As the incessant summer heat is slowly fading away in Kyrgyzstan, Labrys gears up towards a new strategic planning session for the next year. Ideas for projects, important decisions are expected to be discussed at the 16-17th August training in the cool mountains of Kashka-Suu, in the suburbs of Bishkek. Meanwhile, a time for summing up the two hottest months of summer for Labrys has come. August is not full of news because we had a two-week vacation.
Ombudsman’s Youth Human Rights Council
The month of June began with good news for Labrys. We were invited to send a representative to a newly formed Youth Human Rights Council under the Ombudsman of Kyrgyz Republic. The council is made of representatives of various civic and political youth organizations and individual activists. The main goal of the council is defending rights of young and students. This is a great opportunity for Labrys to mainstream LGBT issues within the Kyrgyz national human rights milieu. Starting from the first sessions of the council, the enterprise proved its LGBT-sensitizing power with other members of the council, who expressed great and active interest in LGBT issues. It also needs to be added that the invitation to join the Youth Human Rights Council became a direct result of the public action Labrys conducted in the name of International Day against Homophobia. As reported earlier, on 16 May several staff members and volunteers of Labrys went visiting nearly 20 national and international human rights organizations with information about the Day, homophobia, homosexuality in Kyrgyzstan and work of Labrys. Among the organizations visited was also the Office of Ombudsman of Kyrgyz Republic. So congratulations to Labrys staff on implementing one of its advocacy goals for 2008-2009!
Photography and Mamacash
Also in the beginning of June Labrys was visited by a photographer from Mamacash, Dutch partner organization of Labrys. She was on a trip through Central Asia and dropped by Labrys Community Center where she took a multitude of pictures about our LGBT community and the work of the Center. Mariah (the photographer’s name) left exceptionally positive impressions on the staff and visitors of our Community Center who are now waiting to see some of the pictures she has taken.
LGBT Thanks Giving Day
On 7 June Labrys staff initiated a new tradition of celebrating an LGBT Thanks Giving Day dedicated to those who have contributed their time, ideas, and energy in development of the LGBT movement of Kyrgyzstan and development of Labrys as an organization. Volunteers and allies of Labrys were invited for a community event consisting of three blocs. In the first part Labrys staff thanked those present and awarded them with diplomas of excellence. In the second part the guests were invited to partake of a huge creamy cake and soft drinks. The third bloc continued with games and conversations.
The next day on 8 June coordinators of the transgender track of Labrys work conducted a support group for Kyrgyz transgenders. The meeting turned out to be the most productive and ambitious since its inception in 2005 when the first support group meeting took place. Along with preparing their own food for the meeting, our transgender guys brainstormed an idea of conducting a first mini trans-pride event in Bishkek – “TransMeeting 2008”. Fully equipped with flipcharts and markers, participants of the meeting compiled a list of 29 open transgender people (those that have already came out to themselves) – a large number in and of itself. The main goal of “TransMeeting 2008” would be to feel unity and pride for being who they are, to go forth together and find solutions to important social issues. The initiative group is still currently working on details of the event, so stay tuned for a special update in the coming weeks.
HIV positive lesbian talks about her life and runs a session on coming out
Tasha Granovskaya, HIV activist and a lesbian woman, was invited by Labrys to come and speak about her experiences of living as an HIV positive lesbian in a homophobic and prejudiced Moscow. Tasha disclosed her HIV status publicly earlier this year in one of the largest Russian newspapers and was constantly ostracized by the public. Tasha shared her experiences as a mother and as a person who is publicly out, read poems and played guitar.
“Condom: Unknown Facts”
On 21 June our new outreach worker, the energetic and active Nika, conducted a mini-session on the subject of “Types of Protection: Condom”. One would think that everyone knows what a condom is and how to use it, but it turned out wrong. For example, few people knew that ‘contraception’ translated from Latin means “to not allow”. The mini-session was full of interesting information about condoms, the history of its invention, and various types. Participants of the mini-session were pleasantly surprised by all the new information about a seemingly old and banal issue. Go Nika!
Training on Media Sensitization
The last decade of June started for Labrys with training in Serbia on “Teaching Media Writing Correct Articles about Vulnerable Groups” on 22-25th June. Peer trainer of the Community Center Daniar represented the LGBT community of Kyrgyzstan, as well as Labrys. The training proved to be very useful and enlightening with elements of training of trainers. Participants of the training learned methods of organizing a similar event for journalists in their own countries. According to training information, the homophobia often met in media does not always mean that journalists mean to be homophobic – it can be explained by the simple lack of objective knowledge about the vulnerable groups and the subject matter. Labrys looks forward to conducting such training for Kyrgyz journalists, who, more often than not, produce homophobic articles.
