As the Nafas LGBTI Azerbaijan Alliance, we are publishing the second podcast of the week starting with our slogan “Justice and Protection for All”. We have discussed the participation of trans people in the labour market and their experiences in the workplace with our volunteer Alvi and trans rights activist Vüsalə Hacıyeva.
The podcast also calls for solidarity in the fight against the challenges faced by trans people in the labour market.
Throughout the summer of 2022, Queer Art Festival Baku carried out workshops on filmmaking and urbanism for around 40 participants. The workshops addressed the challenges marginalised communities face in city design and the built environment. As the continuation of the project, in early autumn, QAF organised three community meetings to discuss the queer experiences of city planning, share the knowledge gained during the workshops, and have discussions about inclusive city design.
The second topic of the meetings was “How patriarchy shapes cities?”. During this community meeting that was carried out on 25 September, participants reflected on questions to understand how “man-made” cities are leaving the needs of women* and LGBTI+s behind.
Baku is not a compact city and the urban infrastructure is designed mostly in favor of privileged men who can afford cars and driving. Schools, hospitals, malls, libraries, and many other public institutions and gathering spaces are either in very central areas or spread around other newly emerging centres.
Rising housing prices due to the rapid centralisation over the past few decades and the increasing number of people moving to Baku for job and study opportunities each year made accommodations around central areas almost inaccessible and more affordable residential areas are separated from commercial and industrial areas. Thus, the urban design leaves many underprivileged women* and LGBTI+s who do not have access to cars or other individual means of transport with little to no choice of traveling long distances to have access to certain services, entertainment, leisure, and education. In the country, many people still have stereotypes about women drivers, and most car drivers are still men.
Focusing on the issue from a certain perspective, one could understand how patriarchy is shaping cities: a city where a cis-heterosexual man could easily go around with a car to get to places, yet it is mostly women*/single mothers – who are also mostly the main caregiver in the family – bear the challenges of unsafe and insecure public transport, threat and fear of being outside after certain hours, inaccessible areas due to man-created toxic environment to give a few examples. LGBTI+s and other marginalised communities are going through similar experiences and they are even in a more vulnerable situation due to the systemic violence and lack of inclusive city design.
According to the participants, the lack of job opportunities, and the challenges of more conservative and oppressive neighbourhoods of their hometowns leave them with no other choice but to move to big cities. The community is also mostly centred in Baku and it is another motivating reason for most LGBTI+s to move to the capital. However, the design of packed and tall buildings that are very close to the sidewalks challenges the community in a way that they feel “seen” or easily observed by others. Small towns usually have contrasting planning where most of the houses are one floor with a big backyard and are pretty far from each other. Participants agreed that they used to feel less exposed to the neighborhood because of the built environment of their hometowns. Many also pointed out that the backyard of their residential buildings in Baku is mostly taken away by cis-hetero men in the evenings to gather and play board games or chat and they do not feel safe going out around these times. Additionally, the noise they make at night also disturbs the neighbourhood, and unfortunately, no one feels safe enough to complain about it most of the time.
Another discussion point was about the inclusivity challenges of Baku for women* and LGBTI+s. The participants were worried about the increasing harassment cases and hate crimes and added that the lack of cameras and lighting in many streets outside the center is one of the reasons for worsening the situation. One stated, “we want to feel safe not only around the centre but also everywhere else in the city!”. Stating that the role of patriarchy in urban development is very significant, the participants highlighted “more queers and women are harassed in subways and buses and this kind of city-building serves cis-hetero men. In the reality of Azerbaijan, those men drive more cars and their comfort is prioritised.”
In conclusion, participants agreed that the abscence of women* and marginalised communities in decision-making processes about the city planning of Baku is one of the major reasons for most urban challenges. Wider sidewalks, gender-neutral public toilets, proper and functioning transport card systems at bus stops, public transport running on time, cameras and lights on the streets for security, and coded doors in the residential buildings were mentioned as a few examples to solve the issues on ground level. Close to the end of the event, participants went through some art pieces from last year’s exhibition “Queer Urban Stories” and commented that it was interesting to analyse the artworks, and as a result of the discussions, they became aware of more struggles related to urban design.
Throughout the summer of 2022, Queer Art Festival Baku carried out workshops on filmmaking and urbanism for around 40 participants. The workshops addressed the challenges marginalised communities face in city design and the built environment. Participants started with exploring the theoretical focus of issues affecting vulnerable/marginalised communities in the local context and understanding the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (particularly the “Leave No One Behind” Agenda) at the local level and how they are reflected globally.
The project also provided the participants with the safe space to analyse the impact of existing inequalities in our cities by looking at inclusive city planning and why it matters. The gained knowledge was later translated into practical skills and throughout 4 weeks of workshops, participants explored different filmmaking skills and tools, starting from script writing and finalising their journey with film editing. The combined theoretical and practical knowledge of participants on filmmaking and urbanism later helped them to produce short films with the support of supervisors where filmmakers addressed the struggles of underprivileged groups.
After the workshops, the films premiered internally for the participants and their guests on August 2, 3, and 17 as well as during the third and last community meeting on October 2. The article will elaborate on the main discussion points of the participants of the internal premieres and the feedback/challenges of the filmmakers throughout the project.
Initially, the audience liked the topical variety of the films and enjoyed the fact that films covered themes such as isolated safe spaces for LGBTI+s, safety and security challenges of women* in dark and narrow streets, the queer public toilet stories, and the self-expression of a trans woman. Many also felt positive about the premiered films that the lack of inclusive design for people with disabilities, poor conditions of bus stops, and unorganised construction of roads are well portrayed. Some of the audience was worried that filmmakers could have encountered technical problems in some film sites because of strict authority controls and restrictions on public places. Usually, filmmakers have to go through very formal and bureaucratic processes to get permission on filming in public sites.
During the internal premieres and the community meetings, the participants mentioned they were not aware or could not think of certain challenges of particular communities, and working with marginalised people for some films and watching the results gave them a great chance to understand how city design is leaving underprivileged groups behind. The majority of the audience agreed that city planning in Baku does not cover the needs of people with disabilities and that the binary city design is challenging the trans community the most. A few examples were mentioned about the struggles of people using baby carriages and wheelchairs due to the lack and misinstallation of ramps on underground passages and overpasses. People with disabilities are not able to use public transport and they are lacking access to many public services. Last, it was highlighted that trans people are frequently asked to present their IDs to access certain public spaces. Considering the trans-exclusive policies of the country the community faces many challenges to change their personal documents and the situation leaves them vulnerable to deadnaming, harassment, and belittling in public spaces.
The audience concluded that the built environment and the city design in Baku need to be challenged to be more inclusive, just, and human-friendly and they commented on some general solutions. Many agreed that public toilets need to be gender-neutral, the roads should be narrowed for cars and expanded for pedestrians, and buses should work based on an accurate schedule. Access to public transport must be accessible at night and top-up booths should be available at every bus station including a card-payment method. Some of the participants also added that, if they are given the chance, they could cover topics on the challenges of LGBTI+s with their families, and struggles of the community in public hospitals, schools, and nightclubs. They could address the issue with the means of filmmaking, infographics, and animations.
In conclusion, participants mentioned that they gained practical skills and relevant knowledge in filmmaking and developed analytical skills for identifying the challenges of underprivileged communities in regards with inclusive city planning.
Throughout the summer of 2022, Queer Art Festival Baku carried out workshops on filmmaking and urbanism for around 40 participants. The workshops addressed the challenges marginalised communities face in city design and the built environment. Participants started with exploring the theoretical focus of issues affecting vulnerable/marginalised communities in the local context and understanding the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (particularly the “Leave No One Behind” Agenda) at the local level and how they are reflected globally. The activities continued with the practical workshops on filmmaking. At the end of the process, the participants produced short films addressing the lack of inclusivity in city design in Azerbaijan and could translate the challenges of diverse underprivileged groups into short films.
As the continuation of the project, in early autumn, QAF organised three community meetings to discuss the queer experiences of city planning, share the knowledge gained during the workshops, and to have discussions about inclusive city design. The first topic of the meeting was “Do You Feel Safe in Baku?” and participants reflected on questions about safety in public transport, toilets, and leisure facilities.
According to the participants, most LGBTI+s experience stress and anxiety in public due to the ongoing systemic and social violence and discrimination in the country. Being in the public eye of cishet toxic men makes most queers uncomfortable. Some participants mentioned that the police are also very discriminative against them during security control in public spaces. Queer people are more likely to go through security check-ups at the entrance of metros (which is a general practice since the pandemic and war) and some mentioned that others could carry a cold weapon, yet it is people who are seemingly “different” to go through the security control. Some brought up the example of a hate speech: once a man filmed footage of himself carrying an axe in the metro and mentioned “I will attack anyone who is seemingly queer”. Thus, the police also do not make LGBTI+s feel safe in public and there are many situations where police officers dismissed reports of gays being chased and did not help the survivors against the harassers.
Later discussion followed with a strong statement that “Nobody without patriarchal and class privileges could feel safe in Azerbaijan, the public infrastructure is not suitable for that”. One very interesting point was made on public transport that it feels l safer in buses where people are not sitting face to face, yet metro trains are more uncomfortable spaces for women* and LGBTI+s as you are seated face to face with the other passengers. Many mentioned that it is very challenging for them to use public transport when they newly moved to Baku for their studies. An example was brought up – “During my freshman year, I took a metro to university and almost burst into tears after leaving the train because I felt like all eyes were on me”. Also, there is a toxic social etiquette in public transport that young people should give space for elders to take the seats. However, some people experiencing menstruation feel really uncomfortable during their period in public transport because of this social pressure. Due to the overpopulation, lack of bus lanes, and poorly organised public transport, citizens experience severe crowds usually during rush hours. Consequently, overcrowded buses and trains worsen the situation for women* and queers, leaving them more vulnerable to harassment, attack, and verbal/physical abuse.
To avoid the challenges of other public transport means, most LGBTI+s and women* prefer taxis for their own safety and security. However, taxi drivers are also very likely to create unpleasant situations for the community. The majority of the participants agreed that there is no fully safe and convenient public transport in Baku for them. An example from the audience was as they pretend to be talking to a lawyer or their parents on the phone to avoid interactions with the drivers which are usually very uncomfortable, discriminative, and belittling. Additionally, it is not only public transport but also other public entertainment facilities are not safe for the community. Few of so-called “queer-friendly” public spaces in Baku are very trans-exclusive. A participant brought up an example of owners either voluming up the music or artificially creating some other inconveniences for the trans guests to make sure they leave the facility as soon as possible. The gay entertainment scene is very underground and the organised exclusive gay parties are commercial. One mentioned that they do not even allow to open the LGBTI+ flags and usually trans folks face challenges to have access to the clubs.
Last, the audience concluded that they do not feel safe in Baku and it is very challenging to find space for collective entertainment. Dark public spaces are the most dangerous for them, and they do not feel safe and secure in the neighbourhoods they reside, public toilets are not queer-friendly. It is an unpleasant experience for most to use public toilets, and all eyes are almost on queer folks when they enter, pass through or just simply exist in public spaces. The situation is very challenging for the community and the audience agreed that most of the problems are very systematic and lack of education, policies, and ignorance of the community by the state create space for most of the issues.
In August 2022, Nafas LGBTI Azerbaijan Alliance organised a Networking Camp that brought 17 LGBTI+/feminist activists from different local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and young people from the queer community. During three days, participants discussed and brainstormed to identify the challenges of CSOs and explored paths toward solidarity in the future. Additionally, general problems such as social inclusion, mental health faced by the community, and the rights of LGBTI+s were discussed during the event. Throughout the camp period, the participants also had a chance to discuss recent problems of the community more clearly, which would be considered as opportunities for possible collaboration in the future. The workshop helped the participants learn more about the social rights of young people and how to get help from local organisations regarding their rights when they are in need. Below are the main takeaways from the event.
More work toward underprivileged communities
Initially, the discussion was around the privileges and participants have agreed that some community members who are already able and available to come to the events that are organised for the community are privileged to a certain extent. It is of great importance for LGBTI+ organisations in the country to challenge themselves to reach out to underprivileged groups, to make sure that they are involved in activities and could benefit from the services of CSOs. During the discussions, participants mentioned that it is crucial to put more effort toward working with and for trans sex workers. Some argued that trans sex workers have other basic priorities and struggles such as financial stability and housing, thus they would not be interested in the events for the community. However, some participants suggested designing and organising events in a format and topic attractive to the trans community, which could potentially solve the issue. In the course of the discussion, Nafas members added that in 2018, the organisation invited a guest gynecologist from Turkiye who explained the safe and healthy ways of hormone replacement therapy and there was a huge interest from the trans community to be part of the event. However, for the majority of participants who work for and with trans folks, the biggest challenge they face is the community’s financial instability. It is the result of the epidemic levels of discrimination and the transphobic job market of the country that leaves many trans folks in precarious situations.
Later, it was discussed that many people from the community are closeted and do not have the ability to engage with the community comfortably. Some participants brought examples of internalized phobias they experienced communicating with closeted people on dating apps. The discourse showed that people who come here self-select because they feel safe around their community and have a certain understanding of their own identity. However, people who are in need of education, networking, and a safe space to feel more comfortable about themselves and explore their identity are very hard to reach, and they would also (in their turn) refuse to engage with the community to protect their public image. Living in very hostile and discriminative settings, the worries and the choices of closeted people are understandable and later it was agreed that we need to put efforts toward widening our reach out. An example was given that a queer rights activist, Ali Malikov initiated “Qiy Var!” platform, an exclusive social media outlet where only LGBTI+ people are part of the group, is a great example for people to follow and (whenever they feel comfortable) engage with the community without exposing their identity to the public.
The importance of attending protests and how to support the community in the process
Slowly, the discussion continued around the topic of public protests. Unfortunately, public and peaceful protests in Azerbaijan are not very welcomed by the ruling regime and although it is legal, protests are often interrupted and stopped by the police forces. One of the participants mentioned that activism requires sacrifices. You need to sacrifice your own security, safety, family, social relationships, and unfortunately your own life to be brave enough to go out into the streets and publicly advocate for your own rights. An unfortunate case of Avaz Hafizli (queer Azerbaijani journalist) was brought into the discourse, that he was one of the brave activists who chained himself to the gates of the Prosecutor General’s Office in September 2021 to protest government inaction against homophobic and transphobic incitement by popular public figure Sevinj Huseynova. Avaz was later found dead in his home in Baku, allegedly murdered by his cousin for being queer. Following a very challenging and unfair trial of the alleged murderer, Ali Malikov was one of the activists who was actively involved in the case and attended the protests to require a fair sentence. Ali Malikov, an activist involved in the case, protested a very challenging and unfair trial, demanding a fair sentence. A question was addressed during the workshop: “If we do not go out in public and protest for a fair trial, or for our own rights, who will do it for us if they are the next victim”?
The discussion was very emotional for the participants and some raised concerns about their own security if they ever join a public protest. Some brought examples of the challenges and pressure they faced from their family, workplace, colleagues, and friends after joining certain protests. Many participants of the 8th of March protests in Baku stated that they were followed or visited by the police after attending the event, and it raises great concerns for their future participation. As a solution, it was recommended that the first priority is always the safety and security of activists, and acknowledging that not everybody could sacrifice as much as some other activists. However, it is crucial to support people who participate in the protests, support doesn’t always have to be public. Support could include helping people in the background with technical issues or asking for the needs of activists and providing resources.
In conclusion, the event was very beneficial for Nafas, other organisation representatives, and participants to understand the most important problems of the community. The majority of the participants agreed that the takeaways of the event will be very helpful for them to formulate their future actions. Nafas also learned many great lessons and will take the discussed specific needs of the community into account in its upcoming work plan.
Karmen, a 19-year-old trans woman, was sexually harassed on August 11 in the Baku metro.
According to the victim, the metro was busy, so she decided to get on the next one after leaving several trains. Right after getting on the train, a man grabbed her arm and apologised, then began rubbing his genitals on her. Karmen, who resisted, the man pulled her towards him by grabbing her waist this time and continued to rub his penis on her.
“I panicked because I had a psychological shock at that moment, I couldn’t ask anyone for help,” said Karmen. “As soon as the doors opened at the next stop, I threw myself onto the platform and walked away without looking at the man’s face. It was disgusting, I felt nauseous,” she added.
“I left the metro and went to my friends. I told them what happened. They explained to me that it was wrong. You would raise your voice and ask for help. And I couldn’t think what to do because I was frozen.”
Around 10:00 p.m, Karmen was again assaulted by another man whilst waiting for a bus near the 20 Yanvar metro station. An unknown person followed her and offered her sex. “Seeing that the bus did not come, I asked if bus number 92 passes here. I waited at the bus station for a while, and since the bus didn’t come, I decided to walk. I felt that someone was following me while I was walking,” said Karmen.
According to the victim, the person who followed her ran up to her and asked her how to go to Bilajari. Later, saying “you have the beauty of a girl”, he offered to “feel his genital organ in my mouth” and continuously repeated these phrases along the way. After walking for a while, the victim finally got rid of that person and managed to lose the track.
Devran, a 23-year-old trans man, has left his home in western Azerbaijan to seek hormonal therapy for gender confirmation surgery.
But in Azerbaijan, few doctors or health clinics are willing to treat trans folks. While there are more options in the capital Baku than in his hometown of Shamkir, Devran still faces prejudice and discrimination when trying to obtain even basic medical treatment.
The only doctor willing to see Devran as a patient is Hakan Tanriverdi, a Turkish gynaecologist working in Baku. Through Devran’s story, and interviews with Dr. Tanriverdi, filmmaker Parviz Majidov documents the difficulties the LGBTIQ+ community faces to find gender affirming care in a society that puts a taboo on sexuality and gender.