Almost from the start of the war, there were reports that many transgender people were unable to leave Ukraine. Such cases were covered by Vice , The Guardian , Euronews and other media. With the introduction of martial law in Ukraine, a ban on the departure of all men aged 18–60 began to operate. This made it extremely problematic for transgender and non-binary people to leave the country with minimal discrepancy between external gender expression and documents. Ukrainian border guards refuse to allow trans women who have not had time to change their passports with a "male" one. Transmen with a female gender in the passport at the border are offered to “go to war”. Even with the corrected documents, transfeminist people who take hormone therapy, but, for example, have not undergone genital surgery (this is not mandatory for all trans people), are humiliated at the border, finding out “what they are”, and also not allowed to leave .
The CBS TV channel, which released a story about transgender Ukrainians in wartime, was laughed at on Twitter. It is believed that "war does not discriminate" and gender and sexual issues during such catastrophes are "first world problems" unworthy of serious attention. But, as many NGO studies and reports show, during armed conflicts and other large-scale shocks like the COVID pandemic , queer populations are much more at risk and less likely to get the help they need than their gender- and sexually-normative fellow citizens.
During times of war, queer people are much more at risk and less likely to get help.
The category of intersectionality is useful for analyzing the situation of queer people fleeing war or migrating in times of peace. She draws attention to how different human identities, intersecting, cause multiple discriminations or privileges (gender, race, class/income, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and so on). In a society with a high level of queerphobia and heteronormativity of social institutions, other things being equal, it will be more difficult for a lesbian to get the necessary help. It will be even more difficult for her if she is a carrier of non-titular ethnicity. And a little easier if she is high enough in the class hierarchy.
Around 281 million people in the world today are migrants, including 46 million forcibly displaced from their countries of origin and refugees. Even according to the most conservative estimate, which assumes no more than 5% of queers on average in any group (although this figure is actually much higher), about 14 million migrants and refugees belong to LGBTQI+ groups.
Over the past 10-15 years, there have been important changes in the study of migration and diasporas, shifting the focus from a purely quantitative study of the movement of people to the so-called "migrant narratives" that demonstrate the diversity of mobility. Until recently, migration was described mainly as labor, the search for better employment and living standards was considered one of the key reasons for the movement of people. It was also believed that migration movements are quite homogeneous: from the village to the city, from a less comfortable place to a more comfortable one. But qualitative studies of mobility and the weaving of queer theory into them have shown that migration often takes the most unexpected directions and that for a huge number of people, sexuality and gender identity play a decisive role in the intention to move.
For a huge number of people, sexuality and gender identity play a decisive role in the intention to move.
There is a strong connection between queerness and migration that has only recently begun to be noticed . Researchers write about a "culture of migration" in non-heteronormative communities, often driven by the discrimination and exclusion that queer people experience in many regions. In 2013, queer theorist Karma Chavez released a book , Queer migration politics, which describes how closely queer and migrant issues intersect and how civic and political coalitions are built at this intersection. The editors of Queer Diasporas point to the relationship between "sexual mobility" and increased migration flows in recent decades. Queer migrants in host countries create specific fluid communities, the study of which has helped to reinvent the concept of diasporas, previously associated mainly with ethnicity. The very emergence of the concept of “queer” as a specific “anti-identity identity” was largely due to migration from non-Western cultures to the West: African, Asian and Latin American queers brought with them sexual identities and practices that did not fit into the Western concept of LGBTQI +, thus expanding it.
Up until the 1980s, non-normative sexuality or gender identity served as a pretext for deportation or denial of access to many countries—officially or on a day-to-day basis. Thus, in the United States, the McCarren-Walter Act, adopted in 1952, prohibited the entry of persons with "sexual deviations", and the Garth-Zeller Act in 1965 explicitly prohibited the entry of queer migrants. Even after the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in 1973, the practice of refusal continued in one form or another for at least 17 years. You didn't even have to be queer to get an entry ban or asylum: for example, until the mid-20th century, Chinese women were banned from entering the United States because they were stereotypically associated with illicit commercial sex, low morals, and disease. In 2020, a whole book Queer and Trans Migrations was published - a collection of articles describing and analyzing the practices of different states in the illegalization, imprisonment and deportation of queer migrants and refugees.
