By Lois Brookes-Jones, member of the GRT Women’s Empowerment Network
I think it’s important to note in this blog that I am a person of privilege. I am someone who lives in a house, doesn’t speak Romanes, and is poshrat (half Romany). My experiences are in this in-between world of discrimination and prestige. I was told throughout my life to hide who I am, that half of my world puts me in danger. I’m also a very intersectional and diverse person. I’m Jewish, Romany, gay, working class, and a woman. The phrase “being in the closet” has never felt like it only applies to being a lesbian, it also applies to my identity as a Romany person.
I knew that we were different to other families but was never explicitly told why. Why my mother never completed education, why all of our family lived under one roof, why my cousins who visited lived on sites and referred to our home as a “mansion”. My nan would tie my hair in ribbons and talk about the scrap metal yard and horses they used to own. It was when I was eleven that the term “pikey” was tossed at me on the playground, because of what someone’s mother had said to their child about my family. It was then, as I told my mother what I had been called, that I was ascribed the label of “Romany”.
Again, this comes with massive elements of privilege. So many GRT (Gypsy Roma Traveller) children and people living on sites or who are not poshrat experience racism and exclusion from the moment they are born into the world. My navigation of identity from that point was being told to hide myself as much as possible. I was consistently berated about not telling anyone at school, even my friends, and it manifested into internalised shame about myself and my identity.
My secondary school eventually found out, and suddenly me and my sisters’ patchy attendance which had been that way since we attended school was under review by teachers, heads of year, and attendance officers who came into school and put the pressure of fines on my family. We were almost put into the hands of social services due to how counsellors interpreted my family experience in sessions where I wasn’t aware of my Rights or of how gorja people in authority exploit us due to their own inherent prejudice.
But this isn’t just a negative story about how I was failed as a child by the school system, but one of finding empowerment and growth. My Mother now has the confidence to speak out against antigypsyism, posing in photos with me wearing a “Proud Gypsy” shirt, proud of me for getting involved in GRT activism and representing our stories of injustice. My Auntie has wrote for Travellers Times and continues to draft more articles to submit in the future. She even released an excerpt on her childhood experiences as a Romany woman for GATEHerts which I submitted for their GRT History month campaign posts.
Although my story isn’t typical, and has privileges, discrimination, and empowerment. It’s a journey which I am proud of. I am proud to be Romany, poshrat, and be a walking representation of intersectionality. Being unapologetically Romany, gay, Jewish, working class, and a woman.