new regions

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MOGILOVE

With love for the city and people

Hello! We are an intersectional LGBTQ+ initiative 'New Regions' from Mogilev, Belarus. It's such a challenge to live in Mogilev as an LGBTQ+ person, and it's even harder to be an activist here. But it's vital for us to bring up such problems as homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, sexism and other human rights violations as well as environmental issues. We're sick of hearing that Mogilev is the homophobic capital of Belarus, even though we like to joke about it. Ok, that might be true, but on the other hand Mogilev is a wonderful city with very emphatic places and people. As elsewhere in the world, there are LGBTQ+ people in Mogilev, and we'd like to share their stories with you through our project MOGILOVE.

WHAT'S OUR PROJECT ABOUT?

MOGILOVE is a project about Mogilev and its queer people. Here you can find their personal stories about their development and self-acceptance as LGBTQ+ people, and how they were accepted (or not) by others. You will also learn about their relationship with the city.

You can watch the film and/ or read more detailed stories of hero_ines.

This project can be used as a guide. Through these stories, you will get to know a different Mogilev and the places important to the heroes. Of course, this is a project about love. About love for yourself, people and the city. About inspiring, painful, confusing and long gone love.

WHY DID WE MAKE THIS PROJECT?

LGBTQ+ people face many obstacles and challenges in Belarus, especially in the regions. Mogilev is a problematic and conservative city, and sometimes it seems to be some kind of monotonous, rigid and difficult place. But it's not like that! This city is brimming with different people of different identities and with different stories. And we tried to show this in our project. Telling the stories of LGBTQ+ people of Mogilev, we want to make us visible and share the real experience of the LGBTQ+ community from the Belarusian regions. We also hope that this project will support those LGBTQ+ people who haven't yet found the strength to speak about their identity in public.

We want to preserve these stories for the future to have this period documented in the history of the queer community in Belarus. So reading this in a while, people could understand and feel how the community lived at this exact time and place. Through stories, we learn about this world and become better: accepting, empathic, open to change. And stories do not burn.

ANTON

Антон в парке на фоне деревьев

Hi, my name is Anton and I'm 20. Now I'm graduating from the Arkady Kuleshov Mogilev State University with a degree in archaeology, history and social studies. At the same time, I work at Burger King and try to survive in this city.

Until I was 17, I despised Mogilev, I just hated it, I wanted to leave, to escape by all means. But growing up, I changed my attitude towards it: I have visited other towns here and in Russia and realized that Mogilev wasn't the worst place to stay. I was 18 when I stopped hiding my identity. I discovered that there were other people like me who faced the same problems! They supported me. Now I'm neutral towards Mogilev. It's just a place of residence and nothing else.

I started accepting my identity only now: it was hard to do it before. I used to live in the outskirts where people lived terribly: they drank a lot, had fights and hated LGBTQ+ And when thoughts of being gay started to pop into my head, I felt just awful. I thought that I was some kind of a monster or a beast, that all of this shouldn't be happening to me. I tried to hide my feelings, and Zadneprovye [translator's note: Zadneprovye is one of the districts of Mogilev] became a fortress of hatred for me where I felt danger — I could be killed anywhere. Then I entered the uni and came out to my friends in my first year. To my surprise, they were fine with it. As I came out, I began to develop as a person. Now everyone knows that I'm gay and at the end of the day I don't face any hatred, even my professors support me. I feel comfortable in uni and I know that nothing bad will happen to me there. Now we're at the Park of the 60th Anniversary of October Revolution but this place is mostly known as 'the field near Sviatoye lake'. Though I live nearby, I only found out about this place only 18 months ago. Here I met a very important person. Here we met for the first time and said goodbye for the last time. The whole field is a memory. What matters most to me is not the place but that person. Thanks to him, I became what I am now.

Did the city help me socialize as an LGBTQ+ person? In the beginning, I attended the events of one Mogilev organization for homosexual men. It was a strange experience: people there were quite quirky, and I didn't understand what was going on at all. At some point, it seemed to me that the entire LGBTQ+ community is weirdos, and until I turned 20 or something, I tried to avoid the topic of sexuality at all. And then I found out about 'New regions', and my perception of LGBTQ+ people changed.

