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From Maidan to Donbass: '10 Days in F...
Sumy, Ukraine
By lordcob
26 Jan 2015

Text by : Johannes Sporrer

Italian photographer Jacob Balzani Lööv followed a self-defense unit in Kiev's Maidan for ten days up to the bloody events of 20 February 2014. He recently visited one of the protagonist of the revolutionary current that swept Ukraine at that time.

"I was in Kiev to meet some friends," says Balzani Lööv, who at the end of November 2013, found himself suddenly in the middle of Independence Square in Kiev. "I was surprised by how peaceful, determined and full of hope the protest was throughout the month of December, but that changed with time. People started to wear masks and to protect Maidan with clubs and shields, upgrading their defense to the violence of the police."

On the 10th of February 2014 during a protest to demand the release of some arrested activists, Balzani Lööv saw a masked, red-haired young woman and organized to meet her. Olesja Goriaynova, a then 19-years-old, was a journalism student from Sumy.

"I wanted to know if the attitude I loved in December in Maidan was still there," he recalls, "and Olesja told me that it was still there, but under wraps in the compounds where the defense units were living." After few days the photographer was granted access to the group, the 14 Sotnia.

These so-called self-defense units of the Maidan were founded to protect unarmed protesters from the increasing violence of the police.

"The central demand of the group was an independent Ukraine, without Yanukovych," says Balzani Lööv, "and a Ukraine without corruption, leaning towards Europe. Often its members were upset by the fact that newspapers were discussing only the geopolitical interests of the US and Russia, as if the Ukrainians had no say." He felt that the atmosphere in these days was tense. "It seemed quite possible that the police could have broke into the headquarters of the 14th Sotnias anytime and commit a massacre," he said.

To protect the group, Balzani Lööv promised that he would publish pictures showing unmasked members of the defense units only if the revolution would succeed or if there were to no longer be any threat.

Now, a year later, the immediate threat is over for the activists, but whether or not their revolution was actually successful, however, is far less clear. Balzani Lööv has met again with the activist Olesja Goryainova to ask her about the consequences of the protests. Olesja has moved back to her hometown, Sumy, some 300 kilometers east of Kiev. She is studying again, but she cannot fully return to her old life.

"Olesja now collects money and materials for the fighters in the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine," says Balzani Lööv. She is also a member of the Young Nationalist Congress, an organization that aims to strengthen the "patriotic spirit" of the youth. Olesja doesn't regret the Maidan.

"We just couldn't go on living that way," she says, though with a hint of disappointment in her voice.

Yanukovych is gone, but the reforms desired by the Maidan protestors did not materialize. As before, there is a lot of corruption in the country, and the war in the East has overshadowed the original goals of the young revolutionaries. The profound changes they sought for, postponed.

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Call On Faith: Valarie Kaur (Odyssey ...
Harford, Connecticut
By AlisonFast
30 Dec 2014

A positive story about the response of faith leaders and communities to hate crimes in America.

Sikh activist and filmmaker Valarie Kaur, who raised awareness of hate crimes nationally in the wake of 9-11, points to the mentor behind her faith. This piece was produced for Odyssey Networks / Women of Spirit and Faith.

Valarie Kaur is the founder of Groundswell Movement, the nation’s largest multifaith online organizing community of 100,000+. She has led campaigns on hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detention, marriage equality, solitary confinement, and the open Internet. She currently serves as Media and Strategy Fellow at Stanford Law School. She believes “the way we make change is just as important as the change we make.”

A young, inspiring public figure, she is frequent guest on FOX, CNN and popular news outlets. She advocates compassion and unity in response to the culture of violence-plaguing America- from school shootings to LGBT issues. She is a voice for her generation and considered to be a spokesperson for the Sikh community. Her position breaks stereotypes of women within the Sikh community.

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Living Transgender in Pakistan
Lahore, Pakistan
By vincenzo floramo
13 Dec 2014

Transgender people live in a precarious position in Pakistan. Despite gains made by the trans community in recent years - Pakistan’s Supreme Court allowed them to get national identity cards recognizing them as a third gender - transgender still face a lot of discrimination in society.

In some sectors of life they are tolerated, though in very defined roles. They often perform as a dancers at weddings and other celebrations where man and woman are strictly segregated. However, most transgender people, called “hijras” in Pakistan, live at the margins of society with very low status. The very word “hijra” is sometimes used in derogatory manner. Transgender have few employment opportunities available, so those who cannot get income performing at ceremonies often resort to begging or sex work.

