Queer Ukrainians in Brooklyn are set to celebrate Pride a little differently this year, as the war in their home nation stretches on to almost four months.
With that in mind, CEECA LGBTQ+ and WE Together—Brooklyn collectives that bring together queer people from post-Soviet nations—have a week-long schedule of events planned that aims to educate and inspire, as well as provide a good party.
“Many people don’t see the [war in Ukraine] as urgent anymore, so we’re going to do our best to attract as many people as possible. Cultural awareness is a big goal for us,” CEECA LGBTQ+ Organizer Maxim Ibadov said.
The collective is kicking off its Pride festival June 19 with a two-act party at Bushwick queer club 3 Dollar Bill.
The first part of the night will include a screening of a documentary about how Ukrainian folk music “became a symbol of national pride and resistance,” followed by performances and a dance party, Ibadov said.
Performers include Scarlett La Queen—a groundbreaking transgender pop star from the post-Soviet region—and the Ukrainian pop singer Alyosha, a 2010 Eurovision contestant, who was forced to leave Ukraine because of the war.
“I was forced to leave the country because my husband and I have three small children,” she told BK Reader. She left her home of Kyiv at 5am, and they traveled for 23 hours to get to western Ukraine, then Warsaw in Poland, and finally America.
“What is happening in Ukraine is not politics, it is absolute violations of human freedoms, violence, genocide, terrorism and the lack of human and spiritual values in principle,” she said.
“Like a lot of Ukrainian artists who had to flee when the war started, they’re doing a lot of fundraising to support their country, even though they can’t be there in person,” Ibadov said.
The second part of the evening is a celebration of Juneteenth run by the PoC Drag Arts Collective and hosted by Brooklyn artist C’était BonTemps.
Event Co-Producer and performer Vena Cava said the idea was to make the evening as diverse and inclusive as possible.
“We want to represent as many different facets of drag as we can,” they said. Performers include rapper Dai Burger, artist Keeana Kee, dancing diva Tina Twirler, Colombian drag artist Chico Raro and Iodine, a horror-inspired drag king.
Organizers will give 100% of ticket sales and donations for the first part of the evening to Ukrainian Trans Rights group COHORT NGO. All sales and donations from the Juneteenth portion of the evening will go to grassroots organization GLITS.
New York City is home to more than 150,000 Ukrainians, the largest such community in the country, with the Ukrainian enclave of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn estimated to be one of the biggest Ukrainian populations outside of Eastern Europe.
WE Together and CEECA LGBTQIA+ are Brooklyn organizations initially founded with the mission to create a safe space for queer people from the Russian-speaking community in New York, many of whom are immigrants from former Soviet Union countries who live in South Brooklyn.
Recently, the collectives announced they would no longer be using the term “Russian-speaking” and would instead use the more inclusive acronym “CEECA” to describe immigrants from Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“We had to acknowledge the term ‘Russian-speaking’ is colonialist, even racist,” Ibadov said. “We believe CEECA is a very inclusive term.”
Despite living in relatively-progressive New York, there is still discrimination against queer people within Brooklyn’s CEECA communities.
Historically speaking, most of the post-Soviet immigrants, including queer immigrants, settled in Brooklyn, most prominently in the south Brooklyn neighborhoods of Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.
However, Ibadov said most of the queer residents in those areas still experience microaggressions and discrimination due to a lack of LGBTQ spaces and visibility, HIV stigma and conservative political attitudes.
CEECA LGBTQIA+ will back up the event by holding the New York City premiere of the documentary Silent Voice on June 21.
The film tells the true story of Chechen MMA fighter Khavaj, who is forced to flee his motherland after his brother finds out he’s gay, and threatens to kills him. Chechnya is a region in south east Europe occupied by Russia, which is notorious for its state-sponsored violence against the queer community.
“MMA fighters are national heroes in Chechnya,” Ibadov explained. “It’s a poignant portrait of a man dealing with this conflict, and the very first time Chechen queer voices are being authentically represented.”
Finally, the CEECA community will get together on June 26 by participating in the NYC Pride Parade 2022 with a float, followed by a party.
“During the war in Ukraine it will be a real statement to have pro-Ukrainian folks at the biggest Pride march in the world,” Ibadov said.
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