Another place where my identity was formed is the underpass under Pushkinsky bridge. Punks used to hang out there a lot, and I did it as well. They accepted me and we became a small family. This place means a lot to me.

I know for sure that I will leave Mogilev: I have to work in Slutsk for 2 years because of the first-job mandatory placement. I don't think I could spend my whole life here. Many memories associated with Mogilev are suffocating me and weighing on my heart. I might not come back to this city.

VLAD

Видео-конференция с Владом на фоне здания центра детского творчества

Hi, my name is Vlad, I'm 20 years old. I do music, I'm a producer and a singer of my own songs. I'm a drag queen, a person who gives a performance. 

Mogilev is a tranquil city for me. When I come to Mogilev, I feel as if I come to a sanatorium. Nothing happens here, there are still the same people, there's no need to run or to rush somewhere, everyone lives a peaceful life. But this is also a city with outdated values, where nothing changes: as everything was 10 years ago, so it is now. This is a conservative city. I feel calm in Mogilev; this is my home, which I miss a little, but being in the public aye is not always comfortable for me. I am a gay man, and I don't feel safe on the streets of Mogilev, because I know that cases of discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people are very common here.

I moved to Mogilev when I was about 10 years old, and that's when I began to explore my sexuality. I began to realize that my sexuality differed from other people's around me, the one that was the most represented. I started thinking about it, I didn't understand what was happening to me. I've never heard of homosexuality or if it's normal — no one ever has mentioned it. I searched the Internet if it was a disease or something else. Eventually I've found out about gay people and that I may have been one of them, but I couldn't accept it for a long time, it was new to me. The image of a gay person that I learnt through society and found on the Internet was extremely negative. And it wasn't easy for me to accept that I'm kind of a bad person who does something wrong. I've spent some time looking for a way to get better, to fix or to re-educate myself and, unfortunately, many times I've found such advice.

It's often said that homosexuality is just a phase and it will pass, but I'm 20 and it didn’t pass. The path was difficult, but at a certain point I began to understand myself better. I realized that I would accept either myself or the society. And thankfully, I accepted myself.

Now we are at the Centre of Youth Creativity.  Here I attended a music class. It's precious for me because of my teacher. I didn't come out to her but she was the only person who didn't make me uneasy as we were doing art and music when it wasn't considered something masculine. And in this class I was able to realize my more 'feminine' side in some way: she didn't try to communicate with me as a man or to project these concepts on me. I felt as comfortable as possible with her, I felt like myself.

When I lived in Mogilev, I didn't have a place other than this class where I felt more or less comfortable: there was no place outside, no place inside, no place as a kind of metaconcept at all. Anytime and anywhere I felt danger and anxiety, even at home. Now, for some reason, the 'Buffet' cafe became a comfortable place for me. The owner tries to keep it up to European standards, so here I feel like I'm in Poland and not in a horrible homophobic sexist patriarchal society. As if everything is okay. I used to be a closeted gay man: I didn't tell anyone about my sexuality because it wasn't safe. I came out only to my very close friends who can be counted on one hand. They are the people who knew the real me, and not as a mask that I had to put on every day to pretend to be something else. The city hasn't contributed to my development in any way. Some people I met by chance, because they were more or less open; when I got close to them, I realized that they were accepting and tolerant, so I could open up myself to them. Or, for example, I've known a person for a long time, we have a good relationship and I trust them — so it will be difficult for them not to accept me if we are already so close.

A few years ago, I moved to Poland: at first I wanted to study here but in reality I think I did it mostly to experience something new. When I was graduating school I thought of Europe as the most liberal and open society where I could live free, fully accepting myself and being accepted. But not everything turned out to be so, although it was much better than in Belarus. That allowed me to find such a side in myself that I would hardly have found if I had stayed in Belarus: Belarusian society reacts aggressively to the people who differ from them. Here I would hardly be able to find a queer side inside me. When I moved to Poland, I started writing music and engaged in creative activities. Here I met a person who gave me confidence in myself and ability to believe that music is not just a hobby and that I'll succeed in my music career. And that's how it all started. I started recording more songs, releasing videos and music videos, performing live, and giving performances. I choose drag as my public identity because this is the way for me to create a character who will be more interesting, flamboyant and attractive in the public eye, and through whom I can get my ideas across better.

