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“The New Regions” – Belarusian initiative that works with queer themes. “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” spoke to them about how LGBTQ+ persons live under total pressure, as well as where to get asylum in case of persecution.

– Can you tell us how your organisation was formed and what you do?

– We are a queer-feminist initiative called “New Regions” (soon we will change our name to “Prismatica”), which is engaged in intersectional LGBTQ+ activism in the city of Mogilev and other cities of Belarus. Intersectionality is the theory of intersecting discrimination and privileges, and it is important for us to take it into account in our work because to achieve the rights of LGBTQ+ people, it is not enough to just fight homophobia, they also face sexism, ableism, racism, and other manifestations of xenophobia. These intersections are what we work with.

Our initiative was formed in 2019 after taking an Outloud creative leadership course that was doing a queer project called Makeout. We were three activistsess from Mogilev who wanted to make their hometown more accepting.

We conduct educational events on sexuality, gender identity, human rights, feminism, mental health, ecology, and others. We also organise events to create LGBTQ+ community (queer picnics, support groups, art therapy). We want to reduce the level of hatred and homophobia in Belarus and make LGBTQ+ people of Belarus visible. To show that they are not alone and contribute to a society where everyone can feel safe.

Photos from the personal archive of the “New Regions”

– What are the main problems faced by LGBTQ+ people in Belarus?

– In Belarus, the LGBTQ+ community faces many problems, ranging from state pressure to widespread homophobia in society. These problems significantly hinder their ability to freely express their opinions and live without fear of discrimination or violence.

The Belarusian authorities have demonstrated a clear position against the LGBTQ+ community through actions and legislation.

A vivid example is the proposed “anti-propaganda” bill aimed at restricting freedom of expression of LGBTQ+ opinions under the guise of “protecting children from information harmful to their health and development”.

In addition, actions against non-governmental organisations providing support to LGBTQ+ people and HIV/AIDS services demonstrate direct pressure and persecution faced by the community.

The state’s use of propaganda further exacerbates the situation for LGBTQ+ individuals in Belarus. Public statements by Lukashenko, who openly expressed prejudice against LGBTQ+ individuals, reflect the government’s position and contribute to creating a hostile environment.

Once Lukashenko even made offensive comments about the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle because of his sexual orientation, demonstrating state support for homophobic sentiments. Moreover, the Belarusian authorities have used homophobia as a repressive tool, forcing detained LGBTQ+ protesters to record public apologies and disclose their homosexuality on camera, which not only violates their right to privacy but also aims to publicly shame them. There are also numerous cases of severe violence by law enforcement against LGBTQ+ individuals.

The proposed legislation and government actions significantly limit the ability of LGBTQ+ individuals to represent themselves and defend their rights. The disappearance and reappearance of the draft law on combating propaganda from the National Legal Internet Portal, combined with vague terms that can be used for discriminating against LGBTQ+ people, create an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, making it difficult for the community to speak out openly or fight for their rights.

Society’s attitude toward LGBTQ+ people in Belarus is predominantly negative, with a significant portion of the population displaying strong homophobic attitudes. This is further fueled by the government’s position and actions against the LGBTQ+ community. In a 2015 survey, over 85 percent of respondents expressed strong negative reactions to the idea of someone in their family marrying a person of the same sex. These social attitudes, combined with the lack of anti-discrimination laws, leave victims of homophobia with little or no support from law enforcement or the broader community.

– And in emigration? What challenges do LGBTQ+ people face?

– Migration, often seen as a beacon of hope for many seeking refuge from persecution, poses its own set of problems for LGBTQ+ individuals fleeing Belarus.

While the prospect of leaving a repressive regime brings some relief, the journey into the unknown carries the burden of lost community, the spectre of homophobia in new countries, and the constant fear of forced return.

One of the most significant issues facing LGBTQ+ migrants from Belarus is the loss of their community. In their home country, despite prevailing societal and governmental pressures, many have found solace and understanding in close-knit LGBTQ+ circles. Migration forces a move away not only from the nation but also from these supportive networks, pushing people into an environment where they often have to navigate alone.

Photos from the personal archive of the “New Regions”

Establishing new relationships in a foreign country can be challenging, especially when language barriers and cultural differences come into play. LGBTQ+ migrants may struggle to find places where they feel accepted and understood.

It is worth noting the harm to mental health. The consequences of migration for the mental health of LGBTQ+ Belarusians are profound and multifaceted. Leaving their homeland under the threat of persecution and facing the uncertainty of resettlement can have a significant psychological impact. This situation is further complicated by the unique challenges LGBTQ+ individuals face both in their countries of origin and during the migration journey.

The experience of fleeing homophobia and government oppression, coupled with migration issues, can lead to chronic stress and trauma. These experiences often lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.

Another point is identity and self-esteem. For many LGBTQ+ migrants, the process of rebuilding their lives in a new country involves navigating their identity in an unfamiliar, and sometimes hostile, environment. This can lead to feelings of alienation and affect their self-esteem and sense of belonging.

Finding mental health care adapted to the LGBTQ+ community can be a major obstacle in many countries. Language barriers, lack of culturally competent help, and fear of accessing health care providers are common barriers that can prevent LGBTQ+ migrants from getting the help they need.

