During three months, from March to July 2020, 12 online meetings for Russian speaking Lesbians* dedicated to mental health issues were held with the support of FundAction and EL*C. Over 100 participants attended.
Mental health issues (depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, etc.) are always a particularly sensitive topic. Especially if we are talking about minorities, in this case about Lesbians*. We do not have enough safe spaces to get the help, we have less resources and experience more stress and pressure due to our lesbianism.
In most Russian-speaking countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia there are no or very little projects and places only for Lesbians*. Receiving support in mental health issues being Lesbian is almost imposible. During self-isolation time and COVID-19 crisis the situation of Russian speaking Lesbians* was getting even worse. All community centers were closed, no LGBTQ off-line events were held, in some countries (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) the regime of self-isolation was controlled by the police. Lesbians were cut off from their communities and they didn’t have opportunities to get help and support.
Who we are
We are Russian Lesbian activists who have decided to offer the L*community to join dedicated meetings about mental health issues with presence by a psychologist. The idea of the project came as a continuation and part of the LLL project (Locked-down Lesbians Listening) by EL*C. Unfortunately, the situation with access to resources for Lesbian projects is very scarce, yet we were successful this time in getting financial support via EL*C and FundAction. It is very important that now we have organisations that we can rely on, especially with EL*C being specifically dedicated to lesbians.
From the very beginning of the project it was very clear that this kind of support is much needed. Many organisations and lesbian bloggers announced the meetings, and immediately, more than 50 lesbians registered to participate.
During the first meeting people expressed their emotions about the needs of such meetings — only for Lesbians* and about mental health issues.
Throughout the sessions, we discussed our problems with medicines, how we cope with anxiety and sleep disturbances, and panic attacks, how important support of the community is, personal and relationship crises, how to deal with the pressure of lesbophobia in society and many other topics.
The majority of participants were from Russia and Ukraine. Especially in these countries it is very hard to find any space for Lesbians even despite good representation of LGBTQ groups.
We found out that we have so many things in common such as increased anxiety due to a homophobic environment and society during COVID-19 time when we feel lonely and locked up, sleep disturbance, less energy and capacity to suffer impact of homofobic news etc.
Together with psychological support, we’ve discovered inside and outside resources and received support and help.
Conclusion and the future
We managed to create a comfortable and safe space which allowed us to share with each other our stories of surviving self-isolation and COVID-19 crisis with all our mental health issues.
At the end of the project our meetings became a small lesbian community, which we belong to and within which we can be ourselves without any fear. This is a big achievement that we didn’t expect.
We are now even more convinced that such spaces are very important and needed so we are going to continue the meetings and creation of L*community. Some of the testimonies below from participants show us the great need to continue this work.
Testimonies from the participants:
“It helped me because I could talk without fear about lesbian experience and just about life and at the same time not think about how a person would react to me due to my orientation…The meetings also helped me to see living people and remove the vacuum of my own existence. Hear someone else’s experience, support someone with listening…Thank you for that work done and the time spent. I see all these meetings as improving my own world map of lesbian experience. This is valuable to me.”
“The meetings gave me great support during a difficult life period.”
“The meetings provided powerful emotional support, I want to talk about each participant and moderator with warmth)) The meetings helped me not to go crazy with anxiety during severe restrictions, otherwise, in 4 walls, when reading the same tg-chats, it seemed like “all around there is homophobia.”
During the group meetings, I learned about the lives of other lesbians (with an asterisk, of course) and how they cope with mental disorders and other difficulties.
The main benefit of the group for me is that it happened at the right time. Thanks to EL * C, Vlada and Ekaterina for organizing.”
“Many thanks to Ekaterina. The presence of an understanding psychologist in the group made me very happy. Perhaps this is a stereotype of thinking, but in my head, if there is a psychologist, then they will definitely understand me. Although I admit that this is not a fact, I will think about the pleasant side…I liked the atmosphere. All people have a different background and it’s such good luck to listen to other people, if possible, even learn…The presence of reality made me happy. Once again, thank you so much for this opportunity.”
“You are doing a cool and useful thing, please keep going !! This is especially important for LGBT people from the regions.”