Global Roundup: Mexican Feminists Help Americans Get Abortions, Baltic Pride in Lithuania, Punjabi Drag Queen, Turkey Queer Artists, Black Gay Activist & Author
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
Verónica Cruz speaks during a meeting of Mexican and American activists in January. Photograph: Maria Verza/AP via The Guardian
Latin American groups are sharing their abortion access models with US activists as Roe v Wade stands to be overturned. In January 2022, nearly 70 abortion rights activists from across Mexico gathered in a city along the US-Mexico border. For three days they strategized with activists in the US on how to support Americans as abortion restrictions proliferated across the US.
Members of 30 different abortion rights groups, from across Mexico and the United States, formed what they call the Red Transfronteriza, or Cross-Border Network. Following a model that Mexican and other Latin American feminists had developed over the past two decades, the Red Transfronteriza would “accompany” Americans through their abortions, guiding them through the World Health Organization’s protocol for safely using abortion pills without the supervision of a doctor. They would also supply abortion pills to Americans for nothing, mailing donated medications to the United States.
Since January, they have mailed thousands of abortion pills to the United States and guided hundreds of Americans through their questions and concerns. With the days probably numbered for the constitutional right to abortion in the US, they expect the need for their work to only grow. Many Americans are reaching them through social media: the groups maintain active presences on Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, Reddit and even TikTok.
[They send them] everything they are going to need – sanitary napkins, chewing gum for nausea, pills for pain. Everything so that you can have your abortion safely at home and without going out. - Sandra Cardona, member of the Monterrey-based abortion network Red Necesito Abortar
Abortion accompaniment networks have a long history in Latin America, dating back to 2000, when the state of Guanajuato tried to pass a law that would have made it illegal to provide abortion care in cases of rape, the only situation in which the procedure had been allowed in the conservative region. Activists began organizing demonstrations, building relationships with friendly gynecologists and learning how pregnant people could safely take the abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol at home to end their pregnancies no matter the reason. Today, similar abortion “accompaniment” networks operate in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and beyond.
The majority who come from the United States come with a lot of fear of being imprisoned, a lot of fear of bleeding to death. There is a huge lack of information. - Sandra Cardona
The network is planning to lead workshops across northern Mexico to train abortion activists on supporting people in the U.S.. Despite efforts by some U.S. states to punish groups who mail abortion pills, Cardona says the Red Transfronteriza will not stop its work.
Eddie Balčiūnaitė.Enrique Anarte Lazo via NBC
Around 10,000 people from across Eastern Europe attended Baltic Pride in Vilnius, Lithuania over the weekend – one of the biggest marches the Baltic countries have ever seen. Since 2009, the annual event has rotated among the capitals of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, gathering local activists and international allies. Vilnius hosted Baltic Pride for the first time in 2010. Back then, only 400 people marched.
This is incredible. Nine years ago, there were neo-Nazis at both sides and more police than participants. - Juan Miguel, a Spaniard who studied abroad in Lithuania
Under Soviet occupation from 1944 until 1991, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all joined the European Union in 2004, together with other countries of the Eastern bloc, including Poland and Hungary. But unlike their Nordic neighbors — only a short plane trip away — their human rights records lag behind, particularly when it comes to sexual minorities. However, things are slowly changing. Estonia is, for example, the only Baltic country that has so far introduced civil unions for same-sex couples. Both the Lithuanian and the Latvian parliaments are currently debating similar bills that would introduce civil partnerships for same-sex couples, granting them some, but not all, the rights of marriage.
Tomas Raskevičius, Lithuania’s only openly gay member of parliament, said reluctance to grant LGBTQ people further legal recognition comes mostly from the deep influence of the Catholic Church, as well as the legacy of Soviet occupation. The USSR made same-sex relations a crime in 1933, and it wasn’t until 1993 that Lithuania, already an independent country, decriminalized homosexuality. Latvia and Estonia had done so a year earlier.
I’m not happy with the bill, because it’s full of compromises. The reality of politics is tough. This is just the first step on the road toward equality. - Tomas Raskevičius
Activist note that trans rights are not an issue on the table or even part of the public discussion, unlike same-sex civil unions. Latvia requires transgender people seeking to legally change their gender to undergo mandatory sterilization, according to the advocacy group Transgender Europe.
At this year’s Baltic Pride march, protesters from all over the region brought Ukrainian flags and banners calling for an end to Russia’s invasion of its neighbor. Thousands of Ukrainians have fled to the Baltics, among them some LGBTQ people. Anna Dovgopol, a lesbian from Kyiv, said she is moved by the support. Before the war, she had been a queer rights activist in her home country, but two months ago, she had to leave everything behind.
After the march, young people from the different Baltic nations gathered at what appeared to be a semi-abandoned industrial building outside Vilnius’ city center. The event branded itself as “queer-feminist,” and the words “WE ARE PROPAGANDA” were projected in rainbow colors onto a wall.
Photo via CBC
Jolene Queen Sloan, who is the drag persona of Prianshu Grover, is celebrating his first Pride month as a Punjabi drag queen in Vancouver, Canada. He is pushing for more representation of drag in the South Asian LGBTQ community, with Bollywood music, Indian glam and a message that promotes culture and self-acceptance.
