As the James Webb Space Telescope releases its first images, there are renewed calls for NASA to distance itself from the man it’s named for.
The multi-billion-dollar telescope – the most powerful ever to be launched into space – garnered controversy last year after NASA chose to name it after government official James Webb, who is believed to have led a homophobic “purge” in the 50s and 60s.
At the time NASA said it had a “debt of gratitude” toward Webb, who was the second administrator of NASA, for his efforts in leading them through a portion of the Cold War.
However, Webb is also believed to have been one of the driving forces behind Senate discussions that kicked off what’s known in modern terms as the Lavender Scare. He was responsible for implementing policies that effectively “purged” LGBTQ+ people from NASA – policies that had been widespread in other workforces from the 1950s.
Now, with the newly released pictures showcasing the “next Hubble” telescope’s ability to take long-range images of galaxy clusters across space, astronomers have called for its renaming once more.
Assistant professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, tweeted as the James Webb Space Telescope’s first images, showing distant galaxies 13 billion years ago, were released on Monday (11 July).
“As one of the people who has been leading to push to change the name, today feels bittersweet, I’m so excited for the new images and so angry at NASA HQ,” Prescod-Weinstein said.
“NASA leadership has stubbornly refused to acknowledge that what is now public info about JW’s legacy means he does not merit having a great observatory named after him,” she continued.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson toldNPRon 30 September, 2021, that the agency did not plan to rename the telescope, saying that “we have found no evidence at this time that warrants changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope.”
Astronomers Sarat Tuttle and Lucianne Walkowicz wrote for Scientific American about the debate surrounding the James Webb Space Telescope’s name in March 2021.
In the article, they criticised that NASA’s plan to launch the “incredible instrument” while carrying the name of a man “whose legacy at best is complicated and at worst reflects complicity in homophobic discrimination in the federal government”.
“Many astronomers feel a debt of gratitude for Webb’s work as NASA administrator and are appreciative of and nostalgic for the time during the Apollo program,” they continued. “But while appreciation and nostalgia are important, they are not sufficient.”
In the petition’s description, it notes several pieces of evidence to suggest that Webb’s past has deemed him unfit for accreditation. The list of evidence included archival evidence indicating Webb’s involvement in Lavendar Scare conversations, as well as a post-scare court case in which former NASA employee Clifford L. Norton sued for “review of his discharge for ‘immortal conduct’ and for possessing personality traits which render him ‘unsuitable for further government employment.’”
The petition continued with: “We, the future users of NASA’s next-generation space telescope and those who will inherit its legacy, demand that this telescope be given a name worthy of its remarkable discoveries, a name that stands for the future in which we are all free.”
Members of the LGBTQ+ community in the United States have spoken out about their own abortion experiences after Roe v Wade was struck down.
The Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling which legalised abortion across the country, on 24 June, meaning that it will now be up to individual states to decide their own abortion laws.
In a 213-page majority opinion, the Supreme Court justices wrote: “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
he ruling mobilised protests across the US, and several LGBTQ+ people have raised the point that trans men, queer women, and non-binary people sometimes also need abortions, and they do not want to be left out of the conversation.
Nikki, a 38-year-old queer woman from Colorado, said she told her religious family members about her experience with abortion after the Roe v Wade ruling was announced. She is “terrified” that her “rights as a queer woman will be eroded next”.
She told PinkNews: “I’m livid about the ruling. I’m mad that it happened. I’m furious at the Democrats for not getting it together quickly enough to use their majority to protect Roe federally.
“I’m exhausted of having my rights and freedoms dictated by a bunch of old white men (and the occasional woman).”
Nikki added that she is now concerned that LGBTQ+ rights could be at risk, after Judge Clarence Thomas, in his legal opinion coinciding with the overturning of Roe v Wade, called on his colleagues on the Supreme Court to “reconsider” rulings that currently protect the right to contraception, same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriage.
She said: “Trans men and non-binary people have been left out of the conversation almost entirely, even by supposedly ‘progressive’ voices.
“I’m currently dating a trans woman. I worry for her safety, and I worry that I won’t be able to marry who I love unless it falls within a ‘hetero-looking’ relationship.”