To fight against discrimination and violence, a group of educated transgender activist are working at the Khawaja Sira Society (KSS) under the umbrella of a local Pakistani NGO called Naz Male Health Alliance. This center provide services for the local transgender community which include HIV/AIDS and STD diagnoses and treatment, and condom and lubricant distribution both via outreach as well as through clinics. At KSS the community find a secure and friendly environment where the  transgender community hopes to strengthen its people.

The United Nations and government estimates in 2012 put the number of HIV/AIDS cases around 87,000 in Pakistan alone with an overall prevalence of HIV infection in adults aged 15 to 49 is 0.1%. However, due to the conservative religious culture, political volatility and security matters, activists have to operate with minimal visibility.

As an Islamic Republic, Pakistan punishes same-sex behavior under Pakistan Penal Code Section 377,  an outdated, colonial law punishing same-sex relationships.

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Burma's LGBT 01
Yangon, Myanmar
By Pablo L. Orosa
20 Nov 2014

Members of the LGTB community gather in People´s Park in Yangon. They light candles in remembrance of their friends who have suffered abuse, tortures and social discrimination.

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Burma's LGBT 02
Yangon, Myanmar
By Pablo L. Orosa
20 Nov 2014

Members of the LGTB community gather in People´s Park in Yangon. They light candles in remembrance of their friends who have suffered abuse, tortures and social discrimination.

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Burma's LGBT 03
Yangon, Myanmar
By Pablo L. Orosa
20 Nov 2014

Zae Ya, spokesperson for the Colors Rainbow association, poses in Yangon with his pride flags. Despite the improvement achieved since the dissolution of the Military Junta in 2011, lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people still face bullying and violence in their daily lives.

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Pro-Palestine Demonstration in Sao Paulo
Sao Paulo
By Juliana Spinola
27 Jul 2014

July 27, 2014
Sao Paulo, Brazil

Protesters gathered in Sao Paulo for an event organized by the Palestinian community, to protest against the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip.

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Pungesti: The village that said no
pungesti, romania
By Ulrik Pedersen
06 Mar 2014

The villagers of Pungesti, Romania are unlikely eco-activists. The tiny village garnered worldwide attention in October 2013 when villagers started protesting against US energy giant Chevron's fracking activities in their village. Hundreds of activists from across the country also flocked to the Pungesti to support the residents in their fight. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, consists of pumping chemicals at high pressure into deep rock to extract oil or gas. The village's inhabitants, most of whom are elderly farmers who rely on agriculture to survive, are worried fracking could damage the local environment by contaminating their land and ground water. They say fracking will lead to health problems, air pollution and deforestation. Following the protests, police and gendarmerie increased their presence in the village and many residents were subsequently injured in protests that turned violent.

In 2010, the Romanian Government quietly allowed fracking operations to commence by signing an agreement with Chevron, giving it access to more than two million acres of land in Romania. The villagers managed to collect over a thousand signatures from a population of 3,300 for a petition demanding the dismissal of the mayor, who they accuse of corruption. However, the Romanian government disregarded the petition and the mayor remains in office.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 2
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
06 Feb 2014

Participants of the heterosexual union for LGBT rights "Straights for Equality" plan a new protest in St. Petersburg before the Olympics in Sochi.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 21
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
06 Feb 2014

Riot-police officer guarding LGBT-rally participaints from radical anti-gay and Orthodox activists. LGBT activists protest for the Gay-rights in Russia, hilding flags and banners during Russia G20 in St. Petersburg.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 20
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

LGBT activists protest for Gay-rights in Russia, holding flags and banners during Russia G20 in St. Petersburg. One poster stated that "Russia should put the laws up their 'ass'".

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 19
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

LGBT activists protest for Gay-rights in Russia with flags and banners titled "Stop homophobia in Russia" and "God loves gays", during Russia G20 in St. Petersburg. One poster stated that "Russia should put the laws up their 'ass'".

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 17
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

LGBT-rights activists Dmitry (left) talks with his boyfriend Ivan (right). Dmitry takes part in the organizations "Straights for Equality", "Coming Out", "Support for parents of LGBT teens". Ivan works in all-Russia LGBT-community.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 13
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

LGBT-rights activists Dmitry (left) talks with his boyfriend Ivan (right). Dmitry takes part in the organisations "Straights for Equality", "Coming Out", and "Support for parents of LGBT teens". Ivan works in all-Russia LGBT-community.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 8
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

"Straights for Equality" activist Natalia Tsymbalova holds a poster with the title "Berlin 1936 - Sochi 2014" with the Olympic clocks countdown in the background, showing two days till the official opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 12
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

Russia heterosexual union for LGBT rights "Straights for Equality" activist Mikhail Gerasimov holds a poster with the title "Berlin 1936 - Sochi 2014" two days before the Olympic Games official opening ceremony.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 1
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

