LGBTIQ Roma – an invisible minority?


Lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Roma across the European Union (EU) face multiple marginalisation and discrimination on the grounds of Romani ethnicity, sex/gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and their intersections. In conjunction with the Slovak organisation Quo Vadis and the Hungarian organisation Diverse Youth Network, the Czech Roma LGBT+ organisation ARA ART has recently produced an analytical report on the position of the LGBTIQ Roma with respect to multiple or intersectional discrimination.

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The report addresses the situation of LGBTIQ Roma in three EU countries: the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. It is one activity of the project ‘Roma LGBTIQ go visible - supporting activities for the Roma LGBTIQ minority’, funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020).

The Roma populations living in these three countries are sizeable, and it is reasonable to assume that 5-10 percent of their members are LGBTIQ.[1] Across the EU, Roma continue to face anti-Roma racism, discrimination, marginalisation, stigmatisation and limited access to rights, all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2018 Report on the Evaluation of the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) up to 2020, as well as the Roma Civil Monitor project’s Country Reports and Synthesis Reports, have found that the previous iteration of the EU Framework on Roma Inclusion had just a limited capacity to deal with the diversity of Roma, or indeed with multiple/intersectional discrimination. This situation becomes worse for intersectional groups within Roma populations such as Roma women and children, Roma living with disabilities or LGBTIQ Roma. The adopted strategies do not reflect the needs and the diversity of all groups and sub-groups of Roma. Since LGBTIQ Roma are not the subject of the NRIS, or of policies or measures dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity, the degree of their vulnerability is rather extreme. Lack of data on, references to and interventions targeting LGBTIQ Roma are often cited as the most frequent reasons for their socio-economic and cultural exclusion, including from public policy.

Why research the status of LGBTIQ Roma?

While a decade ago there was a lack of data on the status of LGBTIQ Roma, in 2021 this is no longer the case. We have at our disposal numerous accounts and qualitative studies concerning the intersectional experiences of LGBTIQ Roma (Jovanovic 2009; Kurtić 2013; Fremlova and Georgescu 2014; Baker 2015; Máté 2015; Andrés & Masó 2018; Fremlova and McGarry 2018; Fremlova 2018; Fremlova 2019; Fremlova 2021). Intersectionality is a concept coined in the 1990s by American law professor Kimberle Crenshaw, who analysed the position of African-American women and their invisibility in the US legal system and used the metaphor of an intersection, or a crossroads where social dimensions/identities meet and create a series of effects of structural inequalities. They are either additive or compounded.

The aggregated findings of the above studies on LGBTIQ Roma show that despite some progress made over the past decade, especially in terms of acceptance by Roma families and communities, LGBTIQ Roma continue to face ostracism and excommunication from their families and communities, as well as anti-Roma racism and discrimination from the majority society, including the LGBTIQ movement. Many LGBTIQ Roma conceal their sexual orientation, gender identity and Roma ethnicity for fear of negative reactions, discrimination, bullying, harassment, rejection or violence, including anti-Roma racist abuse intersecting with homophobia or transphobia. Due to societal expectations around gender roles and the presence of cultural conservatism in some insulated Roma families and communities, LGBTIQ Roma fear coming out as LGBTIQ and losing their families and communities who often shield them from anti-Roma racism. This confluence, or intersection of oppressions results in greater, more pronounced levels of invisibility and vulnerability among LGBTIQ Roma. Thus, LGBTIQ Roma are effectively a multiple, intersectional minority within both the Roma ethnic minority and the LGBTIQ minority.

At the policy level, the above issues faced by LGBTIQ Roma have not received enough attention, nor have they been adequately recognised or addressed yet. The exception is a recent Council Recommendation on Roma equality, inclusion and participation 2021/C 93/01,[2] based on the European Commission’s 10-year action plan and strategic framework, announced in October 2020. Historically, for the first time ever, the Council Recommendation makes a direct reference to LGBTIQ Roma not only in relation to the diversity of Romani populations, but also regarding the urgent need to resolve and tackle structural, multiple or intersectional discrimination against LGBTIQ Roma. At a time of the dangerous strengthening of extreme right-wing and populist forces across the EU and globally, the Recommendation sends a significant signal to all EU Member State governments, emphasising the need to pay adequate attention to socially marginalised and systemically persecuted groups such as LGBTIQ Roma.

What the analytical report has found

The analytical report is the first systematic research study of its kind within the EU that provides not just theoretical, but also practical insight into multiple or intersectional discrimination with respect to the situation of LGBTIQ Roma from the perspective of public authorities and civil society organisations (CSOs). These perspectives are complemented by six in-depth interviews with LGBTIQ Roma living in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary: they were made possible thanks to funding from HBS. The report provides key findings as a general overview of the overall situation in the three countries, emphasising realistic, feasible and constructive recommendations. It also contains country-specific findings that entail a more detailed analysis and description of the overall socio-legal situation with respect to multiple or intersectional discrimination in each of the Member States reviewed.

The research has found that there is both a conceptual and a legal vacuum with respect to multiple or intersectional discrimination. The term “multiple/intersectional discrimination” is not recognised in transnational EU law, as it would be in the still-unadopted Horizontal Directive proposed in 2008 seeking to equalise levels of protection across various equality grounds, nor is the term recognised by domestic legislation in the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Hungary. This vacuum exists against a backdrop of human rights legal standards and protections for ethnic, sexual and gender minorities being rolled back, along with a general trend of weakening equality bodies and other institutional watchdogs.

The research found that in each of the three countries, only a handful of organisations work with LGBTIQ Roma, understand multiple or intersectional discrimination, and are aware of the specific issues experienced by LGBTIQ Roma at the intersection of anti-Roma racism, homophobia and transphobia. Non-existent provision of social services to this population – or no allocation of funds from domestic budgets in those states where there is provision to LGBTIQ Roma – paints a bleak picture indeed. Despite nationwide efforts made by the handful of CSOs working with LGBTIQ Roma, the vast majority of which are based in capitals or large metropolitan cities, it is hard for them to reach out to all LGBTIQ Roma, especially those living on the periphery (i.e., in rural areas, socially excluded localities, ghettos or segregated Roma communities).

Importantly, despite this lack of awareness, lack of service provision, lack of funding and the aforementioned legal vacuum with respect to multiple or intersectional discrimination, there is still some leeway for addressing cases of multiple or intersectional discrimination, including those concerning LGBTIQ Roma. Some stakeholders, including public authorities and CSOs, have been able to find constructive solutions to these problems.

The report concludes by stating that forming intersectional alliances, complementing single-axis, Roma- or LGBTIQ-only social policies and legal provisions with an intersectional approach, and embedding intersectionality at the heart of national and transnational ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ law are some of the possible and plausible solutions that would open avenues for participation and action across different demographic groups, regional areas, disciplines and issues.

Read the REPORT


[1] Globally, 5 – 10 percent of any population is estimated to comprise LGBTIQ people