Since Russia’s assault on Ukraine began in February, LGBTIQ organizations in Ukraine and across Europe have opened shelters for displaced queer people. Groups that spent years honing their advocacy skills suddenly had to transform themselves into humanitarian aid organizations. And in Ukraine and neighboring Moldova, activists are tackling this work while also being refugees themselves or fearing they soon may also be forced from their homes.
Last month, OutRight sent me to visit partners in the region and learn more about the situation. I spent much of my time with Gender Stream, an organization founded in the central-eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro. Within hours of the first bombs landing in Ukraine, director Olha Polyakova and her team piled into a small car (along with a cat and Russian toy terrier) and drove to a city on Ukraine’s border with the EU. (For security reasons we’re not disclosing its exact location.) They began working with the Swedish organization RFSL to open a shelter for displaced LGBTIQ people in Ukraine, and are operating two shelters inside the EU with OutRight’s support to house people who leave the country. They developed a specialty in helping transgender people navigate the military bureaucracy. Under Ukraine’s conscription rules, most people with male identity documents are forbidden from leaving the country, and are required to register for military service. Gender Stream is helping trans people get medical exemptions from conscription, and the documents they’d need to leave the country, but this process is getting increasingly difficult to access as the war continues.
One person I met on the Ukraine side is a young trans woman who served in the military after high school. She only confided being trans to one person during her service, believing her life would be in danger if it was widely known — she did not believe she would survive if she was forced to serve again. She wanted to change the gender marker on her documents when she came out of the military, but that requires the sign-off of a psychiatrist under Ukrainian law. And she was discharged just as the coronavirus pandemic began, when doctors would only see patients facing a medical emergency.
Through OutRight’s Ukraine emergency fund that was launched on February 24, we’ve been able to support work of these organizations to respond to this crisis. As of April 19, we have already distributed more than $665,000 USD to 32 local partners in Ukraine and neighboring countries. The grants are providing emergency assistance to LGBTIQ people who need safe shelter, food, competent medical care, transportation for those who are fleeing, and other types of humanitarian support.
J. Lester Feder
Senior Fellow - Emergency Research
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J. Lester Feder
Lester (he/him) is OutRight’s Senior Fellow - Emergency Research. He is a journalist and photographer who has reported in more than 40 countries. Lester began his career at Politico, where he covered the politics and policies of health care in Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court. In 2013, he joined BuzzFeed News as its first international correspondent, pioneering a first-of-its-kind international LGBTQ rights beat.
Among other topics, Lester has covered the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Russia’s “gay propaganda” law; discovered how Steve Bannon was building ties to senior figures in the Vatican; wrote about Iraqi activists rescuing LGBTIQ people from ISIS; and exposed the local politics behind anti-LGBTIQ crackdowns globally, from Uganda to Indonesia to Egypt. Lester was named the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Journalist of the Year in 2015 and received a GLAAD media award in 2016. In 2020, Lester was named a Knight-Wallace Reporting Fellow at the University of Michigan.
- OutRight reached out to its contacts at the World Economic Forum in March to share information about our Ukraine Fund, and encourage them to apply an LGBTIQ lens in their reporting about the needs of internally displaced people and refugees resulting from the Russian invasion. In early April, the World Economic Forum highlighted OutRight and our Ukraine Fund - quoting Acting Executive Director Maria Sjödin, in its online Agenda in an article titled, How to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine: 4 NGOs explain.
The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia is observed on May 17 and aims to coordinate international events that raise awareness of LGBT rights violations and stimulate interest in LGBT rights work worldwide.
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Published on June 8, 2022 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization