Pride – Skimming the Surface of LGBTIQ Roma Intersectionality
The Second Annual International LGBTIQ Roma Conference took place August 8 to 14, 2016 during Pride Week in Prague. Most of us know the historical significance of Pride as a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969 in New York City. Since then, LGBTIQ Pride Day celebrations have turned into week-long events held year round all over the world. For two years in a row, LGBTIQ Roma have played a visible role in Prague’s Pride celebrations thanks to ARA ART, a local NGO that has brought together Roma from across the country and Europe for this event.
When you look up Roma pride in any search engine, among other things you will find descriptions of LGBTIQ Pride events in the city of Rome, Italy. If you sift through these search results, which may prove easier if you use another language like Hungarian, Czech, or French, you will find an event taking place in October for the past several years in a variety of European cities. The event seems – as it is presented – to have nothing to do with LGBTIQ Pride. No acknowledgement or LGBTIQ-inclusive aspect of these Roma Pride events can be readily perceived by most of the general public.
The irony of using a “Pride” event as a model, without explaining to the general Roma public the logic or history behind essentially copying the LGBTIQ rights movement, is a lost opportunity to build a greater alliance and awareness of the similarities between the movements, regardless of whether we even get to address the issue of intersectionality.
How would it be seen in the Roma communities if we LGBTIQ Roma tried to appropriate the Pride event and bring light to the success of the LGBTIQ emancipation movement and its influence on creating Roma Pride in Paris, Budapest or even Prague? How would they feel if they knew we were following the exemplary behavior of LGBT activists over the past 46 years and following a “gay” example? We won’t know until we speak up. It is our duty as LGBTIQ Roma to raise the issue of LGBTIQ rights within the Roma space. Why haven’t we done so? Perhaps because due to our experiences at the intersection of several forms of oppression, including racism, anti-Romani sentiments, sexism, homo/bi/transphobia and heteronormativity, we don’t see our own Roma community as being the most oppressive force in society. Roma are not necessarily more or less homophobic than any other group; this depends on whether they have been sensitized to the issues or have had any personal contact with LGBTIQ individuals. Perhaps the lack of recognition of diversity within the greater LGBTIQ movement is an issue for us, too. How many prominent leaders of the LGBTIQ movement are people of color?
Or, maybe we have to change our priorities entirely.
Let’s look at the issue of youth homelessness and poverty. Young Roma who come out to their families as LGBTIQ seem to face a greater risk of rejection than non-Roma youth. Whether that risk is actually greater remains to be proven; however, the general perceptions of stronger family ties, the need for belonging within a family unit as well as the generally more conservative, often religious nature of the Roma (as compared to non-Roma) population, all seem to have a more profound impact on the perceptions held by Roma youth. This gives rise to an acute need for housing and psychological assistance for LGBTIQ Roma youth who have been rejected by their families to prevent homelessness and a life-long cycle of poverty. In the Czech Republic, ARA ART is working with municipal authorities and taking the lead in beginning to address this issue. They follow in the footsteps of Le Refuge, an NGO that has been successful in helping all LGBTIQ youth in France, regardless of religious affiliation or ethnic origin. As no such national organization for homeless LGBTIQ youth exists in the Czech Republic, the Roma are taking the lead, hoping to learn from the example of Le Refuge in France by building connections there. We hope this will help to better the lives of all LGBTIQ youth in the Czech Republic, Roma and non-Roma alike. In order to offer additional support in France to Roma youths who may seek assistance from Le Refuge, La Voix des Rroms will be available to let them know their sexual orientation does not prevent them from continuing to be Roma.
Finally, this brings us to what we really wanted to share with you: the results and future aspirations of the LGBTIQ Roma movement and how these were manifest at this year’s conference. Very simply, our priorities are: to build awareness of the existence of LGBITQ Roma among at-risk youth, build awareness among the general public of at-risk LGBTIQ youth, protect these youths from economic and psychological danger, and help them achieve their full human potential.
Some LGBTIQ Roma youth, who have experienced homelessness and isolation, are a living testimony of the suffering they have endured at the hands of human traffickers. Thanks to the support staff who work with Roma LGBTIQ youth, there is a need to make our community more visible and make alternatives available to those who want to live their lives openly and honestly – through positive role models, by being visible. Potentially, we can have the greatest impact by implementing and living the Prague declaration we, the LGBTIQ Roma, Gypsy, Sinti and Traveller European Platform, put forth in 2015, with an added emphasis on empowering youth. Reaching out to those who don’t know we exist starts by being visible, but in order to prevent suicide and abuse, in order to inspire and provide hope, we need to reach young people and their parents. Through projects like Queer Roma, Ververipen – Rroms por la diversidad, Mindj Panther and the work of RomaniPhen and the women behind this work we have great examples and powerful role models. If parents learn their children are not alone, that there is no shame but rather a great deal of pride to be taken in their LGBTIQ Roma children, we will all become much more visible for the benefit of all European society.