GRT history month: pride without compromise

Monday, 14 August 2023

June is a significant month not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but also for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. LGBTQ+ Pride Month coincides with GRT history month, which was established in 2008 to celebrate GRT communities, and to challenge prejudice by increasing understanding and awareness of GRT history, cultures, and experiences.

Traveller Pride – recently featured in Cosmo – made history themselves in 2019 as the first official Traveller representation at a UK Pride march. They are a collective working to provide advice, support, representation, and a platform for LGBTQ+ Travellers’ voices, as well as networking opportunities, meetup spaces, and other essential services.

This June, EPIC partnered with Traveller Pride to deliver a mental health workshop focussed on LGBTQ+ Travellers’ needs and experiences. Those at the intersections of multiple marginalised identities are likely to feel the effects of discrimination even more harshly, and to struggle to find spaces where they can express all elements of their identity. In light of this, our workshop was structured around three interweaving themes:

  • Identity and ‘not enoughness’
  • Loneliness and (not) belonging
  • Neurodivergence and LGBTQ+ identity

Tyler Hatwell (psychotherapist, founder and an Executive Director of Traveller Pride) and Candace Thomas (EPIC’s Program Coordinator) introduced the topics, incorporating key statistics and discussion prompts. Our aim was not just to raise awareness, but to hold space for participants to discuss their experiences – to centre what was important to them.

Research suggests both Traveller communities and LGBTQ+ communities experience elevated levels of mental ill health, including anxiety, depression, and suicidality. Both groups report neglecting to seek healthcare including mental health support due to experiences of discrimination, ignorance, and stigma. While research is lacking into LGBTQ+ Traveller wellbeing, a small study found 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ Travellers reported having attempted suicide – underlining the importance of access to mental health support.

LGBT Ireland explains, “Managing a minority identity within a minority identity, for many only compounds their already significant feelings of isolation and disconnection.” LGBTQ+ services often lack understanding of Traveller culture and needs, and so fail to provide truly inclusive spaces. Equally, LGBTQ+ Travellers may experience anti-LGBTQ+ stigma within Traveller spaces. This can lead to LGBTQ+ Travellers feeling unsafe being open about their Traveller identities in LGBTQ+ spaces, and LGBTQ+ identities in Traveller spaces.

LGBTQ+ people also appear to be more likely to be neurodivergent. The largest study yet undertaken into sexuality amongst autistic adults found only 63% of autistic participants identified as straight, compared to 83% of non-autistic controls. Further research suggests trans and non-binary people are about three to six times more likely to have an autism diagnosis than cis people, and that people with ADHD may be about 6.5 times more likely than neurotypical people to be trans.

And like Traveller and LGBTQ+ communities, neurodivergent people experience higher rates of mental illness. Adults with ADHD are five times more likely to have attempted suicide than those without, with up to one in four women with ADHD reporting a past suicide attempt. Autistic people are nine times more likely to die by suicide than non-autistic people. Stigma against and lack of understanding of neurodivergence can further compound a person’s sense of isolation, or not belonging.

Oein DeBhairduin, a writer, activist, educator, and Chairperson of the National Action Group for LGBTI+ Traveller and Roma Rights, said, “As beautiful as the intersectionality of our identities can be, for most it is also a point of great fear and concern of safety with many of the spaces of support proving gravely insufficient or underdeveloped.”

These words further showcase the importance of Traveller Pride’s mission to create spaces for LGBTQ+ Travellers to be fully themselves. Reflecting on their 2019 march at London Pride, Traveller Pride describes how meaningful and joyous these spaces can be:

“For some of us, it was about the celebration and about finally having a space where we were 100% allowed to be both a Traveller and LGBT+ without compromise. For some, it was about the launch of Traveller Pride as a group and about the plans we had for the upcoming year. For some, it was a good laugh and a piss-up. For some, all three.”

EPIC was honoured to support Traveller Pride in their vital work improving the visibility and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ Travellers – creating space for LGBTQ+ Travellers to exist and to celebrate their identities ‘without compromise.’

Author: Dorian Rose