Additionally, LGBTQ+ migrants may encounter difficulties in accessing healthcare services, especially those tailored to their specific needs. These include mental health services, HIV/AIDS treatment, and gender-affirming care for transgender individuals.

Unfortunately, fleeing Belarus does not guarantee escape from homophobia. Many countries, including those perceived as safe havens, have their own prejudices against LGBTQ+ individuals. This reality can be a harsh awakening for migrants who may have envisioned a more accepting environment.

In some countries, LGBTQ+ rights are either underdeveloped or actively suppressed, reflecting the challenges faced by Belarus. Migrants may encounter legal barriers to expressing their identity or establishing relationships, as well as societal discrimination.

Among the migration difficulties for LGBTQ+ people, the fear of being forced to return to Belarus becomes increasingly daunting. This fear is not unfounded, considering the track record of persecution against repatriates, especially those involved in political protests or deemed dissidents.

Changes in asylum policies or individual circumstances, such as application denials, can lead to deportation. The prospect of returning to a place where one’s identity is criminalised is a source of constant anxiety.

For LGBTQ+ people, returning to Belarus risks not only facing the general repressive mechanism of the state, but also targeted persecution or violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

– What are the most frequent questions you are approached with?

– Now we are actively engaged in educational and supportive courses for queer people from Belarus, so we mostly receive questions regarding online and offline activities. We also provide service support: we help to match LGBTQ+ people with a friendly psychologist. In addition, we often receive requests for cooperation from other Belarusian initiatives, questions about legal support, transgender transition in Belarus, migration and other topical issues. We try to respond to all messages, share contacts of organisations that could help.

– Now Belarus is introducing stricter laws, adopting the Russian experience of “LGBTQ propaganda”. How will this affect Belarusian/Belarusianess from the queer community?

– Talks about changes in the legislation do not pass without a trace: alarms are raised in the community, many people go underground or think about moving. It has always been difficult for LGBTQ+ people to live in Belarus, and now it is becoming especially dangerous. Such laws are not only a blow to the queer community, but also a big setback in the development of democratic values in Russia and Belarus.

Photos from the personal archive of the “New Regions”

– Are there cases where people in Belarus have been persecuted for belonging to the queer community?

– Yes, there are quite a lot of cases of persecution of LGBTQ+ people in Belarus. Persecution on the basis of orientation started in the country approximately from the day of its independence.

Persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals began in the 1990s. At that time, gay magazines and non-governmental organisations focusing on HIV prevention emerged in the country. In 1992, with the support of the non-governmental organisation “Stop-Aids-Belarus” a magazine called “Sex-AntiAids-Plus” was published, against which a criminal case was soon initiated. Its founder and chief editor, Ruslan Geniyush, fearing persecution on sexual grounds, ceased his publishing activities.

Over time, persecution of the LGBTQ+ community only intensified. Unfortunately, cases of murders due to homophobia are not rare. On April 18, 2001, in Minsk, the murdered pensioner Alexander Stefanovich, known among neighbours as a homosexual, was found. His body with stab wounds was found in the yard of his house.

On July 3, 2001, during a robbery attack on an apartment, thirty-year-old former owner of the gay club “Oscar” Ivan Sushinsky, was brutally beaten. The club was closed by the authorities in February 2000. On July 4, in the morning, Ivan Sushinsky died from severe injuries at the 5th Clinical Hospital in Minsk.

On May 16 of the same year, Andrey Babkin was severely beaten and raped at the entrance to his apartment. He was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. On July 2, 2001, in Minsk, Andrei Shcherbakov was detained and brutally beaten by the police. On November 13, 2001, in Molodechno, there was an attack on Eduard Tarletsky, as a result of which he suffered a concussion and required hospitalisation for seven days. The police refused to take action regarding the attack because it was “impossible to find the perpetrators”. Law enforcement officers refuse to register cases of violence committed against sexual minorities and do not conduct investigations that would require criminal liability for the perpetrators of crimes based on homophobic prejudices.

Mikhail Pishchevsky faced a homophobic attack and died after a year and a half in the hospital.

Following the 2020 protests, state services have targeted the LGBTQ+ community with particular brutality.

After the arrest, detainees are forced to record a “confession video,” and if the detainee is an LGBTQ+ person, they are additionally forced to out themselves. This happened during the arrest of A1 employee Nikolai Bredelev.

Transgender people have also faced psychological and physical pressure. Musician and activist Zhenya Velko faced bullying in the police station after being detained. A transgender Belarusian T., was detained twice, forced to record a “confession video”, accompanied by persecution, discrimination, and calls to ban gender reassignment in the country.

Now a large number of LGBTQ+ community members have been forced to leave Belarus because the persecution has reached unprecedented levels.

– Are there countries that provide asylum to LGBTQ+ people if they are persecuted in their home country?

– Yes, such countries exist!

Photos from the personal archive of the “New Regions”

If you are seeking something closer, you can request asylum and have the right to protection in each EU country. This is reflected in the Convention on the Status of Refugees, the legislation of each country, and EU norms.

