1):74-81.

The Traveller Movement (2017). LGBT Gypsies and Travellers: Our Stories.  [Online, available from: https://travellermovement.org.uk/advocacy-support/lgbt 



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