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“Queer activists have been at the forefront of the protests since the beginning” — LGBT+ lead fight in chaotic Belarus4 min read

 In Civil Society, Eastern Europe, Interview

This is a translation of the article “‘Queera personer har deltagit i protesterna från start’ – HBTQ+ kamp i kaotiskt Belarus,” originally published in Swedish by the anarchist magazine Brand

Since the election on 9 August, a tumultuous and monumental fight to overthrow a despotic regime is raging on in Belarus. Resistance has spread fast through society and is led by a myriad of different actors and initiatives — from workers on strike to women’s separatist organizations. In this interview, Anna Bredova, a member of the queer DOTYK collective, explains the relationship between the ongoing protests, democracy movement, and Belarus LGBT+ community.

 

What is DOTYK?

DOTYK (“to touch” in Belarusian) is a queer initiative working against discrimination through art and culture. We organize a festival in Minsk every year with cultural events and educational programs.

Could you give us a short summary of the queer movements in Belarus in the last few years, before the ongoing protests started?

The level of homophobia in society is relatively high — according to various polls, 70–75% of Belarusians are against LGBT+ basic human rights. There is no law against discrimination that would protect LGBT+ individuals. No statistic on hate crime is openly reported and the Ministry of Internal Affairs publicly expresses homophobic attitudes.

At the same time, a number of organizations and queer initiatives are active in Belarus, like the queer media project MAKEOUT; the legal organization Identity and Right; and a social center for LGBT+ individuals and the allies that support them. For the last two years, a handful of LGBT+ initiatives have started outside of the capital including New Regions in Mogilev, Closet Free in Vitebsk, and Inter in Grodno. This is huge because most queer spaces in Belarus and LGBT+ oriented activities are often concentrated in Minsk. Cultural events and educational opportunities for queer individuals such as clubs and festivals are also found in various parts of Belarus.

On the weekend of 2930 August, a women’s solidarity march was organized in Minsk. Could you describe that day and the participation of queer and feminist groups in the protests? Is there a connection to the earlier events surrounding the campaign? 

Queer and feminist individuals have been actively participating in the political process and the protest movements since the beginning. Many feminist Belarusian organisations came out in support for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s candidacy in an open letter. LGBT+ organisations and initiatives like DOTYK supported the initiative to demand a fair recount of the votes after the election. Many from the LGBT+ community participated as independent election observers and worked for different presidential candidates.

Queer activists have been at the forefront of the protests since the beginning. We get out on the streets, by doing voluntary work helping those who have been arrested through documenting torture and illegal arrests. On 10 September, DOTYK launched  a project to support protesters and their associates. From the beginning, women have played a huge part in the political process — Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya as the presidential candidate and Maria Kolesnikova as campaign manager for Viktar Babaryka, one of the presidential candidates who’s been arrested. Women have resisted police violence facilitated by the state by making female solidarity chains and participating in women’s marches. The first women’s march was held on 29 August and we are planning to include a queer arm with the next march.

What are the current goals of queer and feminist activists? Is there an ongoing discussion about strategy based on what’s happening now?

Right now we’re living in a very stressful and unstable situation but we’ve established some priorities: to support those who are protesting; to document crimes against human rights, especially targeting LGBT+ individuals; and to document the contributions of the queer protest movement. We want to show that queer individuals have been fighting for a free Belarus just as vocally as everyone else. But it is difficult to build any kind of concrete strategy at the moment, since everything has been changing so rapidly.

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Further reading: 

Viewpoint:Dispatches from the Belarus Uprising
ROAR: “An urgent call of Solidarity from Belarus
Libcom: “On the Situation in Belarus. Eyewitness impressions
Crimethinc: “Anarchists in the Uprising against the dictatorship
Novara Media:Where does Belarus go now?

Featured image: Queer protest in Minsk / Brand
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