The social environment for LGBT people living in Russia is anything but pleasant. In the last two years, largely due to government propogated discrimination, the rights and privileges of gay and transgender citizens of Russia are nearly nonexistent. New laws created by the government have made gay relatioships somewhere between legal and illegal, and wholly open to discrimination. The LGBT community live in fear of losing their jobs, being arrested, killed, and even losing their children. Most individuals and couples see leaving the country as their only option to lead a normal life.
To capture the light midst such dark times, photographer Anastasia Ivanova has taken images of gay couples currently living under Putin's oppressive presidency. The images, paired with personal narratives of the couples, showcase the loving couples who live in fear of their own government and society. Each photo is a testament to love, but tinged with a regrettable sadness for the state of LGBT rights in Russia. View them below, paired with quotes from each couple below.
Olgerta & Lisa
"A lot of the things that were achieved in Russia over the last century have been wiped out in the last two...Our future is simple. We must leave."
Irina & Antonina
"In the future, all we want is to keep our little family together. Maybe if we’re lucky one day we’ll have a child."
Victoria & Dasha
"Right now, we just want simple human happiness."
Olga & Ulia
"There are no gay rights in Russia. Fighting for them feels like being involved in a criminal cabaret show and we don’t want any part of it."
Kate & Nina
"The way we live makes us outlaws."
Tasha and Ksenia
"There are no gay rights here in Russia. Right now, we are looking for an ‘escape route’."
Katerina & Zhanna
"Our plan is to leave the country and move to Europe. That way, we can live our lives to the fullest and stop hiding away."
A newly proposed Quebec bill would require transgender people to have surgery in order to change the sex on their birth certificates. Bill 2 was tabled by Minister of Justice Simon Jolin-Barrette on October 21, and it also seeks to separate "gender" and "sex" into two distinct options.
Many Quebecers — including opposition parties and activists — have taken to social media to speak out against the bill and defend the rights of the LGBTQ community.
What does this bill entail?
Aujourd’hui, nous posons les premiers jalons d’une importante réforme du droit de la famille avec le dépôt du proje… https://t.co/llKsJQJnz9
"An application for a change of the designation of sex that appears in a person's act of birth must be accompanied by [...] a certificate from the attending physician confirming that the medical treatments and surgical operations undergone by the applicant make it possible to conclude that there has been a structural alteration of the sexual organs," reads section 247 of the new bill.
In addition to proof of surgery, Quebecers who want to apply for a sex change on their birth certificate would then need to get a note from a second physician, the bill says, to confirm that the treatment was successful.
They would be given the option to add "gender identity" to their birth certificate, which doesn't require the same conditions as changing "sex," the bill says.
The Superior Court of Québec gave the province until December 31, 2021, to revise the Civil Code after finding that it discriminates against trans people — requirements this bill would need to fulfill.
Why are people speaking out against Bill 2?
Le projet de loi 2 nous ramène 15 ans en arrière.
Comptez sur moi et @QuebecSolidaire pour que le gouvernement ne… https://t.co/khlJ54fWSR
"While this condition was abolished in 2015, the Minister of Justice is going backwards by imposing it again in his current Bill 2," reads a news release from the Parti libéral du Québec.
"This is a regressive change that puts all trans people who have not had genital surgery at risk, and will force people who do not want it to have it," added Jennifer Maccarone, MP for Westmount-St. Louis and Official Opposition Critic for the LGBTQ2 community in a statement.
Manon Massé, Québec Solidaire spokesperson, posted a video to Twitter to condemn the bill.
"People from the 2SLGBTQi+ communities, trans people, intersex people are angry with the Caquiste government. Simon Jolin-Barrette is trying to pull a fast one in his new bill that will set back the rights of these people by 15 years," she said.
"I want to tell you that many of us will stand with you, and I, and Québec Solidaire in the National Assembly, will be there to ensure that your rights will not be rolled back."
What do the transgender advocates say?
The Centre for Gender Advocacy in Montreal posted on Instagram that it is "denouncing, in the most strongest terms possible and alongside the trans and intersex communities, Bill #2."
Tansfeminine activist Florence Paré, who also goes by Florence Ashley, posted the following sentiment on Facebook:
"What the fuck? The Québec government is proposing having both 'sex' and 'gender' on birth certificates and only allow people to change their 'sex' if they had genital surgeries. This is so fucking transphobic and backwards. All allies need to speak out about this LOUDLY and IMMEDIATELY. If you have any institutional weight, PUSH BACK."
Beneath the non-profit organization's post are more than 400 comments. Some ask questions about the difference between plasma and blood (plasma is the liquid portion of blood), while others ask if vaccinated folks can give blood (yes, they can).
Then there are comments like this: "I would but I'm gay and you won't let me," "Then stop your prejudice of gay people" and "I'll think about it when they stop being homophobic entirely."
