‘We Shouldn’t Boycott Russia, We Should Help Its LGBT People’

“Promise me you will finish this documentary,” says the girl. She is transgender, 23 years old. It’s in the end of July, after a week of filming in St. Petersburg and Murmansk.

I’ve interviewed lesbians, homo- and bisexuals and transgendered people about their lives. Most of them are in their twenties. I had many questions when I decided to make the documentary. Mainly, I wondered with the introduction of Russia’s ‘anti-gay law’: is it possible to come out? Can you be different? Are there possibilities to express yourself in daily life? Or to become an activist, under these new restrictions ?

Asking these questions got me arrested, fined and banned from Russia for three years. For this transgender girl, life is incredibly hard. She’s refused at every job she applies for. People tell here she looks like a ‘freak’, and scream insults at her. Her mother has hated her ever since she came out. So, without a job, without help, it looks like life holds no possibilities whatsoever for her. No possibility even to continue her transition, which costs a lot of money. She has only two choices, she wrote to me this week: leave Russia or commit suicide.

img-thingSo many projects in Russia, and in the rest of the world, are working to combat homo- and transphobia: the Netherlands, Uganda, Nicaragua, the United States of America. But we don’t boycott these places. We go. We ask where we can help and what we can do. We know emancipation comes with time. It will take years before there is equal marriage for all. It takes time, generations, to change peoples mind-set. But we never give up.

So the main question, when it comes to the Sochi Olympics 2014, in my opinion, is: can we use the Olympics to help and support LGBTs in Russia?

I say yes. Let’s collaborate with all these clever, creative and struggling Russians who want to make a change. From within, there are thoughts and ideas how to act at the Olympics. We must oraganise a Pride House in Sochi. Look at the examples the athletes have shown us, with just rainbow-coloured nail varnish. Peaceful acts, of love and of support.

How can our own governments put pressure on their colleagues who don’t support equal rights? Well, our governments can invest in Russian LGBT-organizations, inviting them to come to our team houses while we’re in Sochi. We can support exchanges from all over the world to strengthen international solidarity and cooperation. My documentary can be shown in Sochi. And we have to stress our own governments: support our athletes in every way, when he or she wants to polish her nails in whatever colour. We must act uncompromisingly, and stand up for these peaceful demonstrations.

My trip to Russia resulted in many valuable friendships. Now a transgender-girl is able to tell and share her feelings with this guy in the Netherlands. He can bring her in contact with organisations he knows in Russia.

And I am able to create some sense perspective, by just being there. Being here.

Click here for my weblog for Huffington Post, d.d. 27-08-2013

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