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Alexander shares his story publicly for the first time: in Belarus, the guy did not tell anyone about his sexual orientation. But in Poland he felt a breath of freedom and finally accepted himself.

“Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” talked to Sasha about internal homophobia in the LGBTQ+ community, as well as why the world needs Pride parades.

Alexander, 23 years old

“Only one person knew about my orientation – my partner…”

This interview is the first time I’ve ever told someone out loud that I’m gay. Usually I don’t discuss my sexual preferences with anyone.

I was born and raised in Minsk, but to be honest, I didn’t know anything about the local queer community. Maybe because there were no LGBTQ+ people in my environment and I had no one to open up to. The only person who knew about my orientation was my partner. 

At my house, it was not common to discuss “sensual” topics. Not “sensual,” but about feelings. Love, hate – we didn’t talk about it in the family circle.

I moved to Poland two years ago. Everything was going for it since 2020, I was an observer at the presidential elections. By the way, my polling station is one of the few where the votes were counted correctly. And Tikhanovskaya won, and by a large margin. Then the protests began, I actively participated in political actions.

Alexander, a photo from the hero’s personal archive

“Bald men with folders started appearing at our university…”

In 2022 there was a constitutional referendum in Belarus. I decided to go as an observer to my polling station again. It was interesting how votes would be counted now. It was risky, of course. Soon observers began to disappear. As it turned out later, someone was detained, someone was searched. I was studying at BSU at that time at the master’s program. And bald men with folders began to appear in our university. They asked something to the teachers, who were obviously alarmed by such visits. Sometimes these mysterious men sat in lectures, but they did not look like students.

At that time I was also working as a teacher in a grammar school, where it was also turbulent. So I did a “somersault in the air”: I opened a humanitarian visa and moved to Poland via Lithuania. 

I moved with my partner, with whom we had been together for 4 years. In emigration we broke up. But nevertheless, at first it was easier for the two of us to adapt together. 

By the way, only before I left for Poland my relatives started talking about guessing my orientation and that they should not expect grandchildren, at least not in the near future.

“I myself stopped seeing my orientation as taboo…”

After I moved to Poland, my life changed. I won’t say I joined the queer community, no. I just started to notice that there are a lot of non-heteronormative people around me and they are treated positively. For example, in the international company where I work, my colleague, who comes from an Arab country and probably has conservative views, wears a badge supporting Pride. I don’t know how sincere it is, but it makes you feel more confident. 

I was also influenced by the fact that in Poland people can openly display rainbow flags on balconies, in bars. I myself stopped perceiving my orientation as a taboo. Now I realise that there is nothing wrong with me. I clearly felt that my orientation is a part of me. 

I know that Poland is not the best example of an LGBTQ+ friendly country, there are a lot of nationalistic people with conservative views. Nevertheless, I feel much more acceptance. This has been an eye-opener for me. And I think it’s a very important experience for Belarusians and Belarusian women.

Alexander, a photo from the hero’s personal archive

I really hope that when Belarus becomes free, we will return there already different, having learned to accept each other’s differences.

I communicated with different people, with different backgrounds, sexual orientation and skin colour. All this did not prevent us from being on equal footing and doing the same thing. It gave me an inner energy. So in the summer of 2023, I got a tattoo on my arm: it says I’m gay. Yes, my coworkers, when they saw it, were a little surprised. One of my colleagues from central Asia asked when she saw the tattoo, “So you don’t like girls?”. I told her it was a complicated question and it would take a small lecture. But in general, there was no negative reaction.

“Behind closed doors, do what you want, but don’t say it out loud…”

What surprised me as well is the internal homophobia within the LGBTQ+ community itself. Some people looked at my tattoo, and it was like the ground was going out from under their feet. They didn’t understand why I did it. Apparently, in Eastern Europe, it’s just not customary to flaunt your sexual orientation. In my opinion, internal homophobia is the result of politics in Belarus and pressure from society. Behind closed doors, do what you want, but don’t say it out loud. Many also question, why these LGBTQ+ parades, why advertise it. They don’t even realise: I’ve been living my whole life as if in an endless heterosexual parade. All movies, all literature, music — everything around me is built on the sense of “right” love, heterosexual. Usually, it’s a boy and a girl, happily with two children.