But in the 1980s, as a result of the activities of the LGB-, queer-, fem- and trans-activist communities, the situation begins to change. Mobility due to SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression) has become a focus. The AIDS epidemic also played an important role in this: in the United States and some other states, special measures were taken to delay the deportation of illegal migrants with HIV for humanitarian purposes. But at the same time, strict quarantine rules were introduced that closed entry for people with a positive HIV status, which for a long time influenced the restrictive migration policies of different states.
The more clearly the concept of LGBT identities was formed in the West and the “self-consciousness of the community” was born, the more information appeared about how vulnerable the life and health of sexually and gender non-conforming people in different regions were. Together with AIDS activism, this has led to the fact that SOGIV risks have become the basis for migration and asylum. The courts and migration services have begun to consider cases on granting refugee status or residence permits to people who, in their home country, because of their sexual or gender expression, were subjected to harassment, threats, intimidation, psychological or physical violence, torture, imprisonment or social pressure, inclining towards heteronormativity and gender-binarism. Australia was one of the first countries to announce a progressive policy towards queer mobility: in 1985 it recognized same-sex relationships as a reason for migration, and in 1991 introduced the category of "interdependence" to describe non-family migration. This made entry easier for queer migrants in relationships with Australian women. Canada became the first country to accept queer refugees in 1991, followed by Australia and the United States in 1994.
Since then, more than 25 countries have adopted similar policies. At the same time, people with HIV could not immigrate to the United States until 2010; until 2013, the Law on Protection of Marriage (DOMA) introduced in 1996 actually excluded the possibility for same-sex and transgender partners in relations with US citizens to enter the country on the basis of family reunification - because that DOMA defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. All these processes simplified queer mobility, but reinforced what the researcher Sonia Katyal calls the “export of identities” from the West to other countries: any sexual and gender deviance of migrants was packaged into American- and Euro-centric LGBT categories, and all differences were erased.
Attention to SOGIV migrants has led to a change in the very concept of refugee and migration. However, in legal and media practice, these processes were and remain closely connected with the strengthening of the West-East dichotomy and the demonization of “backward regions”. This is done in order to highlight the progressiveness of the host country and show the unconditional risk that awaits the migrant at home. Fem-psychologist Olivia Espin, in her research on the migration of Hispanic lesbians to the United States, shows how they are stuck between the lesbophobic and misogynistic moods of their own communities and between the racialized and ethnicized practices of their new homeland: the American state and society strictly controls them, taking away the opportunity to freely practice complex ethnic and sexual identities. It wasn't until 2008 that the UN Refugee Agency published an official guide on how to deal with queer refugees and their asylum application.
Problems at the border
Already at the borders with transit or destination countries, queer refugees and migrants face challenges. The design of SOGIV as a criterion for migration or refugee has led to the need for states to distinguish truthful requests from false ones. Today, even in EU countries, queer people are regularly denied asylum or residence permits because they do not believe they are queer or that deportation to their homeland threatens their lives.
Migration legislation almost everywhere is arranged in such a way that a migrant or a refugee must himself prove the veracity of the grounds for obtaining asylum. In the case of queer migrants, this is expressed in the most humiliating, as well as stereotypical and senseless procedures. Until at least 2009 in the Czech Republic and 2012 in Slovakia, phallometry was practiced : gay migrants were forced to watch homoerotic porn and tested to see if they would have an erection. In the 1990s in Britain, gay refugees were searched for traces of homosexual relationships by examining the anus.
The proof of sexual or gender identity by personal account still almost everywhere leads to queer migrants being subjected to detailed and humiliating interrogations about their personal lives, despite the prohibition to arrange them, prescribed in the migration acts of some of these countries. In addition, no matter how complete the story about yourself is, there is no guarantee that you will be believed. In Britain, in 1991, an Iranian gay man was sent back to his homeland because he "did not look gay", and in 1989 a refugee from Cyprus was sent back, advised "not to practice homosexuality". Known as discretion requiremen, this recommendation is one of the common concerns of queer refugees. According to this advice, a queer refugee who is being deported back to his homeland should "be careful" and try not to practice sexual nonconformity there. Hundreds of cases are known of refugees being sent back after discovering that they had successfully concealed their identity in their home country. Legally, this demand and argument for deportation was declared untenable in the EU and countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand in the early 2000s (and in 2010 in Britain), but, as a 2020 article in The Guardian shows, refusals of confidence - is still a daily routine.
