“We need to stand in elections for parliament and councils and confront racism because nobody understands our issues better than ourselves”

18 April 2018
Luke Wenman a Romany Gypsy activist from Surrey

Luke Wenman, 24, a Romany Gypsy from Surrey, tells YTT how he found his voice though political activism and how YOU using YOUR vote could mean one less discriminatory law to conform to.

There should be no obstacles to pursuing a route of higher education or political engagement for any of us from a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller background and yet there is still a stigma attached….. writes Luke Wenman.

It is not easy changing the status quo and breaking the mould that society has made for us. I grew up in a part of the country where, as a Romany Gypsy, I felt like I was on the outskirts of society and faced negative stereotypes throughout my childhood. Currently, I am upon the cusp of completing my degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Nottingham.

Nothing is more satisfying than defying everybody’s unwarranted low expectations of you simply because of your background and nothing is scarier to person with those expectations than somebody defying those shackles.

I found my voice through political activism. When attending the Labour Party Conference in Brighton as a Youth Delegate for my constituency, I confronted a Nottingham Labour MP on his behaviour; his response was utter shock, like a rabbit caught in headlights. I believe we should always challenge the stereotypes imprinted upon us by others. My future aim is to become one of the first GRT barristers and take GRT advocacy to the courts.

There are people willing to take GRT issues seriously

‘Nothing changes’ and ‘all politicians are the same’ are both common phrases surrounding (and hindering) political discussions. I’m here to say that since I’ve been actively engaged, there are people willing to take GRT issues seriously. That is not to say I haven’t faced any hurdles; there have been some MP’s suggesting the removal of our hard-earned assets, some suggesting criminality is rife among us and some declaring that we do not pay our taxes. These outright incorrect remarks from people in elected positions are disappointing to say the least.

I have however, also found support amongst politicians. The likes of Laura Pidock in the Labour Party and David Linden from the Scottish National Party who actively defend our case. I urge you all to get involved in politics, to vote and to represent our community and its’ culture accurately.

Your vote could mean one less discriminatory law

If we do not vote, MP’s will not have an incentive to prioritise us, to engage us in discussion and prevent the enactment of damaging policies. Damaging policies such as criminalising a life on the move and denying planning permission for legal sites need to be addressed. We need to stand in elections for parliament and local councils and lead these discussions, confronting racism on a publicised level because nobody understands our issues better than ourselves. Some of the current MP’s have small margins on their majorities of less than a few hundred, your vote could mean one less problem for us to deal with in parliament and one less discriminatory law to conform to.

By Luke Wenman

Check out more opinions from young Gypsy and Traveller activists by clicking on the links below:

YTT Youth Opinion: "John Connors, what a role model for the Travelling community!"...... writes Betsy Mobey

"We the youth must never give up the fight for Roma equality" by Scarlett Smith