Theo, 20, from Minnesota, said that they are considering moving to a “safer state” after the Roe v Wade news.
Theo is trans-masculine and non-binary, and as well as going through an abortion at aged 14, they worry about further law changes affecting same-sex marriage, or their ability to access gender-affirming surgeries.
“Just because we no longer align with the gender that we have were assigned does not make us irrelevant in a conversation that regards our own bodily matters,” they told PinkNews.
Theo added: “My concern immediately came after Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed; she was a strong and ever-present voice in women’s rights… I always knew that Roe v Wade was on the docket despite what people told me.
“Since I have begun transitioning and started to pass more as man, I have lost my voice in this movement. I have had an abortion… butpeople have told me that my voice doesn’t matter… that I am safe because no one is coming for LGBTQ+ people next. Roe v Wade is just the beginning.
“I am also extremely fearful for the overturn of same-sex marriage as well… I fear that I will never be able to be with someone that I love because of this.”
Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of LGBTQ+ charity The Trevor Project said in a statement: “The Supreme Court’s decision… is causing many people to experience a wide range of concerns for bodily autonomy, LGBTQ rights, and public health, including mental health.
“The Trevor Project’s polling has found that nearly 70% of LGBTQ+ young people say efforts to restrict access to abortion often gave them stress or anxiety.
“Overturning Roe v Wade will allow states to further restrict and regulate essential health care and reduce access to the already limited number of LGBTQ+ competent providers in many parts of the country, posing a threat to the health and safety of young LGBTQ people.
“The Trevor Project will not stop fighting to establish true, lived equality for LGBTQ+ people.”
HIV-positive 21-year-old Thokozani Shiri died in prison after officials neglected him and failed to provide life-saving medication, an inquest has found.
The inquest into Shiri’s death, which took place at Essex Coroners Court, concluded on Wednesday (8 June).
During both periods of time, the prison’s healthcare provider, Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT), was aware that he was HIV-positive.
However during his first stretch at the prison, Shiri was not seen at an HIV clinic until six days before his release, and was not provided with any antiretroviral medication, a life-saving treatment which suppresses the virus and makes it untransmittable.
During his second stay at HMP Chelmsford, the prison again failed to provide him with the vital medication for months, he was only given it 19 days before he died.
Shiri tragically passed away from an HIV-related infection at Broomfield Hospital on 14 April 2019.
The inquest heard that before his death, Shiri told a prison officer that he “couldn’t breathe” and needed to go to a hospital, but an ambulance was not called until five days later. The prison officer he spoke to has still not been identified.
Shiri’s consultant, who had been treating him outside of prison, told the inquest: “HIV is very treatable. It shouldn’t have happened.”
The jury found that “five separate failings” had caused Shiri’s death, including the failure to provide his medication during both periods of imprisonment, and the failure to refer him to an HIV clinic.
When Shiri was finally taken to hospital, he was put into an induced coma before his mother was able to see him, and remained that way until his death. Despite being in the induced coma, he was kept in handcuffs and chained to his hospital bed.
In a damning report, the Prison and Probation Ombudsman Sue McAllister described Shiri’s care as “unacceptably poor”, and added: “This is a case in which a young man died a preventable death as a result of what I can only describe as neglect by healthcare staff, and whose mother was then treated with gross insensitivity by prison staff.”
Shiri’s family said in a statement provided by law firm Leigh Day: “Thoko was just like any young man – he loved life, his friends and family.
“He was exploring what the world had to offer him, but he ended up on the wrong side of the law, culminating in a short-term custodial sentence. As a family we had great hopes that this would allow him to reflect and look to a brighter future.
“This was not to be, as a short-term prison sentence turned into a death sentence. Thoko was denied very basic care that would have enabled him to live his life despite his long-term condition.
“We are saddened as we know that people with his condition do not have a reduced life expectancy and that, with basic management, his condition was not fatal.”
Deborah Gold, chief executive of National AIDS Trust, added: “Thoko’s death was heartbreaking and completely avoidable. This jury conclusion underlines how many crucial opportunities were missed leading to his entirely preventable death.