Queer migrants subjected to detailed, humiliating interrogations about their personal lives despite being banned
In the early 2010s, and especially after 2015, when the migration crisis unfolded in Europe, reports began to surface that queer refugees were forced to produce videos of their sex with partners. In 2013, the BBC aired a story about lesbian refugees from Uganda and Nigeria, where they talk about how their asylum applications were rejected several times, and they were transparently told that videotapes of their sex were sufficient evidence. According to a HuffPost refugee lawyer, such cases are not uncommon. On the borders of "progressive" states, queer refugees are required to be open about themselves, consistent with Western notions of identity. However, many queer refugees in their homelands have experienced tremendous stress and denial about their SOGIV, many of them have never practiced same-sex intimacy, many of them are not ready or have the language at all to talk about themselves as queer, for many people sexuality is not part of the queer identity, many continue to live with an internalized queerphobia. And at the same time, in many countries, border and migration officials critically lack special training to work with queer people. For example, asylum applications are stereotyped. So they can refuse entry if the gay "does not look feminine" and the lesbian "masculine".
Border and migration officials critically lack special training to work with queer people
Transgender and intersex people fleeing the war in Ukraine face multiple identity checks, humiliating inspections and gropings, and out-of-control interrogations at the border. Human rights organizations openly advise them to hide or lose their passports. It is also recommended to tell the Ukrainian border guards that you are “a student not from here” or temporarily staying, then you will be sent in line with foreign citizens and you will have to talk about crossing the border with the border guards of a neighboring state who are not interested in the ban on the exit of men. However, this does not save migrating trans people from humiliating and stressful searches, interrogations and checks.
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians after the outbreak of the war forcibly or voluntarily ended up on the territory of Russia. Humanitarian mission and evacuation by Russia often turns out to be deportation in reality. It is impossible for queer people to obtain political asylum in the Russian Federation. The fact is that the institution of political refugee in Russia is virtually absent , despite the mention in the Constitution. The country is interested in disenfranchised migrants providing an almost slave labor force, but is not ready to help people whose lives are in danger. Current Time wrote about how migrants from the Middle East and queer migrants from Central Asia and Central Africa, including HIV-positive ones, are trying to obtain political asylum in Russia. They are refused in an insulting manner and deported to their homeland, where they are in fact threatened with death at the hands of relatives, crime or the police.
Abroad does not mean safe
Crossing the border for a queer migrant does not mean being safe. A huge number of migrating or forcibly displaced queers enter the host country with significant mental problems : anxiety, depression, PTSD, complex traumatic syndromes. In transgender people, especially non-whites , the percentage of suicidal ideation and attempted suicide is sometimes several tens of times higher than the average for the population. Queers are extremely often subject to what is called minority stress , minority stress (however problematic the concept of "minorities" may be). This is especially true in Ukraine, where—as in many post-Soviet countries—there is still a stigmatization of mental illness and a lack of awareness of care options. Any mental problems run the risk of being exacerbated by migration, especially by refugee from war: a new country is superimposed, often an unknown language, lack of certainty, threats in a new place. Both migrants and refugee care providers note that mental problems are often internalized The Insider> in a form of shame, making it impossible for queers to seek help in a new country. Many are not ready to talk about their mental state, and someone cannot speak literally, like the Chechen Khavadzh from the documentary “Quiet Voice” , who fled to Brussels under the threat of family reprisals for his homosexuality and lost his voice due to the trauma.
Queer refugees enter their host country with mental problems: anxiety, depression, PTSD, complex traumatic syndromes
Seeking medical help for refugees, especially queer ones, is one of the burning issues. Some transgender people flee Ukraine in the course of hormone therapy. The process of transmigration in this country is difficult and sometimes humiliating, which is why in Ukraine these drugs are often bought without a prescription. Once in Europe, such people find themselves without a diagnosis from an endocrinologist and a prescription for the necessary drugs, and, accordingly, are forced to interrupt therapy. In early 2019, the WHO published the "Global Action Plan to Advance the Health of Refugees and Migrants" which states that "citizenship should never be the basis for determining access to health services." In reality, however, refugees and migrants, especially those with legal uncertainty or undocumented status, are " substantially limited or denied access to free health care services". Immigrants, often short of money and fearful of deportation, simply do not seek medical attention — and, of course, do not come to the police if they are being abused.
