On Sunday, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups Voices4 and RUSA LGBT met up for a kiss with a twist. Under the dark, rainy sky, they gathered outside of the Uzbekistan Consulate in New York City to protest human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ citizens in Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan--including detainment, physical abuse, blackmail, and LGBTQ+ registration--with a good, old-fashioned kiss-in.
"We at Voices4 utilized this historical protest format to demand the governments of Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan immediately stop the genocide against LGBTQIA+ people in Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan," Voices4 explained in a press release. "The actions against LGBTQIA+ people taken by the governments of these countries are violating international human rights statutes, laws, and declarations, and the governments must be held accountable for their unjust and inhumane policies."
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Despite the wet and cold weather, over 100 protesters showed up to the kiss-in to show solidarity with the global queer community. Among the speakers were New York City Anti-Violence Project activist Elly Brinkley and RUSA LGBT co-president Lyosha Gorshkov, whose group has become a key asset for Russian-speaking networking and advocacy. Gorshkov read from the diary of detained Uzbeki journalist, Ali Feruz.
"I refuse to live in a world where people like you and I are forced to love in the shadows, being forced to never show their affection in public, and having to love in fear of prosecution," Santana said. "Today we will show the Uzbekistan consulate what love looks like!"
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"As queer Americans, it is our duty to stand for the rights of queer people all over the world, and it is our duty not to take for granted the hard won freedoms we have here in the United States. It is by an accident of birth that we have the privilege to stand here today and kiss the people we want to kiss without putting our lives in danger," Elly Brinkley, a member of Voices4, said. "But it is not an accident that that privilege exists here. It is the result of decades of activism for which many of our queer ancestors risked their lives. Now, it is our duty to use that privilege they bestowed onto us to advocate for queers who have not been the beneficiaries of such work."
We caught up with Voices4 founder (and 2018 Eligible Bachelor) Adam Eli as he prepares for the advocacy group's bi-weekly Wednesday night meeting at the LGBT Center from 8-10PM to talk the rainy weather, what's next, and how to show Valentine's Day solidarity.
Photography: JD Moran
OUT: The rain added a very dramatic element to the event. How did you react to the weather and work around it?
Adam Eli: At first we were nervous the rain would deter people and lower our numbers, but that anxiety vanished as we gathered on a small side street five minutes before the protest was set to begin. There was a huge crowd and the energy was right--at that moment I let go and knew the action would be a success.
The rain made the photos even more beautiful and dramatic. For us, the quality of photos from this protest are extremely important. We're inspired by ACT UP, Gays Against Guns and many other queer groups as we engage in non-violent, direction action activism, but we are trying to create change in places that are really far away. That's why the photos, press and social media play an extremely important role in getting the message of our action spread across the world.
What does it mean to you to have the freedom to celebrate queer love today while fighting for the rights of others?
The best way to celebrate queer love is by fighting for those who do not currently have that privilege. The freedom to love openly is inextricably bound with social responsibility. Queer people anywhere are responsible to help queer people everywhere. So Voices4 is celebrating Valentine's Day with our regularly scheduled two-hour, bi-weekly open meeting at the LGBT Center and some community bonding time after!
Do you have any other kiss in events planned?
Right now we are focusing our efforts on Brighton Beach Pride on May 20th. Brighton Beach is filled with Russian immigrants and people from post-soviet countries. Queer refugees and asylum seekers often meet serious homophobia and transphobia right here in Manhattan. We are marching to show that the American LGBTQ community stands with all LGBTQ+ immigrants.
Photography: Matt Bernstein