“It is shocking that a young man died whilst in the care of the state from a condition that is entirely treatable. Most people with HIV in the UK live long healthy lives.
“It is absolutely essential that all state places of detention including prisons and immigration detention centres, have robust systems in place to identify, treat and support detained people living with HIV.
“It is now incumbent upon all bodies responsible for the care and treatment of prisoners and detainees to ensure this happens. As Thoko’s death shows, failure to do so has devastating consequences.”
Czech president Miloš Zeman has said he plans to veto proposed legislation that would give same-sex couples the right to get married in the country.
The measure, which was drafted by lawmakers across the Czech political spectrum, was submitted to the parliament’s lower house on Tuesday (7 June), the Associated Pressreported.
Lawmakers have yet to set a date to debate the proposed same-sex marriage legislation. Yet the country’s president has said he is strongly opposed to the measure and will strike it down should it even land on his desk.
“I’d like to announce that if I really receive such a law to sign I will veto it,” Zeman said.
Miloš Zeman has served as the president of the Czech Republic since 2013. The president is considered a largely ceremonial role as the elected leader has limited executive powers, but he does have a considerable role in political affairs.
Zeman said that the Czech Republic passed a law in 2006 allowing same-sex couples to enter into registered partnerships, but he believed “family is a union between a man and a woman”, “full stop”.
The registered partnership gives queer couples in the Czech Republic some rights similar to those of heterosexual married couples, but it stops short of placing same-sex couples on fully equal footing with their heterosexual counterparts.
Same-sex marriage remains illegal in the country because marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman under the Czech Republic’s civil code.
Lawmakers in the Czech parliament’s lower house can override Zeman’s veto if they can reach a majority vote.
Miloš Zeman has often espoused anti-LGBTQ+ views in the past. Last June, Zeman said he finds trans people “disgusting” while discussing Hungary’s so-called LGBTQ+ ‘propaganda’ law, which bans any depiction or discussion of queer people in schools, the media and advertising.
Zema said he thought people who undergo gender-affirming treatments are “basically committing a crime of self-harm”.
“Every surgery is a risk, and these transgender people to me are disgusting,” he added.
Thailand is set to go down in history as the first Southeast Asian country to legalise same-sex unions after approving a historic bill.
The country’s Cabinet has approved draft legislation which will allow same-sex couples to register their partnership in Thailand, Bloombergreported. The bill avoids the term ‘marriage’, but it will allow same-sex couples rights to jointly own property, adopt children and have inheritance rights between partners.
The bill now goes to the country’s Parliament for approval before it can become law. If passed into law, Thailand would be the first Southeast Asian country to approve such legislation.
Deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek said Tuesday (7 June) that the Cabinet endorsed an earlier version of the bill, which was sponsored by the justice ministry in July 2020. But she said the government needed to study the bill and get public feedback before it was approved.
“The Civil Partnership Bill is a milestone for Thai society in promoting equality among people of all genders,” Dhnadirek said back in July. “This strengthens the families of people with sexual diversity and is appropriate for the present social circumstances.”
Under the proposed legislation, civil partnerships are defined as couples of the same sex, and people in the relationship must be at least 17-years-old to register, Bangkok Postreported. At least one person in the relationship must be a Thai national.
Advocates have argued that the bill is a big step forward for LGBTQ+ rights in Thailand, but they have argued that it doesn’t go far enough.
Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, LGBTQ+ activist and secretary-general of progressive youth organisation Free Youth, said the bill “isn’t a milestone for gender equality in Thailand”, CNNreported. Instead, Tattep argued it’s an “obstacle to reach marriage for all”.
Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, filmmaker and first trans member of parliament under the Move Forward Party, questioned why the legislation won’t “just call everyone, both traditional and non-traditional couples, as married partners”.
“This is another form of discrimination in disguise,” Tanwarin said. “We don’t want anything special we just want to be treated like others.”
The UK public is most likely to have feelings of respect and admiration towards LGBTQ+ community, according to new research from Stonewall.
The research – published by the charity on the first day of Pride Month 2022, which also marks 50 years since the first Pride march in the UK – surveyed 2,000 adults across the UK to measure public sentiment towards LGBTQ+ people.
Given a choice of words to describe their feelings toward different sections of the community, the most commonly chosen word was “respect”, followed by “admiration”.
The proportion of respondents who chose the word “respect” was around a third across the board, although people were more likely to say they felt respect for lesbian and gay people (38 per cent and 37 per cent) than bi or trans people (32 per cent and 31 per cent).
Trans people garnered the most admiration from the public (21 per cent), while 19 per cent said they admired gay and lesbian people, and 16 per cent said they admired bisexuals, “which may be related to biphobic stereotypes”, Stonewall noted.
Despite relentless fear-mongering in both the media and the UK governmentabout trans people and trans rights, just four per cent of respondents said they felt “fear” towards trans folk, the same proportion that felt fear towards the rest of the LGBTQ+ community.
Less than 10 per cent of the public chose the word “disgust” when thinking about queer people – nine per cent for gay people, eight per cent for trans and bi people, and just 7 per cent for lesbians – showing that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are limited to a tiny minority of the UK population.
Veteran LGBTQ+ rights activist Peter Tatchell told PinkNews: “This is terrific news that debunks the bigoted agenda of government ministers, right-wing culture warriors and transphobes like the LGB Alliance.
“They are out of touch with public opinion. There is almost no support for the Conservatives’ regressive policies on LGBTQ+ issues.
“Boris Johnson is deluded. He thinks he can shore up his administration with the support of bigoted voters. But this poll shows his cynical strategy won’t work and may turn many voters against the Tories. It proves that our sustained efforts to educate against prejudice are paying off.
“These statistics confirm the long term trend that anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes are waning fast: down massively from two-thirds of the public in the late 1980s believing that homosexuality is ‘mostly’ or ‘always’ wrong.”
Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley said in a statement: “Over the last 50 years, every battle for the rights of LGBTQ+ communities has been fought in the court of public opinion as well as in the corridors of power.
“This data reminds us to celebrate how far we’ve come, as well as focus on how far there is to go. Nobody should have to grow up and go through life worrying that the people around them feel disgusted by who they are.
“From the fight to decriminalise men who have sex with men, to the fight for trans people’s rights to be protected and respected, we’ve always relied on allies to stand alongside us.
“That’s why, as we enter Pride Month, we need people to do more than wear a rainbow pin – we need everyone to show they take pride in our community, by stepping up and fighting for a more equal world.”
A North Carolina teacher has resigned amid a controversy over the use of LGBTQ-themed flashcards to teach inclusivity and colours in her preschool classroom.
The preschool teacher, who has not been identified by the Wake County school system, resigned from Ballentine Elementary School in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. Wake County Public School System spokesperson Lisa Luten told WRALthat the district was “concerned to learn of the inappropriate instructional resource” found in the preschool classroom.
“An initial review determined that flashcards were not tied to the district’s Pre-K curriculum, did not complement, enrich or extend the curriculum and were used without the principal’s review, knowledge and/or approval,” Luten added.
Luten also said that extra security was stationed in the school after the backlash against the LGBTQ+ flashcards.
The backlash started to mount against the school after state House speaker Tim Moore said he’d been informed about the flashcard by Republican representative Erin Paré.
Moore released a statement on Friday (27 May) in which he said a “concerned constituent” emailed Paré about the LGBTQ+ flashcards – including one he said depicted a “pregnant man” – which were being used to teach colours to kids in a preschool class.
Paré said in an interview with Fox Newsthat “loving families come in all different shapes and sizes” and that “kids need loving families right now”. But she drew the line at the card’s depiction of a pregnant person with short hair being embraced by their partner.
“But I think when you’re looking at a card in front of a preschooler that has a mommy hugging a daddy with a baby in his belly, that’s just not age-appropriate material to be showing preschoolers, and I’m glad that this principal and the district acted immediately,” Paré said.
Republican congresswoman Lauren Boebert also joined the pile-on against the teacher on Twitter and alleged it was an example of how “the Left” are “grooming” children.
“A North Carolina preschool is using LGBT flag flashcards with a pregnant man to teach kids colors,” Boebert wrote. “We went from Reading Rainbow to Randy Rainbow in a few decades, but don’t dare say the Left is grooming our kids!”
