Looking back: reflections upon completing fieldwork

Anna Gawlewicz

We are happy to report that the project fieldwork is now over! We wish to thank all research participants for sharing their remarkable stories and for their lasting engagement. This study would not exist without you. We are also very grateful to those who helped us reach out to LGBT and migrant populations all over Scotland. We have received incredible support and many people contributed one way or the other – thank you all!

The fieldwork lasted for 13 months, between April 2015 and May 2016. In total, we interviewed 50 LGBT migrants from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Former Soviet Union (FSU). 18 of them prepared photo-diaries and were then re-interviewed. We also spoke to a number of representatives of the voluntary sector organisations working with LGBT and migrant populations, and took part in related events. As a result, we collected a very rich material and are now analysing it in order to prepare a full length report and further outputs.

ADictaphones part of the fieldwork we travelled across Scotland to meet research participants in person. Although majority of them lived in the Central Belt (35 in total), we were also able to reach out to migrants in Aberdeen (3), Inverness (2), Perth (2), Dundee and Angus (2) and small-town Fife (6). We met with our respondents at their homes, community centres, cafés and in university offices. The interviews usually had a relaxed format and often involved a friendly chat over tea, coffee or lunch. Many participants were very generous with their time (again, thank you all); interviews lasted between 1 and 4 hours.

The participants of our study are quite diverse in terms of their countries of origin. Over a half of them are Polish, which is perhaps unsurprising as Polish migrants are the most numerous national group among ‘Eastern European’ migrants in Scotland and the UK.  However, we also spoke to migrants from Belarus, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Russia and Ukraine. As we got to know LGBT migrants’ stories, we realised that the category of nationality may be a tricky one. For example, two participants were born in Ukraine, but then migrated to Poland and were granted Polish citizenship. In their later life they migrated to Scotland.

The issue of language also emerged as an interesting one. Our research team speaks Polish and Russian, so we could interview Polish and Russian speakers in their own languages; we offered to interview speakers of other languages in English or through an interpreter. Although we had secured the help of interpreters speaking a number of other CEE languages, none of the people who approached us requested to be interviewed through an interpreter (and indeed, doing interviews in English did not seem to be a barrier as our participants were very fluent in English). Some participants came from countries with complex histories of language use, which meant we could not be sure about what their ‘native’ language is. In former Soviet countries like Latvia or Ukraine, large sections of the population are Russian-speaking, or come from a mixed ethno-cultural background. For example, our two Latvian respondents were interviewed in Russian and English respectively; one of them grew up in a Russian household speaking both Latvian and Russian; the other is a Latvian speaker with some understanding of Russian, and wished to be interviewed in English.

With regards to gender, 24 of our respondents are women, 22 are men, one identifies as transgender and one does not identify as either male or female. In terms of sexual orientation, 18 migrants identify as lesbians, 18 as gay men, 11 as bisexual and one as gynosexual (non-binary person sexually attracted to women). While some participants felt strongly about their sexual orientation, other said that they struggled with ‘labels’ such as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Research participants are also at different life stages: they are aged between 19 and 47, and are in different family/relationship arrangements (some being single, some being in long-term relationships and a few having children).

Despite our best efforts to recruit people from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, we have a high number of participants with higher education and only 12 (out of 50) have secondary or vocational education. The vast majority are in paid work; those who did not work were mostly students. While we were successful in speaking to people in a range of occupations, a large number of participants are employed in low-pay jobs in the service and hospitality sector, and work below their qualifications, reflecting wider tendencies amongst the CEE migrant population in Scotland/the UK.