St. Petersburg: “QueerFest 2016” Gets Off to an Unprecedented Start

Civil Rights Defenders is delighted to support the 8th International Queer Festival – “QueerFest 2016” —which began yesterday in St. Petersburg and will run until September 25. The Festival aims to promote acceptance in Russian society, and to empower and provide support to the LGBT communities (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people), while contributing to a more pluralistic societyYesterday’s opening got off to a great start with no trouble reported and in a relaxed environment for the first time in 8 years.

“This is the first time in 8 years that we experience no attacks or pressures on the festival opening reception,” said Ana Anisimova, the festival’s Coordinator. “This is a great relief, but it’s only the first day of the festival, and we need to keep “on our toes.” No matter what lies ahead, the festival’s program will be realized in full, as is every year.”

The theme of this year’s festival is “Seeing the Invisible”. Several marginalised communities within Russian society often face discrimination based on their sexuality, disability and ethnicity. Their existence is often invisible, their problems ignored and assistance from state bodies lacking. QueerFest 2016 invites its guests to discover these groups within society and aims to give centre stage to LGBTI, those living with HIV and LGBTI with disabilities. Discussions and debate have been organised to address the problems of lesbophobia and transphobia within the feminist movement, while providing opportunities to address non-binary identities and share experiences of the aforementioned communities who are often silenced or left behind in society.

Despite the difficulties faced by organisers in the past the event continues to grow striving to provide a safe space for LGBT people. The central aim of the festival is to “fight against homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and xenophobia” through the medium of culture, art and beauty, a means that is readily identifiable by all aspects of society. Civil Rights Defenders is once again delighted to be able to support the event in 2016 and Cecilia Rosing, Programme Officer for Civil Rights Defenders is in St. Petersburg providing support to the event.

“Civil Rights Defenders has witnessed and supported the growth of this festival for many years. As the human rights situation in Russia for the LGBT community and the organisations supporting it has greatly deteriorated since 2012 an event such as QueerFest becomes all the more important to bring worldwide attention to the discrimination issues faced by LGBT people in Russia. That said, QueerFest’s aim of trying to reach out to Russian society through the medium of art and music is the essential message of this festival,” said Cecilia Rosing, Programme Officer for Eurasia, Civil Rights Defenders.

QueerFest has grown in leaps and bounds since its beginnings 8 years ago and in 2016 aims to be even more inclusive and diverse. In addition to the variety of events and topics covered, this year’s festival is providing space for LGBTQ groups and initiatives from regions of Russia (Moscow, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk), and post-soviet countries (Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine) to organise their events as part of its “Open Space” program. QueerFest will also provide sign language translations and the main venue will be equipped with wheelchair ramps.

The program includes artists and activists from Great Britain, Iceland, the US and is built around the main event – a photo exhibition – featuring project “The Kids”, authored by American photographer Gabriela Herman. The traditional closing concert September 25 will be headlined by Sian Evans (popular English group Kosheen), whose debut album “Resist” received “platinum” status in the UK.

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