But one parent has shared her devastation that her child was losing the teacher. Jackie Milazzo, who has a three-year-old son in the class, told WRAL that the preschool educator was “one of the most remarkable teachers I have ever met” and it was “such a loss for our community”.
She described how parents were crying and hugging each other after they learned that the teacher was resigning over the LGBTQ+ flashcards.
Milazzo added in a separate interview for ABC 11that the preschool kids are “being used as a publicity stunt” by conservative lawmakers.
“We are not upset about what’s in the classroom,” Milazzo said. “I know a lot of the community at Ballentine Elementary aren’t upset about this being in the classroom.”
She added that a “picture of a same-sex couple” doesn’t “make my child unsafe” but the horrific waves of hate she’s received do.
“I’ve been receiving messages that our teachers are groomers, my child is being brainwashed… like how am I supposed to feel safe sending my child to school like this?” Milazzo said.
“These actions are not supporting our schools, they’re not supporting our teachers, they’re not supporting our kids, my child has now lost his teacher.”
The backlash comes as Republican lawmakers are considering a bill (HB 755) that would prevent instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade classrooms.
The legislation – which has been dubbed a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill by LGBTQ+ advocates – would also require parents to be notified if a student chooses to change their name, update their pronouns or use school counselling services.
The Reverend Vance Haywood, senior pastor of St John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, said the bill “proposes forced outing of queer kids”, the Associated Pressreported.
“It’s creating an environment where we’re telling folks that it’s not OK to be yourself,” Haywood said. “You have to hide parts of who you are.”
The Taliban is using monkeypox as an “excuse” to harass and detain LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan.
Two gay men who live in Kabul told PinkNews that the Taliban’s persecution of LGBTQ+ people has been ramping up ever since monkeypox started being detected in Europe.
While not sexually transmitted, public health officials believe monkeypox is being transmitted in these networks through close contact during sex – though experts have also suggested the statistics may be skewed towards queen men because they are more conscious of their sexual health.
Right now, Afghanistan has not officially recorded any cases of monkeypox – but that hasn’t stopped the Taliban from using the spread of the virus to crack down on and attack the LGBTQ+ community.
Monkeypox has emboldened the Taliban to ‘harass’ LGBTQ+ Afghans
Maalek*, a gay man living in Kabul, told PinkNews that the Taliban’s persecution of LGBTQ+ people has only worsened since the monkeypox outbreaks began.
“The Taliban have no scientific knowledge about the disease,” Maalek says. “The Ministry of Health has stated that no cases of the disease have been registered, yet they are still looking for excuses to harass the Afghan gay community.”
He continues: “Wherever they see handsome men wearing no local clothes, they check their cell phones and, if they find the slightest evidence that they are gay, they arrest them and take them away.
“When they detain homosexuals, [they tell the public it’s to] prevent the spread of monkeypox.”
According to Maalek, trans people are just as much at risk. If the Taliban finds a nude photo on a person’s phone, they will beat and detain them.
Being detained by the Taliban is a terrifying prospect for Maalek. He knows a gay man who was arrested and raped by six Taliban members.
“He now suffers from a mental illness and has fled Kabul,” Maalek says. “The Taliban do not like anyone to wear fashionable clothes. They threaten all homosexuals with death after being detained. They say they should wear local clothes, should not shave their beards and act as they wish.”
Trans people cannot even come out of their house.
Like most LGBTQ+ Afghans, Maalek has been forced to change his behaviour and the way he presents himself to the world in a bid to stay safe from the Taliban.
“We no longer go to beauty salons to cut our beards, we can not even cut our hair in a modern way. We can not wear stylish and acceptable clothes. Trans people cannot even come out of their house because they are arrested immediately.
“Personally, I go out in local clothes now. I do not bring my smartphone with me when I leave home. I try not to leave home without doing my homework. Their checkpoints are very dangerous.”
LGBTQ+ Afghans are ‘scared and miserable’
Maalek’s claim that the Taliban is cracking down on LGBTQ+ people ever since monkeypox started spreading in the community was backed up by another gay man who lives in Kabul.
Timur* thinks the Taliban is using the spread of the virus in other countries as another reason to “torture” LGBTQ+ people.
“I’m afraid in Afghanistan. I’m afraid of being arrested by the Taliban,” Timur says. “I’m not leaving home. I’m scared and miserable.
“I’m asking the big governments of London and other countries to help me and all LGBTQ+ people leave Afghanistan.”
Nemat Sadat – a gay Afghan author and activist who lives in the US – has also received reports that gay men are being “singled out” by the Taliban because of monkeypox.
“The Taliban are rounding up gay people on the grounds that homosexuals carry monkeypox,” Sadat tweeted.
“They are singling out pretty men and checking their phones. This operation is happening in the Lycée Mariam, Khairkhana neighbourhood and all the districts of Kabul.”
LGBTQ+ Afghans have been facing heightened persecution since the Taliban seized power in August 2021. Reports suggest that queer people have been killed, raped, beaten and arrested for arbitrary reasons ever since the takeover.
Ever since monkeypox was detected in the UK and other European countries in May, concerns have been raised about anti-LGBTQ+ stigma.
Health experts have said the virus appears to be predominantly circulating among gay and bisexual men, however, they are clear that it is not a “gay disease”.
It is believed that monkeypox is spread through close contact with an infected person’s skin, meaning that anybody is susceptible. Because of the way it is transmitted, it’s thought that monkeypox is working its way through sexual networks.
The World Health Organization (WHO) initially said the unusual spread of the virus posed a “low risk to the general public”, but that was upgraded to “moderate” at the end of May.
Officials said the risk could be upgraded to “high” if the virus spreads to those who are medically vulnerable, such as children and immunosuppressed people.
Franz is struggling to comprehend how it’s been 100 days since Russia invaded Ukraine, kicking off a war that has dragged on for months.
“You know, I didn’t even realise it’s been 100 days already,” Franz, who is just 18 years old, tells PinkNews. “It doesn’t feel quite right that it’s already summer. Some part of me still expects to see snow outside the window each morning, as if it was all just February that never ended.”
Right now, Franz is in Slovakia, where he’s studying at university. He spends his days wondering where time is going – why the days seem to be slipping away from him.
“It’s like there was no spring at all,” he says. “Springs should be camera roll full of flowers, evening walks and studying frenzy. The start of summer should have been Pride marches and making plans and treasured time with friends and family in that short period of the year when everyone can finally catch a break.”
But there has been no break for the Ukrainian people. The war has raged on, with Putin refusing to relent, even in the face of fierce opposition from Ukraine.
In the 100 days since Russia invaded, an estimated 14 million Ukrainian people have fled their homes. That’s why PinkNewslaunched the LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome campaign, which is raising funds for charities working with queer people fleeing the war.
That’s why it’s so vital the world doesn’t let its focus slide away from Ukraine, Franz says. His people need Europe to continue advocating for them.
“No matter how tired you are or how much you’ve already done, every day is new weapons needed, and more medicine lacking, and more homes ruined, and more people displaced,” he says.
“The weight of it is enormous for any country. Our will to defend ourselves doesn’t depend on international support, but our ability does. The price of indifference is measured in lives, and I don’t mean only politicians: even inside of Europe there are important and powerful people eager to pay that price on our behalf. If their electorate grows tired of Ukraine, the help that decides whether we survive or not will stop very quickly. Caring matters.”
Pride Month has a particular significance as the war rages on
It’s also fitting for Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ community that they’re marking 100 days of war during Pride Month. This year, the occasion has a particular significance for Franz, who is watching from afar as his queer siblings fight for freedom back home.
“LGBTQ+ soldiers and volunteers have to be twice as fearless, resourceful and strong in the face of the invasion, because there’s doubly no future for us under the Russian Empire.”
He continues: “I wish I got a cent every time someone proclaimed queer Ukrainians either don’t exist, aren’t in the army or tried to patronisingly explain what’s good for us – that would make a hefty and regular donation to the armed forces of Ukraine.
“Despite the judgement of people whose expertises consists of a skimmed Wikipedia article, I know firsthand how intimately Ukraine’s future and queer liberation are connected.”
