"Gayropa" is a word often used by Russian authorities to refer to Europe. It is meant to signify both Russia's lack of acceptance of LGBTQ people and to distinguish between the values of East and West, particularly when it comes to the rights of sexual minorities.
This project offers a window into the lives of LGBTQ people from around the world who are claiming asylum, or have been granted asylum, in European countries on the grounds of their sexuality or gender identity.
Because the European Union has no common policy when it comes to dealing with LGBTQ asylum cases, these individuals face vastly different requirements to prove who they are and demonstrate why they need protection. Asylum officers in several countries — including the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Austria, the Netherlands and Cyprus — have been criticized by Human Rights Watch and other rights organizations for asking humiliating, inappropriate questions, or telling LGBTQ asylum seekers to return home and simply "behave discreetly."
But there is more that unites than divides this diverse group of people. Beyond a common experience of intolerance — sometimes violent — back home, they are dealing with the daily challenges of creating a life for themselves in a new country with a sense of purpose and, despite the difficult circumstances, in some cases even joy.
Full profiles of the people pictured below and more are available on Instagram.
Faris, 35, is originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and now lives in Vienna. Identifying as non-binary, Faris uses they/them pronouns and is an advocate for sexual minorities. They co-founded an organization aimed at helping LGBTQ people in Ethiopia and within the Ethiopian diaspora abroad. Through performance art and online activism in English and Amharic, Faris wants to educate people about LGBTQ issues and spread a message of acceptance.
Faris claimed political asylum in Austria after attending a conference for LGBTQ people in Salzburg. The offices where Faris worked in Ethiopia were ransacked while they were away, and the situation appeared to be deteriorating rapidly. They were granted asylum in Austria in July 2017, seven months after applying.
Originally from the southern Turkish city of Adana, Bella was a familiar face at the recently banned Istanbul Pride marches and at demonstrations supporting LGBTQ rights in Istanbul. She was also an employee of Pembe Hayat (Pink Life), an NGO in Turkey.
Now Bella, who identifies as a transgender woman, is claiming asylum in Sweden. She lives with her Swedish-Finnish boyfriend Emil in Stockholm.
Frustrated by the length of the asylum process and the poor treatment she says she faced, Bella went on a nine-day hunger strike last spring, after which the Swedish asylum services agreed to meet her, help improve her situation and speed up her case’s timeframe.
IGOR & SERGI
Faced with increasing levels of abuse in their hometown of Odessa along Ukraine's southern Black Sea coastline, Igor and his boyfriend Sergi decided it was time to leave the country.
Igor had been attacked at a Pride march in the city, an incident that left him with head wounds and needing glasses. He and Sergi were chased in the streets near their home by men shouting, "Death to faggots!" They began receiving death threats.
After reaching out to an LGBTI organization, they decided to pack their bags and begin a new life in France, where they both claimed, and received, political asylum. They settled in Besançon, a city in eastern France, near the country's border with Switzerland.
Despite their experience, the couple says they remain optimistic about LGBTQ life in Ukraine. They're quick to point out that progress takes time, and that France wasn’t particularly progressive on LGBTQ rights 50 years ago.
At birth, intersex children — who are born with several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, sex hormones or genitals that do not fit the typical definitions of male or female bodies — are often assigned a legal gender by their parents. But in some cases, they find later in life that it doesn’t correspond to their own sense of identity.
Wael, who is intersex, is registered as female on official documents in his home country of Morocco, but identifies as a transgender man. Because changing one's gender is illegal in Morocco, Wael decided to claim asylum in Europe in order to change his legal gender and start testosterone therapy. After spending time in various refugee camps across Norway, he registered and resettled in Bergen, which is home to many of Norway's LGBTQ asylum seekers.
Although he arrived in Norway in 2016, he only began hormone therapy, a fundamental part of his transition, in May. Waiting times for appointments are long, he says, and only a small number of doctors deal with gender identity issues. He regularly has to travel by overnight train from his home in Bergen to Norway's capital, Oslo, just to see a doctor, as there aren’t any specialists in Bergen.
Having successfully changed his legal gender in his Norwegian documents, Wael is keen to have top surgery and complete his transition, before eventually moving back to Morocco.
Hamoudi spent the first 18 years of his life in the Syrian city of Raqqa. He was forcibly outed as gay at the age of 13, when he was caught having sex with a male friend. He went on to live in Aleppo and Damascus, but returned to his hometown in 2011 to join anti-regime protests. He wanted to show that he was more than a "faggot," as he had been described by people in his hometown, he says.
Hamoudi and several of his friends formed a group called "Our Rights Movement" in 2013, when opposition fighters took control of the city. He became a committed activist for democracy and civil rights, demonstrating against the Syrian regime, and later ISIS, which declared his hometown the capital of its so-called Islamic Caliphate. Hamoudi was imprisoned by both regime forces and by ISIS, and faced physical and psychological torture.
Since moving to Berlin in October 2014, Hamoudi has worked in the cultural sector and most recently with an organization helping to rebuild civil society in Raqqa.
Hamoudi was granted humanitarian asylum, as he opted not to apply for political asylum and be treated differently from the majority of other Syrian asylum seekers and refugees in Germany. If the German government declares Syria a safe country to deport people to in the future, Hamoudi says he may apply for political asylum instead.
Meet the Journalist: Bradley Secker on LGBTI Asylum-Seekers in Europe
Gayropa is a photo-led project about the lives of LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees around Europe...
Migration and Refugees