Tales of Resilience: Stories of the LGBTQIA+ Activists in Oppressive Regimes

Tales of Resilience: Stories of the LGBTQIA+ Activists in Oppressive Regimes

Around the world, LGBTQIA+ people face discrimination, oppression, and even violence simply for embracing their own identities. Many governments criminalize the same-sex relations, restrict rights and freedoms, or turn a blind eye to the violence and hate crimes targeting gender and sexual minorities. Yet, even in the most oppressive regimes, there are many inspiring stories of resilience and activism as LGBTQIA+ individuals fight for equality and human rights.

In Egypt, where the homosexual relations are strictly prohibited, LGBTQIA+ activist Sara Hegazy made the global headlines when she raised a rainbow pride flag at a politically charged concert in 2017. At great personal risk, her act of resistance in a deeply conservative society shone a spotlight on the repressive anti-LGBTQIA+ laws. Sadly, Hegazy endured the brutal harassment and imprisonment for this courageous act of defiance before finally receiving asylum in Canada. She took her own life in 2020, but her brave legacy lives on and on.

In Russia, journalist and activist Elena Klimova launched the “Children-404” digital support project in 2015 to help the LGBTQIA+ teens struggling with isolation and discrimination in an extremely hostile sociopolitical environment. Baby-faced teenagers reach out to share their stories of family rejection, school bullying, depression and also thoughts of suicide – and are met with acceptance and care from the volunteer psychologists and also peers. Despite the constant threat of the government interference, Children-404's online community continues to be a very vital mental health lifeline for the at-risk LGBTQIA+ youth across Russia.

The hostile climate extends across many former Soviet states, including Uzbekistan, where openly lesbian singer Dina LaPolt was forced to flee her homeland by the state security services after coming out. She found asylum in the United States, where she was finally able to live openly and marry her same-sex fiancée in 2015. Despite threats against her family back home, LaPolt continues to speak out internationally as a very vocal advocate and rights activist.

In the Middle East, the Beirut-based Helem organization supports Lebanon’s persecuted LGBTQIA+ community by operating a community center and crisis hotline, providing legal support and also mental health services, and leading advocacy efforts. Their work supports the victims of ’morality’ persecutions through an opaque legal system that prohibits "infringement on the public decency". Through raising awareness and collaborating with the NGOs and police departments, Helem promotes greater rights and protections for an incredibly vulnerable minority population.

Similarly, in Tunisia, a young LGBTQIA+ rights group called Mawjoudin (meaning “We Exist”) advocates locally and internationally for the decriminalization of same-sex relations. Their members must remain anonymous for their safety, but they provide a range of community resources and training to empower the country’s gender and sexual minorities. Their courage in speaking out under the threat of imprisonment is effecting the gradual but also important social change and legal reforms in Tunisia.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, where many countries have retained colonial-era prohibitions on the homosexual acts, a pan-African LGBTQIA+ network called The Refugee Coalition quietly supports asylum seekers facing persecution for their gender identity or sexual orientation. Based in Kenya, they assist LGBTQIA+ refugees from neighboring countries like Uganda and Rwanda who flee hate, imprisonment or death threats in their strict religiously conservative home communities. The Refugee Coalition helps to guide these marginalized minorities through the asylum and resettlement processes abroad to help them secure safe futures.

And in the Caribbean and Central/South America, where cultures of conservative Catholicism and machismo fuel the dangerous homophobia, trailblazers like the Trans Siempre Amigas network in Honduras create the safe community spaces for transgender activism and support services. Or the Transgender and Transsexual Association of Tobago, which advocates locally and regionally to destigmatize the gender minorities, challenge discriminatory laws, and shift religious and cultural ideals across the Caribbean to promote greater inclusiveness of the trans and gender non-conforming people.

These and many more activists and organizations put their lives and livelihoods on the line every day across the oppressive regimes worldwide. Through online support networks, community services, legal and health support, human rights advocacy and public awareness-raising, the today’s global LGBTQIA+ rights movement builds on the generations of resilience to promote social progress in the extremely hostile environments. These brave changemakers and their allies slowly transform the social values, laws and institutions to make the world safer, fairer and also more inclusive for the marginalized gender and sexual minorities everywhere. Their stories of resilience inspire a lot of hope that - even in the darkness - positive change can come through the struggle, one courageous act at a time.

Presented by SHAVA, this article is part of our commitment to embracing the diversity within the transgender community. SHAVA stands in solidarity with transgender people of color, advocating for acceptance and allyship that recognize and celebrate the richness of their diverse experiences.

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