I can say that LGBTQ+ people are completely invisible in Belarus. Even worse, I'd say. I think, the older generation truly believes that gay people do not exist or LGBTQ+ is just the West lunacy, that they are kind of vague, odd and crazy people who pull a stunt on the Internet, in Europe and in the USA like undressing in the streets and holding terrible pride parades. Although in fact, I know from my experience that LGBTQ+ people are everywhere because it's not a cultural phenomenon, it's humanity. People are just created in a way that sometimes they are not heterosexual or cisgender. But in Belarus, only the youth accepts queer people as they draw their knowledge from the Internet, where queer people can be open and there is information about them. On the Internet LGBTQ+ people often try to be visible just so that a lost child like me, who had no idea what was wrong with him, could find an answer in another person. So that this child understood that it is okay to be different. I think the situation in the city is getting better a bit now, as the 'New Regions' initiative was created. I consider it one of the largest and most successful in Mogilev: it attracts many people, makes them visible and holds a public dialogue with the society. I hope that will continue and new initiatives will appear, that people will be ready to talk about this topic and not just deny the problem, while those who are thought to be queer people are beaten and killed in the streets. I think the situation can be improved, because many people are fighting for it, and they're succeeding little by little.

Will I ever want to come back to Mogilev, even if the attitude towards LGBTQ+ people improves? I don't think so. Change is slow, and Mogilev still lags far behind Poland or Western Europe. Even now, when I come to Mogilev, I put on the mask of a heterosexual boy, as if gays don't exist and I have nothing to do with it. I couldn't live in this society.

BISHA

Биша стоит на склоне на фоне зеленого поля и частных домов

Hello everyone! My name is Bisha, I'm 23, I'm polysexual. I'm a merch to the core and this is probably the best thing in my life.

Mogilev for me is people and their relations. I love and hate this city at the same time. Mogilev is rich in history and culture, as well as narrow-mindedness and influence of the Soviet period.

I often come across people who say that everyone is free, and we are all different, but equal. In fact, I've never shouted out about me being bisexual or polysexual. For those people who asked me directly, I'm always open and I always say that I have, so to say, my own sandbox, I have my own tastes and rules. But my parents, for example, or friends from the uni aren't aware of my identity. I've never faced any extremely negative attitude like homophobia towards my identity in Mogilev.

We're on Surganova street now, in it's green space. It's a picturesque place — a small piece of nature in the city where you can be yourself, spend some time alone. Here I discovered all my feelings, my creative abilities. Here I feel in harmony with myself.

I can't say if the city helped me find people from the LGBTQ+ community or just tolerant people. I believe that all the right people, everything you need in life you can find anywhere no matter where you live. And Mogilev is also just a place.

Now it seems to me that the Mogilev society around me split in two. There are people of the Soviet period; they haven't heard about homosexuality or gender identity... or simply don't want to hear about it. And there are people with their own worldview, own position. I see people under 40 argue for freedom of choice, freedom of speech. Those tunnel-visioned conservative people, who see the world in black and white — they need to learn, because everything changes inside and around us. They don't notice changes around. However I can't guarantee that I won't tell you in 5 years something like: 'Sorry, guys, I have a family, husband, children, dog...'.

As for the LGBTQ+ representation, I can tell you that all people differ from each other: in speech, behaviour, appearance. People have different positions in society. People are different. But looking at them, I can't say anything about their identity or sexuality. Appearance or other traits of people don't mean anything in this matter.

I pondered for a long time whether I should leave Mogilev. I guess I'll stay here: I want to improve this city. Yeah, moving may be a good starting point but I don't want to start a new life, I want to keep moving on here. I have already started, and I have room to grow in this city.

