#NeverGiveUp: Meet 7 LGBTI activists fighting for all families and human rights in Russia

If adopted, a package of amendments to the Russian Family Code will significantly reduce the rights of LGBTI people in the country. The proposed amendments include the elimination and reversal of current gender recognition, and an additional ban on same-sex marriage and adoption. In the face of such seemingly insurmountable odds, what does it mean to be an LGBTI activist in Russia? We meet seven strong Russian LGBTI activists who will #nevergiveup the fight for freedom and equality for all.

7 Russian LGBT activists you need to know!

Alexander Belik: “A lot of activists now understand that we do not need to hide and fear.”

Alexander Belik lives in St. Petersburg and is part of the Russian LGBT Network.

Alexander Belik, photo by Emil Baran.

Lawyer, gay, conscientious objector, polyamorist, election observer.

Human rights and equality.

It was the first time I saw a live stream from Pride in St. Petersburg in 2014. There were not too many people there, but all of them were proud.

Publicity. A lot of activists now understand that we do not need to hide and fear. We can shout out loud, at least in social media. And organising — there are plenty of LGBT organisations in Russia that can help those who are suffering.

Helplessness. So many Russians do not want to do anything to defend themselves. They think that it won’t be worth it.

People who fight for their rights or protect someone publicly. Today it’s the Belarusian people. A few weeks ago it was a famous lawyer, Alexander Peredruk. Tomorrow it will be someone else.

They will not pass. We will do our best.

Alla Chikinda: “Many grassroots initiatives have been created in different regions of the country in recent years.”

Alla Chikinda lives in Yekaterinburg and is part of Resource center for LGBT.

Photo courtesy of Alla Chikinda.

Passionate, caring, workaholic, serial nerd.

Justice, equality, brighter future.

Meeting my partner and attending the ILGA-Europe conference with her.

Many grassroots initiatives have been created in different regions of the country over recent years, opening community centres — safe spaces for the LGBTI community. This shows that we are many and that local people are as strong as the ones in big cities.

Internalised homo-, bi- and transphobia, which prevents people from joining the movement, but which also makes them hostile towards the activists. Another challenge is pessimism amongst the community and activists who do not believe things can get better.

My loved ones and support from outside the community.

I think many more people will try to leave the country to avoid the consequences of this law.

Andrei Petrov: “I’ve cared about fairness since I was a kid.”

Andrei Petrov is a member of Stimul LGBT Initiative Group in Moscow

Photo courtesy of Andrei Petrov.

Romantic, ambitious, hardworking, multifaceted.

Equal rights, respect, non-violence, support, benevolence.

I’ve cared about fairness since I was a kid. I sought fairness in all kinds of situations and would be be dismayed when people acted unfairly or unjustly. In 2011, I got into an LGBT Activists School where we talked and talked about the movement in Russia. Then, the local ‘anti-propaganda’ laws started to be adopted. I suppose this is what became a turning point in my life.

A rise of diverse LGBT groups across the country, willingness to unite and find common ground, integration of equal rights into the general public discourse, victories in courts in cases of hate crimes.

Aggression, the counterforce of the state propaganda, injustice towards people.

Experience of colleagues from other countries, local victories and support from allies, supporters in the political sector.

A rise in violence and discrimination against LGBTI people, worsening of the quality of life for transgender people, intervention of the state in people’s private lives.

Anton Macintosh: “We now have more allies and public attitudes have significantly changed.”

Anton Macintosh lives in St. Petersburg and is part of the Trans Initiative Group T-Action.

Courtesy of Anton Macintosh.

Designer of a social interaction space.

I strengthen our community’s preferable stories (and the metaphor of “fighting” doesn’t resonate with me).

The adoption of propaganda laws in St. Petersburg and then all across Russia. It became clear then that something had to be done.

A lot of LGBTI people of great dignity and openness have emerged, who are willing to speak freely about themselves. As a consequence, we now have more allies and public attitudes have significantly changed.

Homophobic and transphobic populism of the state that counts on the support of the majority and aims to redirect the attention of the “majority” away from other problems in the country. Fortunately, recently it has been less and less effective.

And it’s a bit challenging that there are only 24 hours in a day.

People. I am inspired and surprised by people. LGBTI people themselves, who are showing wonders of courage, resilience, and dignity. I am inspired by allies, who are ready to defend our rights as hard as they can. I am inspired by random people who suddenly turn out to be ‘for us’ when you don’t expect this at all from them. My loved ones inspire and support me a lot. I believe that horizontal ties are stronger than vertical power.

Just like the law on “propaganda”, these bills, which have not even been adopted yet, already declare non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people as ‘second-class’ and a danger for “traditional families”. They reinforce inequality and give the go-ahead for discrimination and violence against us. If adopted, they will harm, directly or indirectly, all citizens of Russia, but the biggest blow will fall on transgender people and their families — in the form of a ban on any marriages, a ban on changing birth certificates and an order to change back the already replaced certificates.

