Romani LGBT Film and Discussion:
What is like to be a minority within a minority?
This November, the 18th edition of the annual Mezipatra Queer Film Festival, in addition to a rich programme of screenings, parties and workshops, also drew attention to the Romani LGBT community. Some may ask: why is there a need to distinguish LGBT people on the basis of ethnicity? The thing is, even in generally tolerant Czech Republic, «Roma LGBT people are the most vulnerable group who face triple discrimination: firstly as Roma, secondly as LGBT people, and thirdly as LGBT people in the Roma community» due to the role of tradition and religiosity in the community.
Indeed, the majority of people who came to the discussion on the taboo topic at the Romani Culture museum in Brno were in their 20s and 30s in contrast to multi-age audience at another film event held by the museum two days earlier. Nevertheless, the lecture hall was full of guests who seemed genuinely interested in the topic. Firstly, they were treated to documentary film Queer: SAID (Queer: ŘEKNU.TO, Czech Television, 2017) that shows Romani lesbians, gays and transgenders offering insights into their family background, stories of coming out and reflections on their life-paths as the Roma. Secondly, co-producer of the film and prominent activist David Tišer (Czech Republic), appeared in the film activist Denisa Urbánszká (Czech Republic) as well as DJ and musician László Farkas (Hungary) answered questions about Romani LGBT activism in Central Europe.
COMING OUT AND DISCRIMINATION
Both David and László state that comparing to many Romani LGBT people they are fortunate that their families accepted their identity; however, they encountered discrimination, hate speech and abusive behaviour in public places. «I was coming home, drunk guys called me ‘faggot’ and… my nose was broken. That was my first experience that also inspired me to speak up publicly. I thought, ok, it shouldn’t happen like this,» says Hungarian musician. «It was five years ago when I started DJ-ing for LGBT community first. I felt more comfortable at LGBT community. The second experience that inspired me to start being an activist was when our friend, activist, committed suicide. I felt that there was something I did not do, something what I should have done to help him, to fight for our causes, to make us more visible. It cannot happen that we lose good hearts because of discrimination and prejudices and situations that we face only because of our identities».
László Farkas was the first one to organise a group for Romani gays at Budapest’s Pride parade as well as a flashmob gay wedding, while David Tišer is the first Romani LGBT activist in the Czech Republic, Roma Boys film producer, a member of Committee for Sexual Minorities. In 2011, he founded the organisation ARA ART that provides counselling for Romani LGBT people. ARA ART member, Denisa Urbánszká, is a LGBT consultant for the Ústí nad Labem Region.
Keeping in mind the age of the event audience as well as of Queer: SAID interviewees, I wondered why the older generation of LGBT community was less visible? Has the situation changed for them? ARA ART founder, David Tišer, works with many older Romani LGBT people, though he confirms that it is easier for today’s teenagers to come out comparing to those of 20 years ago: «That is why many people think that today is a boom of LGBT people. It is not true, the number of LGBT people is the same like it was 20 years ago, but it is only now when they can come out». As for Hungary, after the LGBT wedding in Budapest, László Farkas received several messages from older Romani LGBT people: «They were asking me how it would be possible to get in touch with each other, or public places where they could meet somebody else. There is a community in the other generation who is hiding. But they can not come out, it is harder for them because they have families and kids. This why I think it is important to talk, open up, make discussions. We should not let another generation to grow up like this, to live in secret, to hide happiness».
GIRLS AND TRANSGENDERS
While watching Queer: SAID, I could not help but observe that film features only one female LGBT activist, Denisa Urbánszká. All three speakers state that many Romani lesbians prefer to stay in the background having their families, children and living their lives. Consequently, lesbian communities in Czech Republic and Hungary are less visible in general. As for transgender people, David Tišer mentions that it can be tougher for Romani queers to come out and speak up about their identity; although, the film features transgender activist Kristian who helps the small community of people that do not identify exclusively with either gender.
WHAT HELPED TO IMPROVE ATTITUDE
Both Czech and Hungarian activists see LGBT projects and public appearance as key means of increasing societal acceptance and helping those people who hide their identities and cannot have their own experiences: «Every public appearance helps, at least we are more visible, and people start talking about it. Every time we talk about it publicly, we say that you can have a gay family member as well and that person can feel very bad», says László Farkas. «What David does with ARA ART is very inspiring, not just from the point of education or against discrimination, but also from the cultural point. In Hungary I miss Romani events and the presence of positive image of Romani identity and culture».
As David Tišer asserts, Czech Republic is a safe and LGBT-tolerant country especially in comparison to its neighbours of Poland and Slovakia. In Hungary, the situation appears to be going in the reverse direction: «Campaign against migrants straightens the xenophobic discourse in Hungary. Propaganda media affects people in small villages», states László Farkas. «If you don’t like someone you call him simply ‘faggot’. It is still present in Romani language as well as in the countryside. Gay people is a source of jokes, especially, among young men». Hungarian activist also mentions the presence of hate speech on social media and increase of anti-protesters at this year’s Budapest Pride: 100-150 people in contrast to 20 of those last year. Nevertheless, the speaker confirms that the attitude towards LGBT people is improving generally.
The obstacles mentioned during the discussion did not came as a surprise to me as a Kazakhstani citizen. In the past, Kazakh people used to nomadise across steppes; therefore, the role of family and traditions is fundamental for the majority of Kazakhs because it was the only way to survive harsh winters in the vast territory. I can imagine the pressure many Romani LGBT people encounter when they realise they cannot conform to traditional norms. However, while there are no queer film festivals in my country, the fact of such discussions like Queer Gypsy and visibility of Romani LGBT representatives in Central Europe proves that Romani people are on their way to overcoming outdated prejudices.
 Fremlova et al. Barabaripen. Young Roma speak about multiple discrimination. Council of Europe, 2015, p. 22.