KOSTYA

Костя в подъезде на фоне стены с различными надписями

My name is Kostya, I live in Mogilev, I'm a former corporate employee, and nowadays I'm an LGBTQ+ activist. I studied at Belarusian State University of Transportation and spent a year at Lund University in Sweden.

Well, my relations with Mogilev are very complicated. On the one hand they remind me of Stockholm syndrome in some way, but on the other, I think I do a lot of activism in Mogilev as I fight for changes, and I find Mogilev to be a city of opportunities, there's still a lot to do and to change. But this city is very rigid, it's really difficult to change anything here, so you need many resources. It's like playing a game on hard difficulty. I've left and come back so many times. I'm not really into strolling around the city. I guess, I don't like the city, I like the people who live here, and I want them to live in a better place. I want to make this place better, or at least try. My relationship with Mogilev is complicated and controversial. As they say, current mood: everything is complicated.

I identify as gay. My development as an LGBTQ+ person wasn't easy. I can't say that it was very dramatic or traumatic, but there were a lot of difficulties. It was really tough at school: you begin to realize your own identity but don't see any supportive experience around. You're taught heteronormativity, so you start to think that there's something wrong with you. But I found support. When I was 17, I came out to my school friend. Then I left the city to study. Perhaps all I did in Mogilev was watch TV shows at home like 'Queer as folk'. And it was probably the only thing that supported me and helped me understand that the world wasn’t as one-sided as it seemed from here.

Now we're on Pervomayskaya, 16. This is a peculiar place, a high-rise building in the city centre, quite old one. It's a hangout spot for the whole Mogilev. I don't know if it is now but many people used to come here to have a drink, make some noise and leave messages on the walls for others. Back then it was an era of subcultures like emo, and there was a total mess, all walls were painted pink or whatever. I used to come here often with my friends, and we hung out here as well. 

This place was a safe space for me where I could share my worries and problems with my friends. It was quite impossible to do being sober because back then you were raised in such a restraining community where boys weren't supposed to show any feelings. The place is downright marginal: the residents of this house must hate people who come here, because of the noise, so the police are frequent visitors here.

We're on the 16th floor now, there are covered balconies with a city view. I felt most comfortable here and often opened up to others. This is where I made my first attempts to understand my sexuality with other guys. This place brings many emotions alive in me.

I can't say if Mogilev helped or made it difficult for me to meet LGBTQ+ people. I had friends here. They were regular heterosexual people who just supported me. But to find people from the LGBTQ+ community was really challenging as Mogilev may be one of the most conservative cities in Belarus. 

It was only when I came back after university I met my two best friends here who were a gay couple. We spent much time together, and thanks to them, I realized there were different people in the city — until 17 I never knew local LGBTQ+ people. 

Would I like to leave Mogilev? I've left Mogilev so many times: to study for five years, to work in Moscow and Yekaterinburg.  But I always came back. To be honest, I can't tell if I'm going to stay here. While I'm engaged in activism, I get a positive feedback from people to whom we, I mean New Regions, showed another city. And for now, I'll probably be here as long as I have resources. It takes a lot to fight for social change in such an inflexible city. Someday I might go away, and then come back, and then leave and come back again. But for now, I'm staying here.

The regions, Mogilev as well, are changing now. LGBTQ+ people from the regions have become especially visible over the past year. All the action used to be only in Minsk. The regions were the dark side of the moon, a Mordor outside the walls of Minsk, and no one knew what was going on here. In the regions the police persecute LGBTQ+ people, threaten them with a public outing. Everyone leaves the regions for Minsk or other countries. You need loads of resources even for staying here and at least positioning yourself as an LGBTQ+ person, not to mention defending your rights or fighting for them in public.

SOFIN

Видео-конференция с софин на луге в парке

My name is sofin, I'm non-binary, my pronouns are they/them, but sometimes I use any like he and she. Now I live in St. Petersburg.

