Photo by Jordan Mcdonald

Linda, Roma and Proud

Linda Lundqvist works in a magazine dedicated to Roma people like her. Twenty years ago, she invited her family to her marriage with another woman.  

She told her relatives how much their attendance would mean to her, and so most came.  Unfortunately, for many Roma people who come out as part of the LGBT+ community, things are often not that simple and intersectional discrimination comes into play. 

The disadvantages that Roma people face on a structural level often adds to other discriminatory factors, such as sexual orientation or gender identity. This was the focus of the seminar organised by the city of Gothenburg, where Linda shared her story.  

Being proud of several identities 

Linda was not alone to tell her story during this seminar. She shared the stage with her mother. Both identify as Resande, the Roma subgroup that has been the longest in Sweden, since the 15th century.  

“I talked about the experience of being Roma and bisexual,” Linda says. Her mother spoke about “how it feels to be mother of a bisexual woman, and how the reaction has been in their society and their group,” adds Ragnhild Ekelund, Planning Leader at Gothenburg City Council. 

The fear they had is that we need to be the same because, otherwise, people could tear us apart again
— Linda Lundqvist

The city of Gothenburg often cooperates with the local Romano Centre, where the Roma minority receives advice and support.  

When the idea of such a seminar was first brought up, it generated both excitement and fear of rejection among the organisers. However, the streaming of the event turned out to be very successful,” and the working group here was very proud of having done this,” Ekelund gladly adds. 

A double discrimination 

According to Linda, when belonging to a group in which experience of oppression led to very close links within the community, standing out as different might seem dangerous to some. When talking about those in her family that were less supportive of her orientation, she explains “the fear they had is that we need to be the same because, otherwise, people could tear us apart again.”

Linda and her mother are both confident women, says Ekelund, but she recalls struggling to get speakers for the seminar to talk publicly about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many potential speakers feared that exposing themselves to the public eye and defending their double identity could lead to exclusion from either group or even both, and leave them completely isolated. 

We are family. We do stuff together
— Linda Lundqvist

And that’s partly because, in the LGBTQ+ community, Roma are not free from discrimination either. While the visibility of sexual and gender diversity is part of an equal society, the mainstream gay culture may not always be inclusive of other minorities. Roma LGBTQ+ groups end up facing a double discrimination. “I will say I had more problems in the gay community than in the Roma one, and I think that is more to do with class and the fact that our way of living is very different from theirs,” Linda admits. 

As a minority that has historically been excluded from society and social welfare, Roma people consider family as the priority and have a very close relationship with all relatives, sometimes even living together in the same house.  

When Linda used to talk with non-Roma people about her family, she sometimes received scepticism or comments that showed a lack of acceptance. “We are family. We do stuff together,” she surmises. 

Family is the priority

However, she declares “never having been afraid of anything,” and has always been open about both being Roma and bisexual, thinking that could help people afraid to come out. 

“I’m fortunate because I have a very supportive family,” she insists. This bond played a role in convincing most of her relatives to attend her wedding twenty years ago. “We all have different roles in the family,” she says. Linda used to be the one that cooked for everyone and took care of the teenagers. “They understood that they could be prejudiced and not accept me. And then, they would have to make their own food and deal with their own teenagers, she concludes. 

The family is powerful because they cannot rely on society
— Ragnhild Elekund

The seminar aimed to showcase her struggle, but also her strength. In the most conservative communities, coming out means exclusion and isolation. “Homosexuals are not welcomed in the most traditional Roma communities,” Ekelund states. Roma homosexuals may avoid coming out to protect their relatives from associated stigma. “The family is powerful because they cannot rely on society,” Ekelund concludes.  

For Linda, the solution is “never to choose something that makes you not stand for yourself.” 

A space to talk about it 

Linda adds the factor class. “The less money you have, the harder it is to survive.” For her Roma acquaintances in Romania, coming out as gay would be a problem in their communities. 

In her case, she admits coming out would have been more challenging if the women in her family weren’t so powerful and strong. The rejection that Linda experienced mainly came from middle-aged men. Yet after 20 years, her uncle recently came by her house to share about “this wonderful new film about two teenage Roma girls in love and how their families were treating them badly.” Change takes time, but “they’re growing into it” Linda suggests. 

That’s why she’s confident when saying the generations after her face a more manageable scenario. Ekelund is also optimistic about the future. However, her opinion is that many youth are very concerned about their family’s thoughts because they still must rely on them.  

This seminar was a step in the right direction. “What we did and the discussions were not easy, but they were very proud of having done it.” Ekelund insists it may not look like a big deal, but for this Roma community, it was audacious. “It’s courageous on my colleague to say we do it. And they said, yes, we did it.” 

Gothenburg City Council is pre-selected as European Capital for Inclusion and Diversity 2022 in the categories ‘Local authorities fostering Roma inclusion’ and ‘Local authorities above 50000 inhabitants’. The Romano Center in the West stands out in the municipality’s candidacy. It is now a permanent institution, under the management of the city, that functions as an information and citizens’ office dedicated to the Roma minority.

On 8 April, we celebrate International Roma Day. 

On this occasion, Eurocities wants to share inspirational stories such as this initiative in Gothenburg or Ghent’s project which focuses on providing stability to Roma communities so they’ll get a house and professional help to find a permanent job, learn the language and send the children to school. In Madrid, a Gipsy Women’s committee for equality was created to foster their integration. 

Berlin is taking action to ensure that newly arrived Roma, and every resident, has the right and possibility to actively participate in society.

But the international Roma day is also the opportunity to raise awareness of remaining discrimination, exclusion and challenges that Roma people still face.  

Find out more about Gothenburg and the Romano centre here. 

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer