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Breaking down barriers to celebrate LGBTI rights in Kazakhstan

Canada in Kazakhstan
Human rights
July 2018

Representatives from seven partner embassies celebrate IDAHOTB in Astana.

“I hope that someday, a moment will come when we will celebrate solidarity, the possibility of our rights in an open form.”


Protecting the vulnerable

For members of the LGBTI community in Kazakhstan, gathering in-person is a rare opportunity.

While Kazakhstan does not have anti-LGBTI legislation in place, LGBTI people still face discrimination and violence.

When the Canadian Embassy in Kazakhstan helped organize an International Day Against Homophobia Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) event in Kazakhstan’s capital, the safety of participants had to be the main concern.

In Kazakhstan, LGBTI people feel they can be fired or forced out of school if their identities are exposed, and social ostracization is common.

Faced with this environment, participants in the IDAHOTB events feared that publicizing their identities or photos would put them at risk.


Sharing Canada’s commitment to equality

Ambassador Brousseau addresses activists and allies on IDAHOTB.Ambassador Brousseau addresses activists and allies on IDAHOTB.

Over 120 LGBTI activists and allies gathered to celebrate IDAHOTB at the event co-sponsored by the Embassies of Canada, the USA, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Belgium, Switzerland and the European Union.

Recognizing Canada’s focus on promoting diversity and gender empowerment, the diplomatic community in Kazakhstan asked Canadian Ambassador Nicholas Brousseau to address the event on their behalf.

Ambassador Brousseau quoted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, reminding the audience “no matter who we love or how we identify, all of us deserve to feel safe and secure, live free from discrimination and persecution, and express ourselves fully.”

“We are all too aware of the reports of violence and discrimination faced by the Kazakhstani LGBTI community,” Ambassador Brousseau said, adding that most instances of anti-LGBTI violence go unreported.

Serzhan leads the advocacy group Feminita, which organizes training, crisis groups, victim protection and social media awareness campaigns.

Supporting activists like Serzhan is part of Canada’s priority of protecting and promoting the rights of LGBTI people around the world.


Steps towards change in Kazakhstan

Altynai Kambekova, the event facilitator, said the human rights of Kazakhstan’s LGBTI community “are restricted.”

“We are not visible by either the government or the society.”

From difficulties accessing psychological support to the lack of public awareness surrounding LGBTI rights, participants identified how small changes could lead to great improvement in both human rights and quality of life.

A presenter called for medical students in Kazakhstan to receive mandatory educational seminars on the needs of the LGBTI community.

Recommendations were also made to educate attendees about the support systems available to them.

Sultana Kali said the event gave the LGBTI community “the opportunity to learn about activism, the activities of organizations, and that they are not alone.”


Making private support public

Gulzada Serzhan speaks at the IDAHOTB event.Gulzada Serzhan speaks at the IDAHOTB event.

While openness and ideas were freely shared at IDAHOTB in Astana, LGBTI activists remained aware of the restrictions facing them outside the venue.

Serzhan said “today, such events are held behind closed doors. “I hope that someday, a moment will come when we will celebrate solidarity, the possibility of our rights in an open form.”

Throughout the year, the diplomatic community in Kazakhstan organizes support for activists and advocacy groups, while also protecting the individuals and organizations involved.

But on IDAHOTB, the group of partner embassies organized a special show of solidarity. Keeping Serzhan’s words in mind, the Embassy of the United Kingdom negotiated a way to demonstrate public support for the LGBTI community.

For the first time in Kazakhstan’s history, a rainbow flag flew over the streets of Astana.

LGBTI rights are human rights. And for Canada, the human rights of all people are non-negotiable.

In Kazakhstan, Canada and its partners are working hard to realise this goal.


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