According to Héma-Québec, "a man whose last sexual contact with a man was 3 or more months ago can give plasma."
While this does not rule out gay donors, the three-month restriction does not apply to lesbians, men who have sex with women or women who have sex with men.
"I would totally donate blood, but I am a healthy gay man and you don't want me because of who I sleep with (even though I have been with the same partner for 21 years). Good luck with your antiquated rules, in an age where you can screen blood for HIV and other pathogens very very quickly. So there you go, do without, it's absolutely no loss on me. So now, stop advertising on my feed," wrote a Facebook user. He asked to be identified as "a member of Montreal's gay community" to protect his privacy.
"It's honestly ridiculous that they even still have this restriction. If women can sleep with men and donate no problem, then there is absolutely no reason why men who sleep with men (or, in your case, one man) should be denied. All of the donations are tested anyway," Gatineau resident Jami Tatlock replied.
On its website, Héma-Québec responds to the question, "Why must a homosexual couple in a stable relationship wait 3 months without having sex?" in order to donate blood.
"Sex can contribute to the propagation of viruses that may be transmitted to other individuals through blood transfusions. Héma-Québec uses a range of very rigorous screening tests. Despite the high performance of these tests, the risk of an infected blood donation going undetected, however slight, is not zero because of the sensitivity limitations of the tests," it says.
"For this reason, despite the use of screening tests, we exclude donors at high risk of infections that might be transmitted through blood."
Héma-Québec describes the three-month window as a period of risk or a "silent period" when people could be asymptomatic and test negative, despite being infected with HIV or Hepatitis. The three-month restriction also applies to people who have gotten piercings or tattoos.
Laurent Paul Ménard, Héma-Québec's media relations director, told MTL Blog the organization is working to make blood donation more inclusive as "scientific evidence becomes available and blood product safety is shown."
Ménard pointed out that, since 2013, Héma-Québec has submitted multiple requests asking Health Canada — which must approve all changes to donor eligibility criteria — to reduce the qualification criteria for men who have sex with men.
Between 1992 and 2013, a man who had sex with another man — even once — could never donate blood. In 2013, a man had to wait five years after having sex with another man to donate. In 2016, the deferral period was reduced to one year. And, in 2019, one year was reduced to three months.
A new behaviour-based approach
Ménard said Héma-Québec is planning to submit to Health Canada again to ask for a new approach that takes behaviour into account, based on a model recently adopted in the U.K.
Héma-Québec, he said, will ask Health Canada to allow some sexually active men who have one same-sex partner to donate without any restrictions.
In the meantime, some potential donors are left torn between doing good and standing up for what they believe is right.
"I am torn now between donating myself," Tatlock told MTL Blog. "I want to help people, but I also kind of want to hold off until they change their homophobic policies as a kind of protest."
According to Ménard, Héma-Québec will submit the request to Health Canada by the end of this year.
MTL Blog got the chance to chat with the photographer to find out more about her craft and how she developed as an artist.
Answers have been edited for clarity and conciseness.
What made you get into photography? How did you develop your style?
In my first — and only — year of university, I started studying film. I got a bit frustrated by the theory aspect of it and took all the money I put aside for my degree to buy a camera in order to teach myself and travel.
I often questioned whether I could travel solo as a woman. It fed into my already existing reflections as an immigrant in Montreal.
I have also always had a deep fascination for the erotic and nudity. Maybe because it was so taboo in my culture. All that mixed up together is kind of what led me to what I like shooting now.
I feel like my style is constantly evolving and changing every day. But what remains stable is my curiosity for my subject's vulnerability and being able to explore intimacy in all its forms, either through fashion or documentary photos.
Your portraits really highlight body positivity. Was that your intention? Why is body positivity so important to you?
Growing up as an immigrant and changing countries twice, I quickly learned about what it's like to be "different," to not fit a mould and often not feel like you belong.
This really fed my exploration of what diversity means to me and how important it is to engage in conversations about it — And by diversity, I'm talking about diversity in cultures, sexualities, bodies. That's one reason why this is important to me.
For me, a naked body is a landscape that tells a story. It's such a complex and powerful thing to witness and that's why it's important to portray a multitude of it.
When I shoot close-ups of bodies I truly see all the corners of someone's body as an intricate and shape-shifting landscape with plenty of mounts, valleys and textures that deserves to be celebrated.
What do you love most about what you do?
There are so many things I love about what I do.
I love seeing people open up to me. Being faced with my own insecurities and doubts as I explore people's doubts with them.
I love exploring subjects such as intimacy, diversity, eroticism and vulnerability through my photography.
I love being able to portrait the beauty of the human body through my lens and let my vision evolve. Celebrating the beauty of our ever-changing bodies.
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