Consideration of an application for asylum on the basis of SOGIV in different countries can take several months or even years. While in Spain queer refugees are not required to live pending a decision in special detention centers, in most other countries the situation is reversed. Refugee detention centers have been a source of queer-phobic violence since their inception. As a rule, queer refugees in such camps are subjected to sexual, physical and psychological violence from their own compatriots. Ukrainians are no exception: activist and human rights activist Dragana Todorovic from ELC (Euro-Centro-Asian Lesbian Community) says that even in an LGBTQ-friendly country, if lesbian refugees from Ukraine integrate into Ukrainian communities, they are at risk of discrimination and violence. There is a known case in the Netherlands, where a child of a Ukrainian queer family is bullied by Ukrainian children.
Queer refugees in the WAC are sexually, physically and psychologically abused by their own compatriots
LGBTQ migrants are almost 100 times more likely to experience sexual and physical abuse in temporary detention centers (TCCs), both by camp workers and other refugees. Only recently in some European countries, and after 2011 in the USA , special detention centers for queer refugees began to open. In general detention centers, queer violence is often not recorded due to the fault of workers, or queer people themselves are afraid that complaints will negatively affect their case. In cases where a complaint does come in, queers are " protected " from the threat of solitary confinement.
And, of course, the question does not even arise why to imprison migrants and refugees in the Central Military District at all. Such measures are part of the non-entrée policy (opt-out policy) of wealthy nation states to strengthen their borders, which, as scholar James Hathaway wrote , began to take shape in the 1990s. The same Australia, trying to create an image of a host and multicultural country, at the same time entered into an agreement with the island state of Nauru, so that in exchange for sponsorship of the social sphere, they would be allowed to host the WAC for refugees heading to Australia. It is known about the EU treaty with Turkey, which in exchange for money and visa concessions undertakes not to let Syrian refugees into the Greek islands.
Many queer refugees, fleeing violence in their host country, leave the FAC and remain in an extremely difficult situation - without money, documents and social ties. As a last resort, many of them choose to engage in sex work. This is a common story for queer and especially transgender people who experience social exclusion and are unable to get jobs due to transphobia reasons. Many manage to maintain agency in sex work, but for some it leads to greater vulnerability and more risky sexual behavior. Among gay and transgender refugees, there is a much higher percentage of those who practice unprotected sex and chemsex, have had an STI or are infected with HIV. At the same time, such people are often socially isolated and do not receive the support of LGBTQ communities. Being undocumented or in an intermediate legal position, they rarely seek medical help, testing, or AR therapy. Researcher Catherine Vogel says that Venezuelan transformistas are emigrating as sex workers in order to earn money for the transition. This is not uncommon for migrants from other regions.
Many queer refugees leave the WRC and find themselves in an extremely difficult situation: without money, documents and social ties
Women and queer women fleeing war in the border countries and the WAC are at particular risk of trafficking and sexual slavery. The BBC wrote about how traffickers prey on refugees (often with children). Activist Anna-Maria Tesfaye of Queer Svit , a project helping LGBTQ people in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, says trans women from Ukraine are now a particular target for trafficking.
Even when they go abroad, Ukrainian queer people often end up in queer-phobic states — for example, in Poland, more than a hundred small towns have declared themselves “LGBT free zones,” and President Duda calls LGBT rights “destructive.” Hungary and Romania are not safe for queers either. So, in Hungary, trans-transition is prohibited, the family is designated as a heterosexual union. You can get to Germany, where it is easy to get a residence permit and temporary social support under the "24th paragraph" regardless of SOGIV, but not everyone has money even for tickets.
