Wojciech Wojtasiewicz: Who are you? What do you do regarding LGBTQ rights in Belarus? What is the aim of Tender na Gender initiative?
Tony Lashden: My name is Tony Lashden. I am originally from Belarus. I have been living there until the last summer. I am a journalist, queer and feminist activist, writer, advocate for women’s and LGBT’s rights. Together with another colleague of mine, we have cofounded Tender na Gender in 2017. Since then, we have been working with women’s rights and LGBT+’s rights in Belarus. Mostly right now we are focus on psychological support for the community, organising the safe spaces, activities for people to relax, to feel a little bit more comfortable and to do some artistic projects.
What kind of psychological help are you able to provide for LGBTQ community in Belarus?
We provide psychological consultations from psychotherapists and psychologists as we call them crisis consultations for people, who are experiencing difficulties connected to the life in Belarus. Also for those, who had to emigrate and all in vulnerable social-emotional state at the moment.
How many people have been already participating in those crisis consultations?
It is ungoing process, so far we had approximately 100 individuals.
What is the situation of LGBT community after the 2020 falsified presidential elections in Belarus? Have you seen any progress regarding LGBTQ rights or the situation is even worse than it is used to be?
Unfortunately the situation is just getting worse. I would say, that the main challenge at the moment is the psychological state of the community. I mean initially we did not provide any direct services to the community. We used to be focused on visibility, advocacy, more like regular human rights type of activities. None of that is possible any longer. We also feel from the community that there is no actualized need in that type of work. The political crisis in Belarus, but also the two years that followed, so 2020, with the migration crisis on the border with Lithuania and Poland, and 2022 with the Russian full scale invasion on Ukraine, I would say for LGBTQ community all of that brought a lot of difficulties in relation to social and economical security. And of course private, social-emotional type of wellbeing, there is a reason why we had to refocus our work. Belarus is currently under lot of sanctions due to its status country-collaborator of Russia in the war. Within the country there are very few opportunities for people to feel safe and be safe. So the desire of leaving Belarus is very much present for everyone from the community.
Have you ever tried to contact the office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and talked with them about LGBTQ rights after the change of political regime in Belarus in the future?
No, we have not. This is not a part of our mandate from the community.
You mentioned the war in Ukraine. Are you not afraid that people from LGBTQ community in Belarus can be mobilized to participate in that war when finally Alexander Lukashenko succumbs to Putin’s pressure? What can you do in case of such situation?
Belarusian queer activists have been participating in the evacuation from Ukraine. Most of us have been working non-stop since February to assist our colleagues and friends and evacuate them from Ukraine. So a lot of us now are brutally exausted physically and mentally. I personaly have been working with direct evacuation from Ukraine for almost half a year and direct support for LGBTQ community members in Ukraine. This is extremely difficult work, which abounded me out a lot. So in case the mobilisation happen in Belarus, I am not sure what will be our strategy. Unfortunately there is always a risk that will happen and of course we will try to organise evacuation and so on, but we have to recognize that right now the European Union’s attitude towards Belarusian migrants is not really favourable. It is difficult as it is for Belarusian people to come to the European Union and ask for asylum. I am not totally sure that the situation will get better or will improve even there is a mobilisation. For some reasons local authorities of neighboring countries will not admit more Belarus migrants.
One should understood that it is very difficult for LGBT people to emigrate or evacuate from Belarus. A lot of people do not speak any other languages apart from Belarusian and Russian. It is difficult for them to integrate into completely new context. Many people are working on the precarious jobs, which means that they do not have any financial savings to support themselves in immigration. A lot of people are in very, very vulnerbale social-emotional stance. If you take a person, who has been in severe depression for the last two years and you relocate into completely new complex, where the person does not have any social or personal connections with the community, with the people, who are living in that country, on the personal level, it will be just a traumatic experience. And we have seen that for many Belarusian queer migrants, that unfortunately physical safety is not the only thing that is needed to feel better.
Funding for “We’re here! - LGBTQIA activism in a challenging environment” is provided by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs with Meridian International Center as the implementing partner.