Natalia Soloviova: “The most important achievements are yet to come.”

Natalia Soloviova lives in Novosibirsk and is part of T9 NSK.

Photo courtesy of Natalia Soloviova

Cheerful activist from Siberia.

A decent life for every person.

It seems to me that it was still during childhood, when I realised that there was injustice in the world and this is completely wrong.

There are a lot of them, but the first thing that came to mind was the creation and development of safe spaces. It seems to me that the most important achievements are yet to come.

The conviction of many LGBT+ persons is that nothing can be changed. Here, I usually refer to the experience of Margaret Mead: “Don’t doubt that a small group of thinking and selfless people can’t change the world. In reality, they are the only ones who bring these changes.”

Of course my team! I consider myself a damn lucky person, as I was lucky enough to meet these people, work with them and see results together.

Aside from those obvious results, it seems to me that hate crimes will rise. Once again this law will show the society an “enemy”.

Regina Dzugkoeva: “Society is ready for acceptance.”

Regina Dzugkoeva lives in Vladivostok and is part of Lighthouse.

Photo courtesy of Regina Dzugkoeva.

Strong, bold, evolving, sensual, capable of change.

For a peaceful, kind, diverse, and rich future.

I resigned from the state civil service in Russia. With my resignation, I realised how important it is to stay true to your values and your family.

Strong, bold, talented people flow into the LGBTI movement. There are more and more NGOs defending the rights of LGBTI people.

Legislation and police brutality.

1. People who fight, who rally and protest.

2. Changes that have taken place in the five years of my activism. I see these changes, and I don’t give up. There are more and more activists, more organisations, more coming outs, more campaigns. There is more courage.

3. The needs of the community. Society wants to learn, society is ready for acceptance; it’s just necessary to provide the knowledge.

The consequences could range from super terrible (persecution by the authorities, homophobia and transphobia, violence, increased discrimination, suicide among LGBTI people, illness, poor performance in life and at work, mass migration, fear and, as a result, a decrease in the quality of life of LGBT+ people) to positive, when riots and real confrontation finally begin.

Yulia Babintseva: “If such a law is passed, we can expect another homophobic and transphobic wave of hatred in the society.”

Yulia Babintseva lives in Perm and is part of Perm LGBT group Rainbow World.

Yulia Babintseva, photo by Yaroslav Chernov.

LGBTI/civic activist, and my mission is uniting very different people for a common goal.

I strive to ensure that everyone can feel protected in their country, at work, in their family, on the street, at school, in their surroundings. It is important for me that those endowed with power do not abuse it for their own purposes, but act in support of each and every person, and that human rights become the highest value for the state.

It was my coming out to myself.

In my opinion, we can count as the most important achievement of the LGBTI movement the very development of the inter-regional movement as a platform that unites activists from all over the country. And this is not only the Russian LGBT Network, but also the initiatives of other organisations that create a common space where it is possible to gain knowledge, experience and emotional support from colleagues.

LGBTI activists have very limited opportunities to influence the government through existing mechanisms for the protection of human rights, since LGBTI topics remain stigmatized. At the same time, LGBTI activists themselves, like other civic activists, are at risk and can face repression by government authorities.

The possibility of solidarity and unity of different groups of people, growing public support for LGBTI people from allies, acquaintances, and relatives. And faith in freer young people.

If such a law is passed, we can expect another wave of homophobic and transphobic hatred in society. There will be new manifestations of intolerance both in everyday life, at work, and in increased interest in transgender people on the part of government agencies (guardianship authorities, police, etc.), and it will force secrecy onto transgender people. At the same time, I hope that when personal stories appear in the media, many see how unfair this law is and how it interferes with people’s lives, and this will bring support to the LGBTI movement.

Join us in showing your solidarity with Russian LGBTI activists in support of their tireless work in as the government gets ready to introduce the ‘Traditional Values’ bill, which seeks to further limit LGBTI human rights! Post your selfie to your social media holding a sign saying ‘Never Give Up’ using the hashtag #NeverGiveUp!

Suggested messages:

1. The proposed ‘Traditional Values’ law in #Russia will eliminate #gender recognition for #trans and #intersex people. I stand in solidarity with Russia’s strong #LGBTI activists, who will #NeverGiveUp their fight for freedom and equality

2. The proposed ‘Traditional Values’ bill in Russia will further discrimination against LGBTI people in Russia, including partnership and guardianship rights. I stand in solidarity with Russia’s strong #LGBTI activists, who will #NeverGiveUp their fight for freedom and equality

3. Russia’s proposed ‘Traditional Values’ law reverses current gender recognition & violates the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Russia is a party. I stand in solidarity with Russia’s strong #LGBTI activists, who will #NeverGiveUp their fight for freedom and equality

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