Even after going abroad, Ukrainian queers often end up in queer-phobic states
There is another problem that Tesfaye and Aisha Allahverdiyeva, a volunteer with Quarteera , an organization that helps queer refugees, talk about. Many couples flee from Ukraine, including same-sex couples, in which one of the partners is not with Ukrainian citizenship, but, for example, with Russian or Belarusian. Anna-Maria Tesfaye says that they are often deployed, removed from trains. The April update of a special German decree on the influx of war refugees states that members of Ukrainian families with third-country citizenship can also count on support and a residence permit, but family ties must be proven by documents, mainly of an economic nature (history of joint spending, travel, cohabitation). As Aisha Allahverdieva says, personal stories, correspondence, photographs or recommendations from friends will not help here. Even if both partners are citizens of Ukraine, in Germany and other countries they can be randomly distributed to different cities, since same-sex marriages are not recognized in Ukraine, which means that such partners do not have official documents on communication. According to Tesfaye, non-white refugees face particular problems: even at the Ukrainian border, they are required to have more documents, sent to the back of the queue, and in Ukraine they often become victims of openly racist treatment. It tells about a lesbian from India, a gay from Brazil and a non-binary person from South Africa, who, before Queer Sweet in Ukraine, were not helped at all by anyone and they spent the night on the street. Kimali Powell of Rainbow Railroad talks about the same when describing the plight of Afghan queer refugees from Ukraine.
Impossible Subjects in a Heteronormative Society
A study based on Moldova and post-Crimea Ukraine found a link between the war and the rise in violence against LGBTQ people. There have been reports of Ukrainian territorial defense being aggressive towards gender non-conforming Ukrainians. The militarization of society and the actualization of masculine ideals lead to even greater marginalization of sexually and gender-abnormal people. But even after fleeing war, queers are rarely safe. Many researchers have described the very institution of citizenship and national boundaries as heteronormative. Migration scholar Eitne Luibheid calls queer migrants "impossible subjects" because their stories are "unrepresentable" within heteronormative civic institutions. And to heteronormativity is added the “homonormativity” and “homonationalism” described by the professor and queer theorist Jasbir Poire, when, in order to prove that you belong to an LGBT group, you must fit into the stereotypical Western-centric idea of LGBT.
The militarization of society leads to even greater marginalization of sexually and gender-abnormal people
Queer migrants often find themselves in intermediate spaces of uncertainty. This fact is well illustrated by a study of queer migration to South Africa and Cape Town from other African regions. There, queer people are both "too African" because of their origin, and "under-African" because of their sexual orientation. Similar processes are happening with Iranian queer refugees in Turkey, Irish queer refugees in Britain, Venezuelan queer refugees in Brazil, and probably Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian queer refugees in Europe.
Countries such as Israel and Australia, states such as California or cities such as Cape Town practice what is known as "pinkwashing" < a public relations strategy of companies, governments, organizations, political and social activists, which consists in emphatically positive attitude towards LGBT people in order to divert attention from other, negative aspects of their activities - approx. The Insider >. They claim to be queer-friendly, but in reality they are only open to wealthy wealthy white gays, leaving everyone else out. Migration and refugees today are arranged at the request of the neo -liberal regime, in which autonomous entities must take care of themselves and contribute to the economy. A study of queer migration from the Middle East to Germany with a transit point in Turkey also describes this limbo into which refugees fall. One of the heroes, who lived in Istanbul for three years, calls these lengthy bureaucratic processes "slow death."
But the narrative about queer migrants is not only victimized. They maintain agency and independence, having felt the burden of refugee, they begin to help other migrants, like, for example , a lesbian couple from Ukraine who fled to Britain, or a refugee in Istanbul, who even continued to engage in migrant activism in the Netherlands. The work of these people and the stories of war refugees, viewed through a queer optics, help to see how heteronormative nation-states are today and how non-inclusive the migration process is. For queer people, the concept of home is performative rather than sedentary, that is, it is more of a process than a specific place, and when they leave, they often find a home for the first time rather than lose it. Today, this search process is hampered by the heteronormative institution of citizenship. In 2011, queer activists launched the Let Alvaro Stay campaign to protect Nicaraguan artist and activist Alvaro Orozzo from deportation. He has lived illegally in Canada since 2007, when he was denied asylum because he "didn't look gay". Under public pressure, the deportation was cancelled . This precedent should become a widespread practice - then there will be no "migration crises", but only mobility.