Recently, I spoke with Sally Carr MBE, a queer and disabled woman from the Romany Gypsy community. Sally grew up in Greater Manchester in the 1980s, a time when LGBT+ phobia was strong - even among members of her own family and the wider Romany community. As a result, she chose to explore her LGBT+ identity but faced many incidents of racism in what she had hoped would be safer spaces. Today, Sally is Director of Youth at Pride Sports, a patron of The Pankhurst Trust and an advocate for the LGBT+ GRT communities.
Since their arrival in Britain in the early 16th century, Romany Gypsies have encountered racial prejudice and discrimination. Even the word “gypsy” is based on a false assumption about this community’s heritage. Despite centuries of living together, we are still a long way from genuine GRT inclusion.
In the words of Lord Simon Woolley:
“It isn’t uncommon to hear politicians speak in discriminatory terms against Gypsies, Roma and Travellers; terms they would never dare to utter against other ethnic minority groups.”
For Sally, a lifetime of racist abuse has been traumatic:
“The racism we face is often sidelined, and racism in recent times has been viewed through a narrow lens that must be broadened out. We need to think about who has power and who experiences powerlessness. In recent months, I have been told that my race is insignificant. This is a totally racist comment that serves only to diminish our identity and undermine the extent to the racism we face. There is no other group where this sort of comment would go unchallenged.”
Perhaps one of the causes of GRT racism is a lack of understanding. Speaking with Sally taught me so much about the contributions made by these communities. Many people don’t realise how many words English has ‘borrowed’ from GRT people or how many remedies and sweet dishes come directly from their rich culture. Sally also highlights our problematic depictions of people from these communities: “We have been regarded as thieves, troublemakers, and lawbreakers on the one hand and on the other seen as exotic.”
So how can we ally with the GRT communities? What steps should we take to support their visibility and inclusion?
Firstly, Sally reminds us that we need to be aware of just how diverse these communities are. There is no such thing as “one people” or “one community.” GRT people come from all walks of life and span a range of identities and life experiences.
Secondly, make time for GRT people. Hear their stories, understand their lived experiences and recognise the racism that they experience every day. Together, we can make the changes that are needed.
Thirdly, rejoice with GRT people. Raise the profile of GRT communities by celebrating key days, like International Roma Day on April 8th and GRT History Month in June.
Finally, take action with GRT people. Stand together in allyship and challenge anti-GRT racism and oppression whenever you see it. We need to ensure that anti-GRT practices are embedded in law and policy.
If you would like to learn more about standing in allyship with GRT communities, Sally recommends checking out the following resources:
The Traveller Movement: a website where you can learn more about the barriers faced by these communities and take action to create a more inclusive society.
Romani Arts: a celebration of Romani arts and culture with online exhibitions and details of upcoming events.
London Gypsies and Travellers: a website that supports GRT people and takes action against their discrimination.
Travellers Times: an excellent source of news and events that feature the GRT communities.
My thanks to Sally for speaking with me and sharing her experiences.