23 February 2020
For LBGT+ History Month we caught up with a young client to understand how his sexual identity has shaped his life.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Hi I’m Radek. I’ll be 20 years old in March, have Romany Gypsy heritage and I am gay.
How has your sexuality impacted your life?
I was part of a large family and community, I played with my cousins a lot when I was young. I knew I was gay from a very young age but had to hide it, it was frowned upon in the community and your family would disown you. Success in the community means getting married and having lots of children to continue your family, my cousins were having babies, but I couldn’t do that. I was in an awkward situation, it felt like I had a spotlight on me and it was really scary.
I think my cousins knew, I was bullied a lot for acting femininely. A few years went by and my family gradually stopped talking to me. I met a guy, we started dating and that’s when I came out. It was difficult to tell my mum because she shared the same prejudices, she didn’t accept it for a very long time.
My mum often kicked me out of my home so I had to sleep under the bridge for a year or so. I also sought refuge at my friend’s house. My mum had a new boyfriend who is also Romany Gypsy and he did not accept me, which caused more friction in the family. I felt like I was pushed out onto the streets.
How are you coping now?
The difference between now and living with my family is I can receive support and be more outgoing. While I was living in SPEAR’s youth hostel I went on trips to the theatre, to the cinema, and to visit the Media, Art and Design campus at the University of Westminster for a tour. I am a founding member of our Art Club, and use my skills and time to support peers with their creative projects. My SPEAR key worker has helped me to access support around budgeting, employment, and living independently.
This is a box Radek made at one of SPEAR’s art workshops
It’s still hard having to share accommodation with other people who are not the same as me. Some people can be closed-minded. I have received homophobic comments and my things stolen from the communal areas (this happened at another property not run by SPEAR). However, the problems have been dealt with by staff and they are replacing my items.
My mum only recently started to accept that I’m gay, I think because she realises I can’t change who I am and I am still her child. We spend time more with each other and I feel we’re now on the same page about a lot of things, whereas before I had to hide things from her. I can open up about dating and ask her for relationship advice.
What are you looking forward to?
I’ve realised from moving to different hostels that no matter where you go, even in life, there is always a small number of people that treat you negatively but you can’t let it get to you. I’d rather move on than be sad for the rest of my life. The good thing is there are even more people that agree with you. I’m grateful to have good friends around me who are supportive and have put me up when I had nowhere to go. They are just as close to me as family.
I’d like to find a permanent job, I’m creative want to do something related to the arts at a gallery or museum. Before the pandemic, I really enjoyed the art club at SPEAR to create and experiment different styles of art. During lockdown I was invited to an online introductory session on Philosophy where we took the example of Theseus’ Ship as a way of discussing identity, which led to introspecting our own identities as humans and persons. SPEAR is helping me to sign up to more workshops when lockdown ends as well as supporting me to polish my CV and apply for jobs.
What does LGBT+ History Month mean to you?
It’s really good to shed light on people who don’t receive as much recognition or who were persecuted for being different. You aren’t really taught in schools about LGBT+ people, I feel more exposure would encourage people to learn about famous LGBT+ people who made historic contributions, such as Alan Turing who cracked the Enigma code and invented the first computer.
[Editor’s note: Turing was prosecuted for homosexual acts in 1952, went to prison and died by suicide in 1954. The UK government made a public apology in 2009 for the appalling way he was treated and the Queen issued a posthumous pardon in 2013. The “Alan Turing law” is now an informal term for a 2017 law in the United Kingdom that retroactively pardoned men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.]