To obtain refugee status in the EU, you must prove that you could face judicial persecution based on your identity in your home country. It is not just the existence of criminal prosecution for LGBTQ+ relations that is considered but whether these laws are regularly applied in practice.

You may need the assistance of lawyers and/or organisations for the protection of LGBTQ+ rights in your home country or the country where you plan to stay.

Asylum can also be obtained in the USA. Here, you will also be asked to provide evidence of your persecution/discrimination.

– How does a mental health crisis manifest itself in the emigration of LGBTQ+ people, what are the signs of it and what to do in these cases?

– Moving is undoubtedly a difficult step for every person, but relocation for individuals from vulnerable populations (LGBTQ+ people, women, children, elderly) can be especially challenging.

The person may experience a mix of fear, anxiety, feelings of being lost and unwanted. Moving also adds a lot of uncertainty, loneliness and lack of familiar opportunities for development, as well as a deterioration in financial situation.

Issues with mental and physical health, feelings of helplessness and fatigue, decreased productivity, isolation and self-devaluation, feelings of guilt and shame, irritability, nervousness, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, loss of appetite, stomach pains, and overall vague discomfort. All of the above are red flags and indicate the need to seek help from family, friends, or specialised help from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

What can you do on your own? Try to look for local queer associations, go to events that interest you and find people who are close to you. Making new connections is particularly beneficial for your quality of life and feelings of safety and comfort. Of course you should not forget about keeping your body healthy! Try to be gentle and caring for yourself. We can also advise you to furnish your new home, for example by buying a small green friend in a beautiful pot.

And remember that asking for help is important and valuable, both for you and your loved ones.

– There is also the concept of hate speech, what is hate speech and why is it important to combat it?

– Hate speech is language that is aggressive, derogatory or discriminatory towards a person or social group based on who they are.

We have prepared some tips on how to make language more queer-inclusive.

Hate speech is based on belittling the identity of another person or social group. It is wrong to use such language to anyone, as it supports discrimination against entire groups of people. It is important to deal with hate speech, as over the years it can evolve into superstitious, discriminatory and so on (see below).


Photos from the personal archive of the “New Regions”

– What types of discrimination can LGBTQ+ people face abroad (let’s take popular countries like Lithuania, Poland)?

– In Lithuania and Poland, as in some other countries, there is a level of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, especially at the legislative level and in social norms. However, there is also an active movement for LGBTQ+ rights, and many societies are gradually becoming more open and inclusive.

In Lithuania, same-sex marriages are not legalised, but the country recognises marriages contracted abroad. The level of homophobia is significantly lower than in Belarus. Lithuania holds LGBTQ+ pride events annually, which take place peacefully and on a large scale. In Poland, the situation for the LGBTQ+ community is significantly worse. LGBTQ+ individuals have practically no legal protection. While there are penalties in the Criminal Code for hate crimes, they do not extend to actions based on sexual orientation, gender, or identity, similar to Belarus.

Same-sex marriages and adoption of children for LGBTQ+ couples are unavailable.

In some regions of Poland, laws have been enacted that directly discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, so-called “LGBT-free zones”.

However, numerous LGBTQ+ pride events are held in Poland.

– What to do if you encounter homophobia problems in these countries?

– There is a directory of all organisations in Europe that help LGBTQ+ people. Most human rights organisations in Belarus are now abroad. Viasna, Legal Initiative can help LGBTQ+ migrants protect their rights.

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee does not have resources to help all those who apply, but you can also turn to them for assistance. The organisation was involved in the case of Nikolai Bredelev.

Queer Svit helps Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarusian LGBTQ+ communities leave the country and seek asylum.

Trans Coalition is an information resource platform that unites trans* activists across the post-Soviet space.

Queer for Peace – Mutual aid fund for transgender, non-binary and queer people from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus who need money to survive during war and repression

– Where can LGBTQ+ people from Belarus turn for help? And what form of support to expect? (in emigration) write about organisations where Belarusians from the queer community can turn in case of discrimination abroad or persecution in their country?

– We want to remind LGBTQ+ people who continue to live in Belarus that there are LGBTQ+ organisations that work with those who have stayed within the country. This tender for gender issues provides psychological counselling for women, trans, and non-binary people. TG House provides food, psychological assistance, consultations, compensation for the purchase of hormonal drugs, and will help find a friendly endocrinologist. Our organisation “The New Regions” (future “Prismatica”) provides psychological counselling.

Tea Path works with trans* and non-binary people and can offer the following: support chat for trans persons, non-binary people, and their allies; English language club; confidence training; online support meetings for those in emigration and in Belarus as well.

In addition to specialised LGBTQ+ organisations, you can also seek help from human rights organisations from Belarus. Such as, “Viasna”, “Human Constanta”, “Legal Initiative”.

There are also a number of organisations abroad that can help. In Poland: Interwencja Prawna and Ocalenie. Both organisations work with migrants in general but have competencies to work with queer people. In Sakartvelo (Georgia): Equality Movement, Temida, WISG.

In Germany: coordination centres for LGBTQ refugees. In the Baltic countries: transgender individuals can turn to Trans Passage.