Grover immigrated from India in 2016 as an international student with hopes to start fresh and own up to his gay identity — something, he says, he found challenging back home in India. After coming out about his identity to his parents, his close family accepted it. However, he says, other relatives and friends did not.
Right now, most of the Indian drag is influenced by Western culture … that's what I'm trying to change. - Prianshu Grover
Grover says while people in his village in India were curious, many never fully understood his drag aspirations. In Canada, he says he has made it his goal to better educate people back home on what it means to be queer and South Asian, through Jolene's performances and social media channels.
Grover says Vancouver crowds and drag queens have welcomed him with open arms. Cheryl Trade, an Indigenous drag queen from Saskatoon, has been part of Jolene's support network and the two have done numerous shows together.
I am able to provide that space, the safe space that I didn't have for a very long time. - Prianshu Grover
Photography Klara Gordon via i-D
i-D spoke to ten queer Turkish artists about their stories, their struggles and their hopes for the future – three of which will be included here. Homosexuality isn’t illegal in Turkey, but discrimination runs rampant and attacks on LGBTQ+ folks are on the rise. The sociopolitical climate has forced queer people to fend for themselves, creating their own venues, galleries and safe spaces to build community.
Beste Ileri is a multimedia artist who works in many different mediums, recently, digital art, painting and installation. Through combining archival and fictional works, Ileri tries to discuss gentrification, environmental control, borders and ecological issues with both documentation and performative works. IleriI also deals with ‘home’ in terms of the queer settlement, appointed/elected family, organization, women’s status and domestic demographics. Last year, some of Ileri ‘s friends were arrested for being LGBTQ+ and making queer art. Now, they work together as a collective and are protesting.
I dream of queer liberation in Turkey for all industries and social contexts. I want for all who are ashamed of their way of existence or need to fight to gain recognition, to be brave and not afraid to be different. - Beste Ileri
Ceren is a videographer born in Istanbul as the second child of a working class family. Ceren studied cinema and since the pandemic, captured moments on an analog video camera, which turned into a documentary of the city and queer life. Ceren says that it is very difficult to be a queer individual in Turkey, where censorship and hate speech are rampant.
My dream is to have queer representation in Turkish mainstream media. My biggest dream is to see an ever-expanding queer archive of our own cinematic history. I want to contribute to the social resistance through my personal struggle for existence. - Beste Ileri
Mina Lal Kocasoy is a visual artist and an organizing member of Gayya Kolektif, an underground platform for art and music where they lift up marginalized creatives and form spaces for them to thrive. Kocasoy says they also work at a high-end art gallery serving some of the richest people in Turkey, so it is “difficult to find a balance in such dissonance.”
Finding a queer community in the punk scene and the underground art world has helped Kocasoy deal with the depression they experienced growing up.
I want to be genuine in all my relationships, my endeavors, my art. I want to be myself, not only in underground spaces but everywhere. I want to be an openly queer artist full time, not just when it’s safe to be. - Mina Lal Kocasoy
Edafe Okporo Credit: Christopher Tomas via Xtra
Xtra interviewed Edafe Okporo, activist and founder of Refuge America, who shares his inspiring story in a new memoir “Asylum” out this month. In the memoir, Okporo reveals details of his life in Nigeria, documenting his experiences growing up in the country, his efforts as an activist around access to healthcare and, as a result, the startling violence he faced at age 26, which prompted him to move to the US.
The book explores the beginning of Okporo’s life in America, and his navigation of the immigration system: he was kept in a detention centre for six months upon arrival, and was released without any support to help him get his life started. He also writes about how he found friends, and his decision to found Refuge America to help displaced LGBTQ2S+ people rebuild their lives.
Okporo talks about his views on masculinity and how he wanted to be a “real Warri boy” growing up.
Now that I am grown, I have thought about masculinity and I realize that certain personalities are not what makes a man. There are many ways to be a man, and you can decide that for yourself. - Edafe Okporo
When Okporo initially moved to Abuja, he found a queer community there. However, it was short-lived as the 2014 Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill (SSMPA) was signed into law, and that spurred attacks on the queer community there, and disrupted his life. When Okporo had to flee to the US, he was shocked that he was not always welcome as a Black gay man. Now, home for Okporo is “no longer tied to a place,” but rather the life he builds for himself with his loved ones. Ultimately, he hopes to inspire other gay Nigerians with his memoir.
When I was writing Asylum, I thought of other gay Nigerians and imagined that I could be an example for them. My story of survival, that is. For them to have a glimpse of hope despite the hopelessness that surrounds them. For them to find some comfort in seeing parts of their lives and experiences reflected in this book. - Edafe Okporo
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is a student at the University of Ottawa. She has experience working with survivors of sexual violence in her community, as well as conducting research on gender-based violence. A lot of her time is spent learning about and critically engaging with intersectional feminism, transformative justice and disability justice.
Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She refuses to let anyone thwart her imagination when it comes to envisioning a radically different future full of care webs, nurturance and collective liberation.
Thank you, Samiha.