Alla Chikinda is the PR and Communications Manager at the Resource Center for LGBT [people] in Yekaterinburg, Russia, an organization with the mission to create a respecting, friendly, and accepting environment for the LGBTI community by implementing social and legal programs and services aimed at overcoming discrimination, stereotypes, prejudices, and stigmatization on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Here, she discusses the variances of what it means to be LGBTI in Russia and how the Center helped organize the region’s first Pride week.
How did you initially become involved in activism? What led you to join the Resource Center for LGBT [people] in Yekaterinburg?
There is one answer to both of these questions. I became involved in activism in 2016 — Before that, I hadn’t even heard about activism in Russia or on an international level. I had never been interested in this, and I thought that the biggest problem for the LGBT community was marriage equality. In 2015, I met my future partner and discovered that she was an activist at the Resource Center. I attended several events organized by the Resource Center, met other activists, learned more about their work and the important issues they dealt with, and in October 2016, together with my partner, I attended the ILGA-Europe annual conference. There, I met amazing people from all over Europe and understood that this was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. And so I joined the Resource Center team — this year is going to mark five years of my activism.
What is the focus of your work?
I am a communications manager, so I mostly create content for our social media accounts — together with my colleagues from the communications team — and I also work with the media outlets so that they cover LGBT agenda regularly and correctly. Due to my work, the Resource Center is mentioned more than 150 times in different media outlets at the local and national level annually. I used to organize events in our community center — for example an English speaking club, a book group, and film screenings — but now I’m mostly concentrated on working with allies and raising the LGBT agenda outside the LGBT community and information bubble.
What is life like for an LGBTI person in Russia right now?
It is very difficult for me to be objective when talking about this issue. I am a privileged person, and I am perfectly aware of this. Being a white cisgender woman from the middle class with a good education and relatively high income, I don’t really face any difficulties. And people from my circle are in a similar situation. But I know that this is not the case for many other people. I read news reports and I hear stories from people who come to the Resource Center for help. However, I believe that life is getting better, even here in Russia. More and more people have come out, there’s support from famous people, and there’s more and more coverage of the LGBT agenda in the media. So I’d say that yes, there are still problems and homophobia, especially in some regions of Russia, but that’s not all there is. There is good news as well, and we should not ignore it.
What about in Yekaterinburg and the Ural region specifically?
The Ural is a big region, and the situation is not the same in different parts of it. Here in Yekaterinburg, we tend to think that our city is pretty unique. We have a lot of support from NGOs and businesses; our journalists are open and friendly — they like to raise the LGBT agenda and don’t do it only to increase the views and the audience, but because they do believe it’s important. If you walk down the streets in the city center, you’ll see people wearing rainbow pins or other accessories, and it doesn’t bother anyone. At different events such as handmade fairs, there are always some rainbow and LGBT friendly stuff, and it’s so great. Of course, there are negative situations, as everywhere. There are assaults and discrimination; LGBT people face inequalities; activists receive threats. But what is different here is that there is a lot of support, and such cases are not ignored.
Can you tell me more about the Resource Center for LGBT [people]? What led to its founding?
The Resource Center was founded in 2014 as a project of the Russian LGBT Network. But in seven years, we have become a strong independent organization, one of the best in Russia. And we have extended our work beyond our city and region — we do a lot of activities on a national level. For example, in 2018-2019 we carried out a survey of abusive behaviour in LGBT partnerships, the first ever such survey in Russia. From mid-February to mid-March of this year, we organized an online communications course for LGBT activists from all over Russia.
What are some of the services you provide?
We provide all sorts of services LGBT people might need. There is legal and psychological support, peer-to-peer counseling. We have a list of friendly professionals. In 2017, we opened a community center — a safe space where LGBT people and their loved ones can come freely. There, we organize different educational and entertaining events, and anyone who wishes to organize something can do it. We also have an emergency service which helps LGBT people in difficult and dangerous situations.
How has COVID-19 affected your work?
The major change we had to undergo was the reconfiguration of our activities to an online format. We closed our community center for a year and held all our events, including support groups, online. It actually had a positive effect — we managed to expand our audience and reach out to those who could not attend our offline events in Yekaterinburg.
What led to the creation of Ural Pride Week? What are some examples of the activities you host during the festival?
Since we had been working with allies for some time and had organized and co-organized several different events in the city, we thought that we might as well organize a festival! The idea was to show that Yekaterinburg is a friendly city and that all people should be proud of who they are regardless of their social status, origins, sexual orientation, or other individual features. We invited different initiatives to join, to show that A) LGBT organisations care about various issues, not only related to SOGI [Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity], and B) you don’t have to be part of the LGBT community to support it.
The festival was held at different venues in the city center, which was an important condition for us. There was a workshop about gender neutral make-up and fashion trends, a lecture about a feminist look on classical operas, a personal story about sexism and homophobia in the community of role-players, several parties, and a fair where local artists and craftspeople could sell their work.
We are now in the process of brainstorming and planning for Ural Pride Week 2021.
What has been the response to the Resource Center for LGBT [people] and Ural Pride Week within the LGBTI community and the region as a whole?
The response was mixed, but I would say that it was mostly positive. As usual, there were people who criticized us, but we got much more positive feedback and messages of gratitude. People from other regions of Russia said they wished such festivals were organized in their cities too. There were people who came to Yekaterinburg especially for Ural Pride Week. There was a lot of interest and support from the media and civil society in our city, because it was a unique event for sure.
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