This year was a difficult year for the LGBTI-community. Many countries, who were once on the right path, took steps backwards. The people who want to prevent LGBTI-equality are internationally better organised than ever before. Nevertheless, these new challenges bring a lot of new opportunities for our LGBTI-movement. The next year should be the year that we all come together to alter the negative direction the fight for equality and democracy is going to. 2020 will be the year of revival.
Traditionally, the end of the year honours the most distinguished events and people of that year. I came across so many influential and brave LGBTI-people this year that making a choice for my top 10 was more difficult than ever. The group is very diverse and they all tell a different story. Some stories are very sad, others are amazingly hopeful.
Murdered For Standing Up To Putin
I never had the chance to meet Yelena. She was brutally murdered by a Russian extremist group after calling for a witch-hunt on the LGBTI-community online. Notwithstanding the many threats to her life, she continued fighting for equality until her last days. After her death, the group who claimed responsibility for her murder published a list of other LGBTI-activists that also should get murdered. Many of them went into hiding. My good friend Misha Tumasov was one of them.
BBC’s First LGBTI Correspondent
Ben became the first ever LGBTI correspondent in the long history of the BBC. His openness about being gay and black in the UK made him almost immediately a person to look up to: brave, intelligent and strategic. We were all shocked after he opened up about being sexually abused as a child. He’s a leader for all of us. I’m so happy that I was able to meet and share my views with him on several occasions this year.
LGBTI Activist and Journalist from Hungary
I spent 7 months in the Hungarian capital Budapest to investigate the links the Hungarians have with the international anti-LGBTI network. During these months, I met so many brave LGBTI-activists. As a journalist, Ádám interviewed me on my work on the LGBTI purge in Chechnya for the Hungarian Magazine 168 Ora. Afterwards, he also invited me to speak at Europes biggest music festival, Sziget. This year, Ádám also set up a project to address the stigma around HIV in the Hungarian society.
Choreographer – Film Maker – Activist
I met Kosta through a dance movie project he set up to address the situation for LGBTI-people living in Chechnya. His movie ‘Waiting For Color’ got featured by many international media. As a Bulgarian citizen, he appeared several times on national television to speak about LGBTI-rights. Kosta decided to study the same program I did last year at the Global Campus of Human Rights in Venice (Italy). He’s somebody to look out for next year as well!
Armenian Transgender Activist
Over the years, Lilit became a synonym for braveness. As an open transgender activist in Armenia she has faced so many attacks. This year, she went viral after a speech in the Armenian parliament. Nevertheless, Lilit is continuing her fight for equality and recognition.
Polish Human Rights Activist
As an Amnesty International activist she was arrested in Poland because she released a poster of the Holy Mother with a rainbow halo. She might face a 2 years imprisonment sentence. This would be the first political imprisonment ever since the creation of the European Union. It was an honour to meet her during the Amsterdam Pride.
H. From Chechnya
Anonymous LGBTI Activist from Chechnya
This year was also the year of a renewed wave of LGBTI persecutions in Chechnya. One of the people who helped me expose the atrocities going on in Chechnya is H. . He’s a Chechen refugee living in The Netherlands. For his safety, I won’t disclose his full identity. To read the stories he helped me expose: click here.
Leader Tbilisi Pride
This year, we commemorated the 50 years anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. While we were all partying in New York, the real bad ass Pride was being held in Georgia. It was an honour to meet with the people from Tbilisi Pride in Georgia. You are the real LGBTI heroes of these times!
Leader Szczecin Pride
In-between the queer centres of Berlin and Warsaw lays the small city of Szczecin. Poland has known a rise in homophobic rhetoric in the last year. Nevertheless, many brave LGBTI people stood up and organised many successful Pride events. Monika Tichy and the people from Szczecin Pride are just a few of them. 7000 people joined Szczecin Pride this year. It was an honour to be invited to Szczecin and speak to all these brave activists. I hope to come visit all of you soon again!
Ambassador Amsterdam Pride
Since the very beginning, Hans has been the driving force behind the world famous Amsterdam Pride. Hans invited me to come with him to help the people from Tbilisi Pride last June. We had an amazing time together in Georgia. In August, he invited me to come speak at the start of the Amsterdam Pride, during the annual Pride Walk. Thank you for the many opportunities Hans! Together we’re making the world a bit more equal every day!