Being LGBT+ in the Traveller community: a personal reflection

By Lois Brooks-Jones.

I remember being sat on the armchair, nails diggings at the leather out of stress as a comfort. I was 14 years old and was preparing to tell my family that I am bisexual. I had known for years, trying to suppress myself due to a phobia of losing everyone I loved. I just wanted to be straight, and not have to worry about seeing the care in my mother and father’s eyes leave, no matter how often they professed their support for LGBT+ rights in small but meaningful ways. 

This fear increases when you come from a community which is currently experiencing mass programmes of assimilation by governments and institutional powers, where ideas of tradition and historical cultural values are clung to even harder, to feel a sense of identity in a world which has been trying for 1000 years to smite it.

You fear being rejected from a community which protects you from the pain and harm caused by wider gadjo society for your sexuality or gender identity, and then being rejected from mainstream society for not only being LGBT+, but also for being Gypsy, Roma Traveller (GRT) identifying. This is a common narrative for LGBT+ GRT youth trying to navigate their own identity as well as deconstructing the extent of their family’s love and support. This impacts mental health, emotional wellbeing, as well as potential regarding suicide victims. 

I was lucky to have my grandmother. When I was 13 years old she point-blank asked if I was gay, taking long drags from her cigarette as she looked at me with her dark eyes. Seeing my hesitation, she followed up her question by saying “Because it’s okay if you are, you know”.

This is a woman born amid 1930s fascism, who learnt what it meant to be persecuted based on an identity outside of her control, and that this level of discrimination and hatred must not happen again. Included in the mass murder under Nazi Germany, LGBT+ people were included, with up to 15,000 LGBT+ being transported to Nazi concentration camps, with 60 per cent believed to have been murdered there.

Need for a support network

When we discriminate against LGBT+ people, we discriminate and threaten the safety of members of our own, already marginalised community. My family not only fully supported me in my sexuality, but also support those without the support of their own families. In no way am I saying that GRT are intrinsically anti-LGBT+, my own family are a testimony to love and acceptance. However, we can’t deny a lack of acceptance for LGBT+ GRT youth in need of a support network. 

Changes are happening, albeit slowly, and we must celebrate the fact that this year for the first time, LGBT+ Travellers made history, as in we had official representation at London Pride. This should by no means be seen as an ends in itself, but instead a vital part in a long-running battle for recognition and acceptance; a momentum on which we can build and send out a strong message to not only LGBT+ GRT people specifically, but to our community in general. We must tackle these attitudes head-on and with pride in ourselves. 

When we begin to accept hatred towards others based on identity, we comply with our oppressors. We divide ourselves, define what is or isn’t GRT, and do the establishment’s work for them. 

Lois Brooks-Jones is currently studying politics and international relations. A British Romany Gypsy, she is a Gypsy Roma Traveller and LGBT+ activist. Follow on Twitter @TravellerLGBT

Pride: Not for sale

By Damien Thomson.

Pride month is over, so now what?

While company logos on social media accounts will start going back to their original colours and remove their rainbow filters, Queer folk won’t be putting anything away in boxes. 

The gestures of solidarity are indeed widely appreciated within the Queer community, but July 1st tends to be when the hangover from it all kicks you in the head. After being unambiguously appropriated for business strategies, Queer identity is then binned while boardrooms start looking at the next quarter’s biggest sales focus. Heterosexual summer starts, and Queer lives stop being openly ‘celebrated’. 

Allies or profiteers?

There is nothing genuine about how companies appropriate Queer culture and identity for their market strategies. What is thinly veiled as a gesture of solidarity, is, of course, a chance for maximising profit – nobody even doubts that.

What makes it socially acceptable, though, is that LGBTI+ folk are taught that they should be receptive and grateful for whatever support they get. Having an ally, you’re told, is better for you, even if it is a corporation. The more normalised being Queer is, the better, and Coca Cola can help you with that.

Pinkwashing protest

For a company whose target audience is especially geared towards young people, it is an unmissable opportunity to glitter up its brand and associate it with the ideals that underpin the Pride flag. Tesco has a float in the parade; Facebook reminds you what day it is; and your bank sends you a push notification to wish you a Happy Pride. Pinkwashing can be disorienting in a world where you’re told you should take all the help you can get.

There is an ongoing and deliberate trend of depoliticising Pride and turning protest into party – and I mean just a party, the two are certainly not mutually exclusive! By taking the protest out of Pride, companies and even well-intentioned allies are contributing to the hollowing of the struggle (or better yet, struggles).

Stonewall riots

This year’s Pride has been particularly important to commemorate and recall the foundations of the modern LGBTI+ movement, 50 years on from the raids of the Stonewall Inn in New York. Remembrance is symbolically important, but it also serves as a useful litmus test.

Many of the protesters who took to the streets the day after the Stonewall raid would probably be perplexed looking at a Pride parade in 2019. While bound to be ecstatic with the amount of participation and (general) acceptance in most European cities, there is no doubt that most Pride parades would be seen as far-removed from their origins. 

The riots of Stonewall were about Queer folk standing up against police violence, then leading into the creation of a movement rooted in solidarity. In an era where homophobic and transphobic violence is on the rise, even in Europe, Pride cannot just be a time to just celebrate. It needs to be a reminder to rebel.

The liberal and assimilationist gains of marriage equality and adoption rights compound the atmosphere of merrymaking instead of manifestation, of partying without protest.

Depoliticising Pride

But the depoliticisation of Pride is not just a coincidence, it is a very deliberate attempt to make money off the backs of marginalised and oppressed folk, often using the poster-boy of white, male, middle-classed privilege to plaster over the diverse lives and experiences of oppression within Queer communities. The less political Pride is, the more brandable it becomes.

Recently two women were assaulted on a London bus after refusing to kiss on demand for a group of young men. While the public outcry was overwhelming, the victims were keen to note that “this is not a novel situation”, and that the media attention around their story was amplified by being “two attractive, white cisgender women”.

But the violence and oppression experienced by Queer communities is not just that which makes headlines. It’s real, it’s diverse and it’s becoming more frequent with the rise of fascism across the world.

So is it really okay for Ben & Jerry’s to hand out free rainbow flags at a Pride parade with their logo in the middle as if it were some sort of Queer crest? Is that really an act of solidarity? Is H&M’s €9.99 “PRIDE” T-shirt really that good to us when it’s shipped over from the sweatshops in China? I think a PFO is in order (Please Fuck Off).

So next year don’t pay for a ticket to that private ‘Pride party’, don’t participate in the pinkwashing of business strategies, and don’t feel obliged to accept everything that looks like a gesture of solidarity. Stand as part of the struggle.

Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.