Here in the UK, June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month and also Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month. Most people never stop to think that for some of us, as Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) LGBTQ+ people, we will be celebrating both.
Pride Month is the month when LGBTQ+ people all around the world hold Pride celebrations to raise visibility, celebrate LGBTQ+ people and campaign for LGBTQ+ equality.
Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month is the month when we raise visibility of, and celebrate, Gypsy Roma Traveller people including Showmen (funfair people) and Boaters (also traditionally called Bargees - people who travel and live on boats or barges). The acronym GRT is also sometimes extended to GRTSB in order to include Showmen and Boaters.
I was always very proud to call myself Romani and Gypsy
I’m a Gay man, and a proud Romani Gypsy. I’m a musician, singer-songwriter, and producer.
I didn’t grow up on a site, although we did have a caravan, but I was always very proud to call myself Romani and Gypsy. In Europe, America and Canada the word 'Gypsy' is currently deemed ‘unacceptable' by many Roma people. However British Romani Gypsies use this word proudly to describe ourselves.
Nevertheless growing up, and in my work, I was always aware that it might not be safe to share my racial identity as Gypsy with people, just as it might not be safe to share my sexuality as a Gay man with people. Even now, Coming Out as Gay/LGBTQ+ and Coming Out as Gypsy Roma Traveller can still hold the same social and worklife safety risks.
In the UK, Romani Gypsies (also spelt Romany), Roma people, Scottish Gypsy/Travellers and Irish Travellers have all been declared by the courts to be protected as “races” and have protection against racial discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Showmen and New Age Travellers don’t have this protection. Despite this, Gypsy Roma Traveller people still experience massive levels of racism and discrimination - and the Law often turns a blind eye or is the source of that racism and discrimination.
Notions of perceived 'Whiteness' or proximity to Whiteness can often render this racism invisible, or mean it is downplayed. But successive research consistently demonstrates that the British public holds more racist attitudes towards Gypsy Roma Traveller people than any other racial group. It is often dubbed 'the last acceptable form of racism'. See this 2017 report by The Traveller Movement and this 2020 submission by Friends Families Travellers (FFT) to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities as part of their call for evidence on ethnic disparities and inequality in the UK.
Anti-Gypsy/anti-Traveller moves by the current UK Government in the form of the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will further criminalise our traditional nomadic way of life, and lead to increased confrontations between police and communities.
Romani Gypsy activist Jake Bowers of the Drive2Survive campaign said of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: ‘The 27th of April may well go down in history as the day that freedom and perhaps democracy itself died’.
Coming Out as GRT in an LGBTQ+ setting can also open us up to racism and discrimination
Being a part of any oppressed/marginalised group can be difficult enough as it is. Being part of more than one creates huge challenges in both.
Mikey Walsh, who wrote the bestseller, Gypsy Boy about his own experiences of growing up Romani in a traditional travelling family, and then Coming Out as Gay, was initially outcast from his family. Coming Out as GRT in an LGBTQ+ setting can also open us up to racism and discrimination.
But the past 5 to 10 years has seen huge shifts in Gypsy Roma Traveller Showmen Boater community attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people. This is in large part due to the work of GRTSB LGBTQ+ activists online finding their collective voice and creating the platforms to stand up and be counted. And Gypsy Roma Traveller organisations are now increasingly taking onboard the needs of GRTSB LGBTQ+ people.
Marching for Traveller Pride was a revolutionary experience
In July 2019 I marched as part of Traveller Pride - the first ever GRTSB LGBTQ+ contingent to march at Pride in the UK as far as we’re aware. The experience was revolutionary for all of us taking part. Many of those who marched with us that day have gone on to become prominent and well respected GRTSB activists doing amazing work in the fight for better Rights for Gypsy Roma Traveller Showmen Boater people. At the Friends Family Travellers Awards in 2020, Traveller Pride won The Inspiring Project Award.
We’ve come a long way, and the road continues ahead.
This piece is dedicated to my friend Henry Chapman who died in 2019 shortly before that first Traveller Pride march. Henry was a longtime GRT LGBTQ+ activist. He was a Gay Romani man, and Director of the North West GRT & LGBTQI Alliance, and founder of the Gypsy & Traveller Coalition. You can read more about him in this Travellers Times piece published shortly after his passing.
In 2018 he is quoted by Romani Arts as saying: ‘We know being LGBTQI in the Gypsy and Traveller communities can be difficult but I do believe that positive changes are coming for the future…Be proud of who you are’
What the MU is doing
In 2021 our sister Union, Equity, set up a Gypsy Roma Traveller members network, and we are planning to set up a similar GRT network at the MU. Please get in touch if this is something you might be interested in finding out about. You can email us at Equalities@themu.org.