As Pride Month gets underway, Franz is pleading with the world to show solidarity and to keep donating funds to help the Ukrainian people survive an impossibly difficult time.
“Solidarity now is the direct action to achieve the goal which, in the end, we all share: to be ourselves and to be free.”
That’s echoed by Andriy Maymulakhin, the coordinator of the LGBT Human Rights ‘Nash Svit’ Center in Kyiv. Like all Ukrainians, he too has endured hardship – he hasn’t seen his boyfriend since January, when he travelled to Lviv to help relatives on a building job.
Since then, his boyfriend has joined Ukraine’s national guard – he’s currently serving as a chef in a military division in western Ukraine.
Andriy is based around 60 kilometres from Kyiv – so far, he’s been lucky. He’s managed to avoid the bulk of the violence, but he’s bee able to hear bombs in the distance, serving as a frightening reminder that the war is never too far away.
“It very much differs depending on where you are. If you’re in eastern Ukraine, then it is a terrible situation. If you’re in other parts of Ukraine, in big cities, they also could be attacked by Russian missiles, so everywhere could be dangerous.”
In the background, Andriy and his colleagues have been trying to continue the work they’re doing to support Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ community.
“Our priority is providing legal help, so we’ve tried to restart all this work. We collect information about specific problems which LGBTQ+ people have faced during this wartime.”
Andriy’s centre has also recently published the results of a survey which showed that there has been enormous change in the way Ukrainian people view the LGBTQ+ community in the last five years. The survey was conducted by an external sociological organisation.
Strikingly, the survey shows a stark drop in the number of people who feel “negatively” about the LGBTQ+ community. Andriy was “surprised” by the results – he wonders if part of that shift could be attributed to the war.
“The so-called ‘Russian world’ is explicitly homophobic,” he says. “In this situation, it could be because people are against the Russian invasion.”
He wants to make sure the world doesn’t forget about Ukraine 100 days into the war.
“It’s a moral responsibility of the western world, Europe and the United States, Canada and Australia, to support Ukraine in this fight,” Andriy says. “If possible, give us weapons to protect our land. Support our refugees – millions have left Ukraine.”
Andriy felt more optimistic about the outcome of the war back in February when Russia first invaded. As time goes by, he’s becoming increasingly afraid for the future.
“I don’t think the Russians want to stop – they want to continue this ugly war. That’s why we need the world to support Ukraine in these difficult times.”
But according to the transcript, and despite publicly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, staff were told that “being an inclusive company means being inclusive of all those points of view”.
Chief people officer Mala Singh reportedly said: “The thing about the world today is there is a lot of division, we know this right, we see it every single day, but the thing that unites us is that we’re all here to make amazing games and experiences for our players, and that is how we have the most positive impact on the world.
“These things are hard and they’re personal and we all have our own perspectives and sometimes we won’t speak, and that will be upsetting and I understand that, we really do.”
Instead, Singh reportedly told EA employees to make use of the gaming company’s “healing circles” to process their feelings about trans and abortion rights.
An EA employee told Kotaku that “healing circles” are group mental health sessions centred around specific issues, which are made available to staff as part of the company’s healthcare benefits.
“I know these have been tough issues, whether it’s the shootings that happened recently in the US, the Roe v Wade issues, these are hard,” Singh said.
“And so, one of the other things you’re going to see is we’re going to be making some more healing circles available through Modern Health.”
In a statement to the publication, EA corporate communications director Lacey Haines said: “We’re not going to comment further on the global town hall, as that is a company confidential forum.
“That said, we work to create an environment where our employees can talk about complex issues in our world today. We do this in a number of ways, from town halls to Slack discussions, group dialogues, surveys, and more.
“From all of that, we recognise these topics are deeply personal, and we know that there are many strong opinions, and some will be disappointed when we say that we’re not making public statements because we’re focused on the ways we can support our people around the world as their employer.
“That is what we’re doing, in this case, making sure that people have access to the healthcare benefits we provide as a company, even if those aren’t available locally.”
EA told PinkNews that Singh had told employees that the company was “working with our US healthcare provider to determine how we can expand our benefits to include travel support for any covered services where access is limited in an employee’s region, including reproductive services, gender-affirming care and others”.