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Posted on Sep 15, 2014

Russian LGBT community continues to hold QueerFest, despite anti-propaganda law

The recently cancelled-but-still-held-anyway World Congress of Families is not the only LGBT-related event happening in Russia. The Russian LGBT community is continuing to gather, including at the 2014 International Queer Festival, or QueerFest.

QueerFest is an annual ten-day platform for constructive dialogue and artistic expression through open discussions, seminars, exhibitions and performances accessible to the general public across a number of venues scattered throughout Saint Petersburg, Russia. QueerFest aims to create a space without homophobia, sexism, xenophobia or other forms of prejudice in order to truly empower the LGBT community in Saint Petersburg, and thus promote social change in Russia.

QueerFest 2014, starts on September 18 and runs through the 28th. It will feature the live performances and independent projects of a number of international artists who have chosen to contribute to the cause. Among them are Swedish singer and songwriter Jenny Wilson, Israeli dancer and choreographer Idan Sharabi, German contemporary photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, Danish minimalist sculptor Henrik Olesen, and Ukrainian flash-fiction author and poet Linor Goralik.

The International Queer Festival is organized by the Russian LGBT organization Coming Out. Coming Out is devoted in its entirety to advocating for the recognition of universal human rights under the banner of tolerance and diversity, free from all forms of discrimination, particularly on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It operates in a variety of ways to guarantee freedom of expression under all circumstances and to promote the integration of vulnerable minorities in society.

The organization has been under heavy scrutiny for its LGBT advocacy. Earlier this summer, the Russian government named Coming Out as a "foreign agent," meaning it was considered to be a spy organization harmful to the country. A Russian judge claimed that “Coming Out” violated the right of “persons with traditional sexual orientation," and that the brochure for the organization is propaganda material.

Last year's program went relatively smoothly, despite the presence of Russia's "anti-propaganda" laws, but organizers of QueerFest 2014 remain concerned for this year:

“We expect bomb threats, visits from extreme right group members and orthodox activists, “provocations” with minors, and harassment of the organization. Threats already fill the internet," says Polina Andrianova, one of the festival organizers. "And yet, it feels that we’ve already succeeded, as the spirit of celebration and pride is in the air and will be with us these ten days. Everything is so gloomy throughout the year, it feels good to set aside a time when the LGBT community, our supporters and allies, can join together to openly and publicly celebrate our work, our identities, and our lives!”

GLAAD encourages media to highlight the programs at QueerFest, and monitor the reactions from anti-LGBT figures, both in Russia and abroad. 

September 15, 2014
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Posted on Sep 15, 2014

Some good questions and answers from Andreja Pejic’s Reddit AMA

International fashion model Andreja Pejic hosted her first Reddit AMA today. She answered questions from Redditors, who asked Andreja anything about coming out as her authentic self, her career, crowdfunding the new documentary Andrej(a), and more.

We sifted through some of the questions and answers, to bring you some highlights. For the full list of questions and answers, take a look at the Reddit AMA.

What do you think people misunderstand most about transgender people today?

I would say the fact that we are human beings like anyone else, and we strive to have happy and fulfilling lives, like anyone else. And that we are like everybody else.

Did your status as the poster child for androgyny make your public transition any easier or did you find it more difficult?

I would say... transitioning publicly is definitely not the most favorable option. I think it comes with challenges that, you know, can be overcome if you live a private life. I definitely think being public and just being a poster child did come with its own struggles, definitely.

Hi Andreja! I'm a big fan. What's the best advice you have ever received? love you mama!

Don't complain, don't explain! Fashion gave me that advice. It's a work strategy. It just means that you kind of have to - when you're a model, you have to work hard and can't complain.

Have your fellow models and others in the industry been supportive about you coming out?

For the most part, everyone has been pretty positive. You know, there were definitely struggles along the way, which is what my documentary is all about, but I'm pretty happy with how I've been lucky so far. And we'll see what happens next!

Hi Andreja! :) As a trans woman I want to start off by saying how much of an inspiration and role model you are to me, and I was soso happy to hear the news of your own transition earlier this year.

My question is, what do you think the biggest obstacle is in the world today to the acceptance of transgender people? And what do you think can be done to help remove this obstacle? Thanks for doing this AMA!

I think it's a lot to do with the way transgender people are represented in the mainstream. I think there needs to be a lot more positive representation. Growing up, when I turned the TV on, the only representation of transgender people was Jerry Springer, and that's horrible, so I think that's a big obstacle. And I just think that obviously transgender people need access to jobs, healthcare, housing, because it is one of the most disadvantaged minorities, so at the end of the day, it's a struggle for equality.

