Out and about: desperately seeking LGB migrants from ‘Eastern Europe’

Francesca Stella and Anna Gawlewicz

We started collecting interviews for the Intimate Migrations project in late April 2015; it is hard to believe we are already 6 months into our fieldwork. Time has flown by, we have been busy and are pleased with what we have achieved so far: we have advertised the project widely and conducted around 35 interviews. The next few months will possibly be even more hectic, as we are planning to collect another 45-odd interviews by the end of May 2016.

One of the most challenging aspects of the project has been finding potential participants. Before the project even started, some of the voluntary sector organisations we contacted for advice were supportive of the project, yet seemed mildly sceptical we may find enough participants. Lesbian, gay and bisexual migrants (from any region) seemed to fly under the radar of a range of LGBT, migrant, equality and Minority Ethnic organisations we contacted across Scotland. Some pointed out that it was difficult and potentially awkward to approach individuals about the project, as their clients would not necessarily be ‘out’ to them about their sexuality; others had some contact with LGBT asylum seekers, but not with migrants from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union; a few had clients or volunteers that fitted our profile, but were not always able to put us in contact with them, or feel this was appropriate given the sensitivities involved. Despite the generous support we received, and the emergence of a few initiatives specifically targeting LGBT migrants, such as the Language Café in Edinburgh, our engagement with stakeholders seems to indicate that LGBT migrants can easily fall through the cracks.

We have been using a range of strategies to advertise the project and reach out to potential participants. One of the most successful has proved to be snowballing: this involved ‘chain’ referral by people who had been interviewed for the pilot study, and asking new participants if they could put us in touch with friends and acquaintances who fitted the profile. Voluntary sector organisations and ESOL colleges have also been helpful in advertising the project; this has often involved patiently weaving a network of contacts across Scotland, by attending events and contacting a range of people in the hope they could put us on the right track, target people known to them, or just spread the word. We will be attending ESOL classes and student association meetings to advertise the projects in colleges across Glasgow, Perth and Ayrshire in the next few weeks.

We have advertised our project online: with the help of a few voluntary sector organisations, we have published ads on their newsletter and social media (eg. facebook). We have also posted ads on the facebook pages reaching out to various East European national and language communities in Scotland, and have recently started advertising the project through Gaydar, a popular dating site for gay men.

We have also been distributing leaflets and posters in spaces such as ‘ethnic’ shops, restaurants, pubs and community spaces (e.g. Polish/Russian/Baltic delis and corner shops); LGBT and LGBT-friendly clubs, bars and pubs; relevant voluntary sector organisations; and public libraries. This Fieldwork2involved walking around Glasgow, where we are based, as well as travelling to cities and towns across Scotland, including Edinburgh, Kircaldy, Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness. While leafleting across Scotland, particularly in towns and in smaller cities outside the Central Belt, we were often told that we may struggle to find participants, as even local LGBT people are often not very open about their sexuality. In Inverness we were told that coming out was still difficult for many in the Highlands, compared to other parts of Scotland; we heard a similar story about local gay men moving away from smalltown Fife towards Scottish cities, where they felt that they could be more open about their sexuality. In Aberdeen we heard that it would be very easy to involve white Scottish/British LGBT individuals in a research project, but that it would be a challenge to reach out to LGB people from minority ethnic or migrant backgrounds.  Yet our patience has been rewarded: we have managed to recruit participants based in Aberdeen (2), Inverness (1) and smalltown Fife (3), although they found out about the project through social media or friends, rather than our leaflets.

Leafletting led to some chance encounters with LGB migrants who agreed to be interviewed, and with people who helped out in spreading the word. Some people showed an interest in the project and promised us to let their gay friends from Poland or Slovakia know about the project, although this did not always come to fruition. Although only a small minority of participants have been recruited through this activity, leafleting was an interesting experience in its own right: we had interesting chats with fieldwork1different people, from shopkeepers to waiters, from bar staff to representatives of a wide range of organisations and institutions. We had been warned that some migrant communities from the region may be confronted by, or hostile to the project; however we found that the reception was generally positive or neutral, a sign that same-sexuality and markers of cultural and national identity may not be as incompatible as they seem. For example, when we asked the shop assistant from a Polish deli if she could display a poster advertising out project, she invited us to display it on a notice board next to a leaflet advertising Mass in Polish at a local Catholic church and a course for those who wish to deepen their faith. This struck us as ironic, given the Catholic Church’s stance on LGBT issues. The juxtaposition of the two was clearly not a problem for the shop assistant.

We are still recruiting, and seeking participants sometimes still feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. If you think you can help please do get in touch, we really appreciate your help!

Find out more about who we would like to speak to.

Who are we researching? Frequently asked questions

Francesca Stella

We have interviewed 27 participants aged 19 to 47; we have spoken to 16 women and 11 men, one of whom is transgender; 7 of our participants identify as gay, 11 as lesbian and 9 as bisexual.

We have a majority of Polish participants so far (20), which partly reflects the demographics of East European migration in Scotland (Poles are by far the largest community of ‘new’ migrants); we have been struggling to recruit participants from other ethnonational backgrounds. We are also trying to diversify our sample in terms of socio-economic background: highly educated, relatively well-off migrants are over-represented in our sample.

We are often asked what we mean by ‘Eastern Europe’, and which nationalities we are trying to capture. We would like to speak to migrants from formerly communist countries in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union; keeping in mind the demographic profile of migrants from the region in Scotland, we have produced recruitment posters in Polish, Russian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Czech/Slovak, Romanian and Bulgarian. We are able to interview Polish and Russian-speaking migrants in their own language (Polish: Anna; Russian: Francesca). So far, we have interviewed speakers of other languages from the region in English: we have interviewed migrants from Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia in English. If you are interested in taking part but feel uncomfortable being interviewed in English, we *may* be able to interview you through an interpreter. This will be arranged through a partner organisation which has staff speaking Latvian, Lithuanian, Czech/Slovak, Romanian and Bulgarian.

We are aware that ‘Eastern European’ is sometimes used in a derogatory way in the UK, and that migrants from the region often feel the term ‘Eastern Europe’ is inaccurate (preferring, for example, ‘Central and Eastern Europe’). However, the term ‘Central and Eastern Europe’ is potentially confusing: when we used ‘Central and Eastern Europe’ in our recruitment messages, we received responses from Austrian and Dutch migrants, and so returned to the term ‘Eastern Europe’.

We are often asked why the project does not specifically target transgender migrants. This was a decision taken in consultation with relevant community and voluntary sector organisations before the project begun. Our shared concern was that we may struggle to recruit LGB migrants as a ‘hidden’ population, and that we may fail to recruit any transgender migrants at all: local LGBT organisations have found trans people a particularly hard to reach population. We just did not want to end up having no, or a puny number of trans migrants involved, and a token ‘T’ in the title. We decided to focus the project specifically on sexuality, rather than gender identity. Trans migrants from the region who also identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are very welcome to take part in the project, and we have interviewed one trans bisexual migrant so far. The experience of trans migrants is certainly a very important topic in its own right, so if you identify as trans but not as lesbian, gay or bisexual we would still like to hear from you (we would like to interview you, although not as part of the ‘Intimate Migration’ project, which focuses on sexuality).