March 2008 gave a strong impetus to the season of spring in Labrys. We conducted two discos for the community, which is an innovation in Labrys practices. As the discos were very popular with our girls and boys, it was decided to hold two gatherings a month instead of one as it was before. This, we believe, should help us strengthen the community unity and also allow our outreach workers a better access to target groups.
There was also one adjusting meeting of the Board of Labrys facilitated by Labrys staff. All members of the Board (minus one, who delegated her right of vote to the Chair of Board) were present at the meeting, discussing several issues. Among them were their functional responsibilities, questions regarding the general purpose of having a Board, fundraising strategies. The next meeting was scheduled for beginning of April with an agenda continuing that of the first meeting.
The Community Centre/Shelter project of Labrys is proving to be a huge success. The number of beneficiaries turning to community centre resources (films, books, recordings, magazines and newspapers – or simply communication and interaction with likeminded individuals) increased greatly, nearing 62 with 206 visits; while the number of Shelter clients reached 11 with 26 more coming for a night. Several trainings for L, G, B, T community reps took place on the Community Centre premises, focusing on such issues as HIV/AIDS, normality of being homosexual, and psychology of communication. Biweekly support groups for lesbian women, bisexuals, gay men and transgenders were also conducted, introducing notions of self-help to our community members. Psychological counseling offered by Labrys’ new psychologist also proved to be very popular with Labrys beneficiaries, who find her assistance quite useful. The number of those using medical services offered by partner organizations of Labrys also increased exponentially compared to numbers of previous months.
To summarize – March showed that the Community Centre/Shelter project is viable and is living up to the high hopes Labrys put into its establishment and development.
Homophobia of Russian Orthodox Church
As previously reported on our blog (http://kyrgyzlabrys.wordpress.com/2008/03/04/russian-orthodox-church-against-sodomites/), on 3 March Russian Orthodox Church held a response press conference following the 14 February press conference Labrys held at information agency “24.kg” on results of work and achievements of the organization. With us there was also gay-friendly priest from Apostolic Orthodox Church Maksim Bratukhin, who spoke of God as love and his acceptance of homosexuals as his equal children. These remarks caused quite a ruckus within the Russian Orthodox Church in Kyrgyzstan, prompting them to release a poisonous press release and to follow up with a press conference. During the latter, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church insisted upon calling LGBT people ‘sinful sodomites’, and Maksim Bratukhin – a ‘masked pervert’. Several allegations were also made about homosexuality in general, which was equaled with bestiality and pedophilia.
In response to this publicly voiced homophobia of the Russian Orthodox Church, Labrys team compiled a video cast, collecting opinions of civic activists, journalists, LGBT and Maksim Bratukhin himself. The video cast (both Russian-language and subtitled into English versions) may also be found at our blog (http://kyrgyzlabrys.wordpress.com/2008/03/14/videocast-on-google-video/ ; http://kyrgyzlabrys.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/113/ ). Our video-response proved to be very popular with the video being viewed more than 400 times during the first hour of being up on renowned Kyrgyz video archiving web resource Video.KG. The video cast and the whole story with Russian Orthodox Church was highlighted by Global Voices Online.
Advocacy and Public Communications
Labrys is working on final touches on informational materials planned for March and April. Among the prepared items are the 10th edition of Labrys magazine and two brochures: one for parents and friends of LGBT, and another by and for transsexuals. The magazine is on the finishing line and is ready to be published within the next few days, while the brochures might take another two weeks to be finished. Do look for updates regarding our information materials!
Advocacy direction of Labrys’ strategic interests is also progressing. The work on trans-documentary has been edited by Labrys team in record short terms and is now going through final corrections and touch ups. The documentary is intended for viewing by governmental officials, non-governmental organizations and international human rights institutions as one of our main tools in lobbying the gender marker change without surgeries. Currently Kyrgyz legislation allows change of documents for transsexuals only after gender correction surgeries, which are very expensive and not conducted in Kyrgyzstan. This creates significant difficulties for Kyrgyz transgenders on their way to finding themselves.
However, not everything is as bright as we would have liked. While the trans-documentary is being readied up, our previous agreements with Kyrgyz Ministry of Health and Soros Foundation Kyrgyzstan on establishment of a working group on gender marker change issues are faltering slightly. The Ministry of Health is refusing to acknowledge its previously voiced agreement to establish the working group, despite documental evidence. We are currently in the process of brainstorming possible avenues of approach together with Soros Foundation Kyrgyzstan. Regardless of the results, however, Labrys does not intend to abandon the advocacy of gender marker change, and is already looking at other opportunities.