 Are you going to be putting out more clothing items like you did with the shirts as part of the "Whatever" line? It shouldn't come as a surprise, but I've gotten more than enough "Wow! Who's that girl?" from it -- and have been happy to explain :)

Yeah! One of the prizes that we have on our Kickstarter is a t-shirt designed by me and it will most likely have my face, so you go on the Kickstarter and pledge you will get the t-shirt. And thank you for being so supportive & spreading my name!

This might not be answered but are you from outerspace? (There is an alien race called the Nordics, they are very tall and all have long blonde hair :) )

Yes, but don't tell anybody ;)

How did you first get into modeling both men and women's clothes? Did you identify as transgender back then? What would you say to young people of today who want to look androgynous?

I did, I identified from a very young age, but it's not something I shared publicly, not with my friends even, just with my family. And I guess to model both men's & women's clothes wasn't something I set out to do, I knew I was going to be androgynous, but I didn't know the type of career I was going to have, it was really the stylists who saw my look and decided to play around with me and put me in dresses and suits and whatever... and to young people who want to look androgynous, I say: go for it! for me it was really fun and it gave me the opportunity to express myself, I think there's something really cool about it, and it's something you can really do when you are young...

Hi Andreja, as the parent of an 11 year old transgender girl, I am so happy and proud that has she role models like you to look up and aspire to become. I am curious though, what was it like for those years that you were "in the middle" like for you? Most Trans* folks I know have said that they've "always known"... Did you always know that you were transgender? Also, how is your family with everything? Thanks!

It's great to hear from a supporting parent. I think that is great. I identified from a very young age. I figured out who I was very early on. But I kept that to myself, and then when I did tell my mom, she (I would say) is not the most modern woman, she didn't understand at first, but she loves her children so much she was wiling to understand and learn and support. And I think that is the job of every parent, the basic needs of a child to be accepted and loved. And i had a very successful career during that time, but it was a transition phase - I had fun with it at the time, but I knew that I had to transition, I had to claim my truth and live life as a woman, I am happy I have achieved that goal. Definitely it was not easy. there were struggles along the way, but I think I am stronger because of those struggles right now and because of being able to overcome those struggles.

What makes you proudest of yourself? Did you ever doubt yourself?

I think everyone, you know, has moments where they doubt themselves. For me, I definitely doubted being able to have a successful career - when I started, I was always told "You're too specific" "You're too niche" "You'll never make any money" "This isn't something that can work" "No one's had a successful career modeling both menswear and womenswear" so that put a lot of doubts in my mind... and it kept me very humble, but I was also definitely happy to prove those people otherwise, to prove MY own doubts wrong. I think I'm happy I've come this far. That I've achieved something I set out to do. At the age of 15, I told myself I was doing to do this, and I did it. So I think that's the one thing I'm probably the proudest of.

Hi Andreja! You are a wonderful role model and mind-opener. I wanted to know, what are some charities or organizations other than GLAAD that have supported you or you recommend supporting?

Well, obviously I love GLAAD and their support, which has been amazing throughout this journey. It really helps to have that backing and organizations out there. We have done a lot of work with the Ali Forney Center, it's for homeless LGBT youth... there are lot of great resources out there for transgender people. You can check out my website as well: http://andrejapejic.comBottom of Form

 

September 15, 2014
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Posted on Sep 12, 2014

STUDY: More churches open to gay and lesbian people

A new study states that, overall, acceptance of gay and lesbian people has been on a steady increase. The National Congregations Study, released by Duke University, shows that from 2006 to 2012, the number of congregations accepting gay and lesbian members increased from 37.4 percent to 48 percent. Additionally, the number of congregations open to gay or lesbian volunteer leadership also rose about 18 percent.

One interesting finding was that support among Roman Catholic parishes actually declined over that same period. The Associated Press spoke with several people, who named a few possible factors. The first possibility was that the survey was taken while Benedict was still Pope, who took a very different tone than Pope Francis' "Who am I to judge" comment. Another is that today's younger Roman Catholic priesthood tend to be more theologically conservative. A third is that during 2011 and 2012, the Roman Catholic hierarchy was leading several campaigns opposing marriage equality.

However, the overall trend in places of worship is for greater openness and somewhat increased leadership positions for gay and lesbian people. This was especially true in white protestant churches. Many of these denominations have a formal welcoming congregational program. These programs work with congregations to craft a formal statement of welcome that includes people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. From 2006 to 2012, the number of these congregations rose dramatically.

Additionally, this time period is when some large protestant denominations, including The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), adopted policies to more formally accept LGBT people in their communities.

Additionally, the study found that congregations are becoming more racially diverse, prefer more informal worship, and that overall congregation size is decreasing.

The findings are available online now and will be published in the December 2014 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. The study is taken from interviews with representatives of 1,331 American churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other houses of worship.

September 12, 2014
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