Cristopher Street Day in Berlin
The training mania continued with participation of two Labrys representatives in the IGLYO organized conference on LGBT activism under the title – “Empower Thy Peers”, held in Berlin on 23-29 June. The first five days of the conference were spent in brainstorming on methods of empowering activists, students and hidden groups. Activists from various countries of Europe and Kyrgyzstan shared their experience and derived new inspiration from communication with others. The conference exulted with a Berlin Pride – a magnificent event that brought together thousands of LGBTQ activists from all over Europe, among which were the two excited staff members of Labrys.
Gay and Bisexual Men’s Needs Assessment
On 27-28th of June coordinators and outreach workers of the Men’s Program of the Community Center conducted a support group and an informal meeting for gay and bisexual men. The main goals of the events were conducting a needs assessment of needs of GB segment, as well as sharing information on Labrys work, proposed activities and future aims. The guys were interested in upcoming LGBT events abroad in which they could participate, as well as in trainings that Labrys has in store for them. Participants of the meetings also discussed strategies of decreasing the level of mutual enmity and misunderstanding between gays and lesbians. The question raised active interest of our guys, who offered a multitude of strategies. In the end they all came down to one simple formula of spending more time together – either through trainings or entertainment events. It was decided to meet more often to reach better understanding between different segments of the LGBT.
Training on writing reports to CEDAW and 41st session of UN CEDAW
The last days of June and the beginning of July brought Labrys great international interest through participation of Labrys Executive Director Anna Kirey in the 41st Session of the UN CEDAW Committee (Convention on Elimination of all kinds of Discrimination Against Women). The event consisted of a pre-training for women’s NGOs organized by IWRAW-Pacific women’s rights organization, and participation in the session itself. This experience offered Labrys an important opportunity to be heard at UN level, as well as tools to do so more effectively. As result of the training and participation in the 41st Session, Labrys is now preparing a stand-alone Shadow Report on LBT women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan to be presented at the upcoming 42nd Session in Geneva in October 2008. Originally Labrys planned to include this information in the general NGO shadow report but Council of Women’s NGOs decided that the information about lesbian, bisexual women and transgender people would be too challenging for the state to be included in their report.
On 5 July Labrys conducted a joint training on transgender health for our FtM and MtF transgenders. Participants of the training learned specifics of their health, results and risks of hormonal therapy, and general healthy lifestyle information. The training was conducted in a very informal way with a lot of fun videotaped for future production of a video. Some of the general health issues were considered from a transgender point of view. For example, turned out that a lot of transbois smoke to deliberately roughen their voice, or drink to forget the specific problems they encounter in everyday life.
Support group meeting for gay and bisexual men
Another meeting of a support group for gay and bisexual men took place on 6 July under the lead of Labrys new outreach worker named Shukhrat. It was the 5th meeting, which was attended by a large number of guys new to Labrys. Considering the contingent it was decided to conduct a mini intro session, in which Shukhrat talked about the work of Labrys, its activities and services, achievements and future plans. Participants of the meeting were inspired by the existence of Labrys and its goals, and expressed sincere happiness with the efforts and resources that Labrys contributes in assisting and developing the LGBT movement of Kyrgyzstan.
Training on HIV for LGBT communities
On 13 July Community Center hosted a large number of visitors for training on HIV/AIDS for LGBT communities. Participants of the training learned new and updated information on the issue at hand, and watched thematic documentary short films shot with support of MTV. The training continued with viewing of the “Transit” film produced by 4 countries (Russia, Mexico, USA, Africa). After the viewing participants discussed the film and the main points of it, which touched upon HIV/AIDS, drugs usage. In the end everyone was invited to test against HIV/AIDS and the proposal was accepted with readiness.
The same day a support group for transgenders was conducted in the kitchen of the Community Center. This meeting boasted presence of a new transboy, who was introduced to the rest, the status quo of the transgender advocacy, and the general work o Labrys. Participants of the meeting continued with discussion of the upcoming “TransMeeting 2008”. The event resulted in production of possible logos for the trans-movement of Kyrgyzstan.
Informal meeting of Kazakh and Kyrgyz lesbians
On 15 July an unplanned informal meeting of lesbian and bisexual women was conducted under the lucky concatenation of circumstances. It brought together one Labrys ally woman, two guests from Almaty (Kazakhstan), several Labrys beneficiaries and two staff members of Labrys Community Center. The meeting would not have happened if not for, apparently, hidden outreach talents of our ally, who noticed two lesbians from Almaty, and had the courage to step up to them and strike a conversation. Her efforts were, however, close to being futile, for Almaty guests at first took her for a preacher of yet another sect, talking about ‘rainbows and flags’. Fortunately, the misunderstanding was managed and hopefully fruitful cooperation between Bishkek and Almaty was given a start. Soon all the abovementioned gathered in a nearby café and spent an evening full of fun and mutual information sharing. Our Kazakh friends promised to come back.
Boys Camp: first ever in Labrys history
The main community event of Labrys took place on 19-20 July in Kashka-Suu mountain resort, where our Boys Camp took place. Twenty gay and bisexual men were chosen from a large pool of applicants to discuss issues of healthy lifestyle, activism and future plans. On the sunset evening of 19th July a huge minivan filled with boys and a rainbow flag fluttering on the flagstaff moved in the direction of Kashka Suu. The two days spent at the Boys Camp proved to be a unique experience bringing together gay and bisexual men from all over Bishkek and several regions of the country.
Hate crime: three men raped 26-year-old transgender woman
However, not everything was fine and dandy in the month of July. In the mid of July our MtF transwoman Jibek (name changed for confidentiality purposes) was attacked and gang raped by three men, who also bottle-raped her and cigarettes burned her from head to toe, including genitals. Her bra was burnt and she was told that if the rapists see her in women’s attire again, they would kill her. Shocked she could not make herself to take any action until two days after the incident, when she came to Labrys for help. There with assistance from Labrys staff and board members, she was taken to a crisis center, forensic medical examination, and district militia office to file her case. Not everything went smoothly, as district militia investigator proved to be extremely and openly transphobic, who added new insults to the already present psychological trauma of Jibek, by calling her a ‘faggot’ and a ‘freak’. With help of ally legal clinic, Labrys filed a complaint against the investigator. Currently her case is still being investigated with no results to be foreseen. Apparently, Jibek’s case could not be considered a rape case because she is not a biological woman and Article 129 of Kyrgyz Criminal Code defines rape as “assault and forced sexual contact with a woman against her will”. Jibek’s case was videotaped by Labrys production crew, which intends to take this issue higher up and question the legitimacy of Article 129, as well as of conservative definitions of a ‘woman’.
July also brought a loss in the team of Labrys. Head of our Programs Department, Alex Mamytov, had to leave Labrys due to various reasons. After a short rest from activism, Alex might be starting his own initiative group focusing solely on transgender issues, and intends to implement several projects in this direction. We wish him every luck in his work and hope to be able to provide support to his group whenever needed!
In preparation to two global events that Labrys took part in (read further for details), Labrys advocacy crew designed and produced numerous leaflets, brochures and stickers with information about Labrys. Several of them are posted online for your consideration.
Europride in Stockholm
Labrys made two presentations about LGBT situation in Kyrgyzstan at EuroPride in Stockholm thanks to the funding from Swedish Helsinki Committee and Swedish Federation of Student LGBTQ Organizations. The presentations were well received and a lot of people expressed their solidarity and support of our struggle. The event itself was full of wonders and difficult to follow because of the diversity of offered activities. Labrys was delighted to meet with representatives of Russian LGBT groups ‘Coming Out’ from St. Petersburg and Russian LGBT Network.
Labrys booth and experiences at World AIDS conference
Impressions shared by Anna Kirey
‘The AIDS conference in Mexico was the largest conference I have ever took part in. It was also one of the most inspiring events because I could sense the activist passions in the air. It was also informal yet very important, I learned a lot, I felt a lot, I did a lot. The number one inspiration was sex workers activism, their messages ‘Sex Work is Work’ were everywhere, they hosted a number of shows, booths and parties. I wish my LGBT crowd was the same, yet we achieved a lot at the conference, too. We were their among the crowds of 25000 people, not always out and visible but taking a stand on issues that mattered to us. Ban ki-moon is my number two inspiration from the conference. He said, I quote, “I call on all countries to live up to their commitments to enact or reinforce legislation outlawing discrimination against people living with HIV and members of vulnerable groups. I call on them to follow Mexico’s bold example and pass laws against homophobia”.
This was the first time that the UN official at the highest level called on states to fight homophobia. It is historical for LGBT struggles. Yet it is not as authentic as the sex workers messages and activism because grassroots organizing beats all other types of organizing. I do not think I have ever seen so many people which are not given voice in post-soviet societies being so present and visible. A lot of hijras and transgender women walking around, LGBT people on stage, HIV positive young people taking a stand against HIV on-stage, off-stage, in every single encounter at the conference. I am a walking statement right now with a dozen of conference T-shirts. I also almost exceeded the luggage limitations because of all the books and brochures I brought. The wealth of information and the inspiration from the conference will stay for long.’
Standing by Kyrgyzstan LGBT presentation place
Labrys in the UN
Photograph from Moskovskiy Komsomolets Newspaper