My relations with Mogilev are very complicated. On the one hand, when I'm in St. Petersburg I really miss Mogilev sometimes, I miss my childhood and all those amazing people I need now. But nevertheless, every time when I come back, this feeling disappears so quickly. I stay in Mogilev only because of my friends and family. You can love this city only when you're far away.

My development as an LGBTQ+ person is closely tied to Mogilev. It's mostly about my parents who barely tried to somehow influence my sexuality or gender, so I didn't form any heteronormative beliefs in my head. I've never been told who to love or not. From an early age I guess, I had feelings for both girls and boys. And it was ok. And I have never thought that it is wrong. It surprises and encourages me — I've never had any restrictions in love. 

I associate Mogilev with the development of my gender identity. There was a period when I didn't identify as a non-binary person. I didn't even know such a term as non-binary. However, I used not only 'she' but also 'he', 'it', and 'they'. It was comfortable. In 2019, my best friend told me about New Regions: it was nice to meet new people, and this also had a great impact on my openness — after all, I was accepted, supported, and not judged. St. Petersburg lacks it, though it is thought to be a 'city of opportunities'.

Now we are in Mogilev, in Pecherski park. It's a meadow near the lake and an abandoned stage. It's a wonderful place. It's close to my home. Pecherski park brings back so many memories: it was like a shelter for me when I felt lonely and sad, but at the same time it was a great place to hang out with my friends. Here was my first queer picnic with 'New Regions', where I met many awesome people.

Wandering through the woods brings me calm: there are usually few people, and if you know the paths, no one will bother you. I used to come here often on a bicycle.

I have my own way of dealing with stress. When life is too tough to handle and I feel depressed, I tend to run into the woods and try to get lost there - I turn off the path or go somewhere I've never been at all. When you're lost, it becomes your primary problem. The only thing you care about is how to find the way out.

As an LGBTQ+ person, I didn't face any serious problems in Mogilev, simply because I didn't talk much about my gender identity or my sexuality. When I studied in the lyceum in my senior year, people around me were super accepting, and it was wonderful. For a long time I attended an acting class at the Centre of Youth Creativity. There you could talk about your sexuality and had support, meet other LGBTQ+ people like you. I still try to keep in touch with some of my theatre friends.

However, I experienced difficulties. Since childhood I have been bullied for various reasons, without even knowing about my queer identity. I was called every name in the book just because of my appearance, behavior and hobbies. Unfortunately, people don't even need to know who you are to mistreat you. So I spent most of my time on the Internet and met great people there. I had to keep my mouth shut and could talk heart-to-heart only with people I knew and trusted.

Before I didn't have enough nerve to even think about leaving. But thanks to the Internet, I had a long-distance relationship. My ex-girlfriend was eager to go to St. Petersburg. At first it was her dream which later became mine. After school my exams didn't go so well. But I didn't want to sit around so I finished my first year at uni studying law. After that I entered a college in St. Petersburg.

I don't know much about the visibility of LGBTQ+ people in other Belarusian cities. I see some progress in Minsk, and now in Mogilev because of New Regions. There were no such initiatives before, so yeah, there's definitely progress for the better. I don't remember any educational events and festivals held in Mogilev before New Regions. I hope that everything will only get better. Though Belarus doesn't have an anti-gay propaganda law as in Russia, it makes me sad to think about the life of LGBTQ+ people here.

It's hard to think about coming back to Mogilev. I like my home very much, and I have sweet memories of it. Yeah, there were many difficult moments, but I think I will come back from time to time. I don't want to live in Mogilev all the time. When you spend 18 years in this city, you obviously will never forget it and will return again and again.

DARIA

Дарья в парке на фоне деревьев

Hi, my name is Daria, I'm bisexual, I'm studying to be a programmer, and I'm also a volunteer at New Regions in Mogilev.

Mogilev... In all that time I have experienced the entire emotional spectrum towards Mogilev. I hated it, I loved it, I felt sorry for it, I felt everything else, and my attitude towards Mogilev is always changing. Only recently I started noticing the beauty of Mogilev and its perks. 

