As we all know from the show ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’, the lifestyle of Romany, Irish and ‘New’ travellers have been enigmas for decades.
The culture has been found to be fascinating by the public in contemporary society which is evidential in this show’s popularity, sharing the communities’ day-to-day life.
However, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings has caused ‘real, measurable and long-term harm’, said educational consultant Brian Foster, as it is demonising and using the minority group for bleak entertainment purposes.
However, Big Fat Gypsy Wedding failed to examine the intersectional queer culture in the travelling community in contemporary society.
My upbringing within the community
I was brought up with a father who was an Irish Traveller, and a mother who was a ‘country-girl’ from London.
It was very interesting to see the difference in culture. How they viewed what a man and what a woman should be, and the different opinions on each side of the family towards societal issues – such as homophobia, misogyny and race. Growing up in these juxtaposing families, it became more worrying as I grew older and realised: I was a queer woman.
I then came to the realisation that this was due to that the lack of exposure of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as other societal issues within the culture, subsiding with these opinions.
The 2012 All Ireland Traveller Health Study (AITHS), Pavee Point report highlighted that Travellers experience a 6.6 times higher suicide rate when compared with non-Travellers, accounting for approximately 11% of all Traveller deaths. The most common method was by hanging.
The high suicide rates within the traveller community links to people within the culture feeling as if they are unable to truly express their own individual selves, strongly associated to their sexuality, without the fear of being ‘scandalised’ for steering away from the normal traditionalist ideals.
So: was exposure through social media a way to ease the community into being tolerant of LGBTQ+ travellers?
I felt, as someone who experienced being a lesbian woman involved in the community, the more exposure to other LGBTQ+ people I saw on social media – the easier it was for me to accept myself.
Is social media creating a safe space for LGBTQ+ Travellers to thrive and be proud of their sexualities?
Artefact spoke to a gay Irish Traveller, James Lawrence, who has made a name for himself on the platform TikTok, with more than 136 thousand followers and more than 2.7 million likes.
James discusses predominant issues surrounding the community and their opinions on queer travellers, as well as informing the public on the differences in the communities; whilst battling a lot of prejudice. I wanted to know what it was like for him growing up in the heritage while being part of the LGBTQ+ community.
James told Artefact: “I knew I was gay very early on, even being sure of it whilst in primary school. Back then I wasn’t educated on the LGBTQ+ community, but I still knew there was a big stigma being gay in the traveller community.”
“People already called me homophobic names before I ever came out because I wasn’t the stereotypical masculine traveller,” he added.
The biggest fear to come out would be the anticipation of the immediate family’s reaction. In the traveller community, being shamed is one of the most offensive feats. Yet, James’ experience with coming out was easier than expected, stating “I had a few homophobic reactions from some people, but to be honest with you, I was overwhelmed with all the support I didn’t really care for the few that didn’t support me.”
It was very hopeful to hear from a fellow Irish traveller that there are positive and tolerant reactions towards queer travellers within the community. Optimistically, even in the most traditionalist cultures there’s room to being open and self aware to contemporary society.
With the beginning of James’ account growing, he told Artefact “the hate I received was a lot. Death threats, told to kill myself etc.” But, with time, gained a lot of confidence. “Six months later I get a lot of support on TikTok, especially from travellers, which is so beautiful to see a difference in a small amount of time.”
So how we can educate the community to become more tolerant with time? James mentioned: “it is important for us as a community to speak out more about it. There is no shame in being LGBTQ+, and the more we raise awareness and simply show we do exist and we can be proud of who we are will be helpful to the next generation.”
The Hopeful Future of Changing Opinions
The amount of exposure that media gives people enables the traveller culture to thrive. Informing non-travellers who are unaware of the community the way that travellers really live, and normalising the heritage through social media in order to create less discrimination in the wider world.
This type of social media also allows travellers to communicate with each other. When other young travellers log on to the platform and see a very proud and extroverted LGBTQ+ Irish traveller man, and see they are not wrong or different, it exposes them to things they may not have been socialised to tolerate in their tight-knit community.
Although this interdependent culture has a long way to come in regard to accepting and being tolerant of the LGBTQ+ community, platforms like TikTok are creating a safe and informative space for many travellers – and in turn, hopefully, portraying that there is no shame in being an LGBTQ+ person in the lifestyle.
- Phone Line- Phone line service where people can call up to unload or get advice. Please note. it is not a 24/7 phone line. Instead you request a time for a callback.
- Safe Houses- If you’re an LGBT+ Traveller and need to escape from a difficult situation we have funding to help you leave and places where you can temporarily stay. We will then work out a plan with you.
- Trans & Non Binary Solidarity Fund– We offer small grants to Trans & Non Binary Travellers to help buy things such as clothes, binders, cosmetics.
- Library Scheme- Remote library where LGBT+ Travellers can access books about LGBT+ culture, about Traveller cultures and more; a low-pressure way to connect and explore.
- Free Binder scheme– In partnership with G(end)er Swap, free binders for Trans and Non Binary travellers
- Therapy Service- We are currently looking for more funding to re-launch our therapy service. as it stands we have a network for therapists who are trained to work with LGBT+ Travellers who we can recommend to you. Get in touch.
- Regular Meetings– We hold regular online and in person meet-ups. A lot of us speak about isolation and loneliness, or a sense of separation from the community. These help change that. We’re currently meetings once a month in London. Details here
Feature image credits to Traveller Pride