That’s why it’s important to talk about the fact that we exist too. Internal homophobia grows precisely from the fear of speaking out publicly. We can’t even tell our friends about our orientation, fearing judgement. Because around us, everyone seems “right,” and you’re not. That’s why LGBTQ+ people often impose restrictions, censorship on themselves.

We create forbidden topics in our own subjective reality, reinforcing taboos on open discussion,  thus supporting existing restrictions in the objective world. When people face questions about the acceptability of the LGBTQ+ community, they encounter complex topics surrounded by taboos. And often, they themselves support these prohibitions in an attempt to protect their loved ones, especially their children. After all, we are in a vulnerable group, and we don’t want anyone to get hurt. Is this right? Good question.

“Dear woman, we will have a parade once a year, take part of the city for one day, nothing bad will happen to you there.”

But let’s get back to Poland. Overall, I feel comfortable here. I know there are gay bars in my city, but I don’t go there. First, I’m not very socially active, I often spend time at home. Secondly, there’s still a feeling that as soon as I leave there, something bad might happen. Someone might harass me because I’m gay.

At the same time, often heterosexual people choose gay bars because they feel more comfortable there. For example, my Muslim colleague once said she goes to such places because they are clean, beautiful, and there’s a sense of safety, unlike other bars.

I didn’t go to Pride either, as I don’t feel comfortable in large crowds. But it seems very right to me. I know some people are outraged: I heard one woman saying to another on public transport: “What are these people… having a parade?”. I wanted to answer her: “Oh my God, dear woman, we will have a parade once a year, take part of the city for one day, nothing bad will happen to you there”. For me, it’s important to know that people like me can go out on the street and not be afraid of being beaten up, or not coming back alive. It’s also important for me to know that I’m not alone.

“When Pride month starts, everything is adorned with flags, but as soon as the month ends, the flags disappear…”

By the way, about the attributes that usually appear on various commercial establishments on Pride day: there’s a meme about it. When Pride month starts, everything is adorned with flags, but as soon as the month ends, the flags disappear. And I think on the one hand, it’s exploiting a popular theme, because now it’s trendy to be diverse. But on the other hand, it’s better than nothing. Yes, now all these establishments and people are displaying LGBTQ+ flags because it’s fashionable, but in 2-3 years, it will become the norm, part of tradition. So even though it’s an attempt to attract more people and earn more money, it still brings about some changes.

Alexander, a photo from the hero’s personal archive

After 2020, Belarusian society definitely changed for the better. Belarusians and Belarusianess realised themselves as a community of people, not a group of individuals unrelated to each other. A wave of repression and emigration began, and people had a little less time for the community, everyone had to solve their personal problems. Therefore, it’s difficult to say how much people are currently concerned about the LGBTQ+ issue in general.  But based on my social circle, it is noticeable that people have become more tolerant. And not only towards the LGBTQ+ community, but also towards other sensitive groups.

“Many heterosexual couples don’t marry and don’t want to have children”

When Belarus becomes free, I would start by lifting all restrictions related to the LGBTQ+ issue. Currently, Belarusian authorities could adopt the experience of Russia, where the LGBTQ+ community was recognised as extremist. However, this won’t make non-heteronormative people disappear.

Often conservatives use the argument that the LGBTQ+ community ruins family values, the foundations of society. As if poor society is only held together by these staples. 

But many heterosexual couples also don’t marry and don’t want to have children. And if someone is so concerned about the population of people on Earth, then the first thing to think about is how to create conditions for it to be different. After all, often couples don’t want a child because they have no money, nowhere to live, there’s a difficult political situation in the country.

At the same time, there are LGBTQ+ couples who do want a family, want to raise children. Therefore, there should be normalisation (wanted to say legalisation, but thought it sounded like it’s something criminal now) of any scheme: M+W, M+M, W+W.

The article was created within the framework of the scholarship program of the Free Belarus Center.