As an LGBTQ+ person I feel fine in Mogilev. It's ok for me because personally I've never experienced any strongly negative situations. I guess the only thing I had problems with in Mogilev was acceptance, because it was impossible for me to learn what bisexuality is and that it's normal. So I realized my identity quite late.

I realized and accepted my identity when I moved to another place and went to university. I decided to come out and I was surprised that no one reacted in a negative way even though we weren't so close, we were just classmates. I suppose such acceptance and no hostility helped me feel more secure in the future.

I felt my bond with an LGBTQ+ community after the appearance of New Regions, thanks to them I met other LGBTQ+ people.

Now we're in Menzhinka's alley. It's the neighbourhood in which I spent most of my life. The whole district is full of memories, but I chose this place because it reminds me of my childhood and these memories are the most important ones to me.

I consider this district intolerant: when I lived here I couldn't even think of being bisexual, let alone coming out. It only happened after moving out.

I used to be desperate to leave it. There was a time when I disliked this city, and I didn't want to stay. But lately I don't feel like leaving. Sometimes Mogilev gets boring, and I want to leave and see something new, but now I feel comfortable and safe. It may be so because of the place I live in now — there's a lot of space, forests and fields. And it's all calm. But I also got many people who make my stay here better.

I think that in the regions LGBTQ+ people are less visible than in Minsk. There are many educational events about it in Minsk, and only few of them are in the regions. And there's much more fear for your identity.

KATYA

Катя на фоне каменной лестницы в парке

Hello, my name is Katya, I'm 21 and I'm an artist. I study at the faculty of foreign languages. If we talk about my sexual orientation, I'm probably bi.

I've never treated the city with love or hatred — it simply never aroused any strong feeling in me. I like this city because I was born and lived here all my life. Sure, there were unpleasant moments: the city limits your desire for something new, you can't always be yourself or express yourself the way you want to, and if you look different, people may not accept you here.

I think it used to be harder for me to live in this city. I began to realize my identity when I was 13. Back then I had no friends from the queer community. It was difficult to find someone to talk about it, someone who would support me and help me understand myself better. I can't say that Mogilev had a positive impact on me but rather slowed down my development as a person. By the time I was eighteen, I got more friends, and I was more comfortable in the city. It's probably because I've grown up and society has become more tolerant.

We're almost in the city center, behind Sovetskaya square and the church. There is a nice view, you can be by yourself and think. That's where I drew a lot — and met one of my girlfriends. This place means a lot for me because of the memories of how we only started to know each other. You can walk here and feel calm, nothing weighs on you, no one judges you and you can hide from everything.

There's no place in the city where I could be open. But after I dyed my hair and got tattoos, I stopped to care what other people thought. At first I got used to some attention then to indifference, and now I feel comfortable everywhere but not open. I guess, one more place that is important to me is Leninskaya street. In summer people hang out, chitchat and play songs here. They're all different with different identities, and I can relax there. 

Mogilev slowed down the development of a bisexual identity in me because it was challenging to find the right person to open to. I guess it happened in the uni where people are older and not afraid to be themselves. Before that, it wasn't easy for me to express myself. I don't think of our city as tolerant: it's difficult to be an open LGBTQ+ person here.

I want to leave, and I'm going to after I graduate. Neither in Mogilev nor in Belarus, to my mind, there is no space for young people to develop, to be who they want to be despite the society's expectations. So I believe this is not my place.

Nowadays LGBTQ+ people are becoming more visible as they self-identify sooner, as I did. People are less scared to open up because they see other LGBTQ+ people around — how they give signals like wearing stickers or rings. When you see such people, you no longer fear to open up. And it's easier for other people outside the LGBTQ+ community, too. As a part of the community, I don't ask much — the main thing for me is to not be oppressed and deprived of our rights. To accept, or not to accept — that's not the question as long as they treat us right.

I see the change in the LGBTQ+ community: people have loosened up, they create new initiatives and groups where you can hang out. It's people who influence the city: if they become more open, tell each other about it, then the whole city will become more open. I believe that everything is better than before. Before, it was believed that there are no homosexual people here at all. But then people one by one started to discuss it — and now they're slowly coming out and speaking up.