1. Alba Flores
Starting off with a literal acting queen! Alba Flores is a Spanish Gitana actress who began her career in 2005. Hailing from a family of famous Gitano performers which includes her late father Antonio Flores and her cousin Elena Furiase, Alba had her breakthrough performance in the prison drama Vis a vis, where she played the character Saray for which she received critical acclaim. Later, she would go on to gain more recognition internationally on La casa de Papel (Money Heist) where she played Nairobi
2. Mihaela Drăgan
Mihaela "Should have been Wanda Maximoff" Drăgan is a Romanian Roma actress, playwright, director and artist. Having wanted to be an actress from the time she was a child, she would go on to found the internationally renown theater company Giuvlipen (Romani for feminism) with fellow actress Zita Moldovan. Most of Giuvlipen's performances bring light to the many issues the Romani experience throughout Europe, while also calling to attention the plight of Romani women both within the community and outside of it. Her most recent art installation The future is a safe place hidden in my braids is founded on the concept of Roma futurism, which focuses on combining Romani culture and history, including our association with witchcraft, with modern concepts of technology, to reclaim the image of the Romani witch. and on International Women's Day 2021, she has also launched the latest project Resistance is a Girl that Changes the World.
3. Cherry Valentine
Cherry Valentine is a drag performer and stage name for George Ward, and was a recent contestant on the second season of RuPaul's Drag Race UK, though she was eliminated in the second episode. Growing up in a traditional Romany family, Cherry kept her sexuality a secret, and though open about it now, says that it's not acknowledged by her family and it wasn't until she was in university that she began to embrace her sexuality. Relatively new to the drag scene, Cherry is also a certified mental health nurse and was also working as a physical health nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
4. Antonella Lerca
Antonella is a transgender Romanian Roma humans right activist and former sex worker who is currently running for elected office in Romania. Born to a large Romani family, she married young but admitted to her family that she was not attracted to women, and after being taken to a psychologist who helped her understand she was experiencing gender dysphoria, began to identify as a woman (something that her family would eventually come to accept). At seventeen, she moved to Italy but was forced to turn to survival sex work before returning to Romania, where she became involved in both politics and the arts (performing in Giuvlipen's Sexodrome play). Today, Antonella continues to pursue a career in politics, with her platform focusing on improving the lives of marginalized communities in Bucharest.
It's not a list of iconic LGBT Roma without Azis! A Bulgarian artist and singer, Azis was born in women's prison and began working to support his family at the age of 10. He came onto the Bulgarian music scene in the '90s, with his music helping to define chalga, or Bulgarian folk-pop (a genre that is dominated by Roma artists). Over the years, Azis has challenged the perception most people have of Romani individuals, as well as embracing his status as an openly gay man. In 2007, billboards featuring him and his then-partner Niki Kitaetsa kissing and embracing each other were censored throughout Bulgaria. In 2020, he debuted his first English song "Who Cares" which is a departure from his infamous Sen Trope days, but still a bop nonetheless.
6. Jenifer Escobedo
A Gitana trans model from Spain, Jenifer Escobedo grew up in a traditional Gitano household that made it difficult for her to transition, and was frequently bullied for her her ethnicity and gender identity. After becoming a model, she became an outspoken activist for both the LGBT and Roma community in Spain.
7. Jan Cina
Jan Cina is Czech Roma singer and actor who has been in acting since 2002. Like other Romani actors, he kept his half-Roma identity a secret for years, and was often cautious about bringing it up. However, after coming out in the early 2010's, he's slowly grown into his heritage despite not knowing Romanes. He has often espoused that being gay or Romani isn't necessarily special but a natural component to who he is, wanting to be recognized mostly for his acting than for anything else. He currently does dubbing work.
8. Diana Apsara
A Parisian-based trans model and designer of quarter Manouche and Yenishe descent, Diana Apsara is a self-taught fashion designer who, in 2018, founded Classy-X, an eco-friendly and body-inclusive fashion project. The project focuses on diversity of both body and race, using recycled items to create new pieces.
9. Gianni Jovanovic
A German-born Roma activist and entrepeneur who has been involved in the Romani activist scene for years, he founded the Queer Roma iniative to reach out to other LGBT Roma and often holds seminars, workshops and events dedicated to bringing Romani and other groups of color in Germany together.
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10. Paul Eryk Atlas
An upcoming British Romany actor who gained recognition after being cast as Heathcliff in Elisaveta Abrahall's Wuthering Heights and is currently working on her upcoming project Repartus. On top of acting, Paul is also an artist, dancer and vocal coach.
11. Mikey Walsh
A Romany LGBT activist best known for his autobiographies Gypsy Boy and it's sequel Gypsy Boy: On the Run. Growing up in a close-knit Romany community where he was expected to pick up bare-knuckle fighting, he instead taught himself to read and write, eventually leaving the community as a teenager and penning his experiences that would eventually lead to his critically acclaimed novels. He is now an open advocate for LGBT rights, as well as Romani and Traveller rights, in the United Kingdom.
12. Michael Costello
Out of everyone on the list, Michael Costello is the one most of you are likely to know of. Costello grew up in California and, after a failed arranged marriage, began to focus on fashion design, opening his first store at fifteen. In 2010, he appeared on the eight season Project Runaway and would appear on Project Runaway Allstars. He now does work for numerous celebrity clientele such as Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, and others. He has been embroiled in controversy involving accusations of stealing a Black woman's design, which I didn't want to leave unaddressed, so if you want Romani fashion alternatives to Costello, I'd suggest Classy-X, Romani Design, Loly by Zita Moldovan, or Mil duquelas!
Happy International Romani Day!