Participants of the heterosexual union for LGBT rights "Straights for Equality" plan a new protest in St. Petersburg before the Olympics in Sochi.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 22
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

LGBT activists kiss during the protest for Gay-rights in Russia, which took place during Russia G20 in St. Petersburg.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 18
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

LGBT activist Natalia Tsymbalova protests for Gay-rights in Russia during Russia G20 in St. Petersburg. One poster stated that "Russia should put the laws up their 'ass"'.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 16
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

"Straights for Equality" activist Natalia Tsymbalova holds a poster titled "Putin lies that there is no discrimination against LGBT in Russia" on St. Petersburg main street, Nevsky prospect, during the G20 forum in the city.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 15
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

LGBT-rights activist Ivan watches a video from an LGBT conference.

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LGBT rights activism in Russia 26
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

"Blue Rider" art-group activists shoot their art-performance on field of Mars in St. Petersburg.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 9
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

Police officer checks activist's identification during the protest picket. Russia heterosexual union for LGBT rights "Straights for Equality" activists hold poster with the title "Berlin 1936 - Sochi 2014".

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 10
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

Police officer takes iPhone photo of "Straights for Equality" activist Natalia Tsymbalova during the protest picket. Russia heterosexual union for LGBT rights "Straights for Equality" activists hold posters titled "Berlin 1936 - Sochi 2014" with Olympic clocks countdown in background showing two days till the official opening ceremony of the Olympic games.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 3
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

Gay-activist Kirill Kalugin visits heterosexual union for LGBT rights "Straights for Equality".

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 6
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

Partisipaints of heterosexual union for LGBT rights "Straights for Equality" meet weekly in their headquaters.

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LGBT rights activism in Russia 23
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

"Blue Rider" art-group activists shoot their art-performance in the field of Mars, St. Petersburg, in support of LGBT-rights in Russia.

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LGBT rights activism in Russia 24
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

Activists of art-group "Blue Rider" perform in support of LGBT-rights in Russia in the field of Mars in St. Petersburg.

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LGBT rights activism in Russia 25
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

"Blue Rider" activists perform in the field of Mars in St. Petersburg, in support of LGBT-rights in Russia.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 4
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

Participants of the heterosexual union for LGBT rights "Straights for Equality" gather weekly in their headquarters.

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LGBT rights activism in Russia 27
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

Police officers detain two "Straights for Equality" activists just before they protest with banners on air-balloons in St. Petersburg two days before the Sochi Games.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia 5
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
05 Feb 2014

Participants of the heterosexual union for LGBT rights "Straights for Equality" meet weekly at their headquarters in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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LGBT Rights Activism in Russia
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Yury Goldenshtein
04 Feb 2014

Despite of the stringent laws and public opinion against the LGBT community, activists have created new organizations that help fight for LGBT rights in Russia.

One of such organizations is “Straights for Equality.” “Straights for Equality” is a heterosexual union for LGBT rights that provide support for LGBT society. They make different public actions and pickets in support of LGBT-rights in the city. They started actions in support in June 2012. “Straights for Equality” has now more than 14,000 subscribers on the popular Russian socialnet "VKontakte." There are many gays among participants because they can take part in LGBT-rights protests and actions equally with heterosexual activists and don’t reveal themselves. Natasha Tsymbalova is one of the leaders of “Straights for Equality” and always take part in LGBT-protest actions.

"Blue Rider" is a new art-group in St. Petersburg. There are just two participants now in "Blue Rider" and they try to bring society's attention to LGBT rights by making video clips.

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Activists Struggle to Save Skouries 3
Lerissos, Greece
By Michele Lapini
15 Nov 2013

A permanent road block in Ierissos, where people, citizens and activist surveile the entrance of Ierissos to prevent police attack.

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Activists Struggle to Save Skouries 2
Lerissos, Greece
By Michele Lapini
15 Nov 2013

Activists preparing the location for an antigold solidarity concert in Ierissos.

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Mr. Handsome Competition 2013
Kathmandu
By Transterra Editor
02 Nov 2013

First gay males' Mr. Handsome competition in Nepal
The contestants are coming out, one at a time, wearing only jeans, neckties and cowboy hats. Some are a little stiff. Clearly nervous. But they have a reason to be nervous: They are participating in the first gay beauty pageant: Mr. Handsome, the first of its kind in Nepal. Some are coming out to families and friends by participating here. As the minutes pass, the participants become more and more confident, like they have been out their whole life and have performed many times. They show their moves, facing hundreds of spectators, parents and well-wishers, and they smile.

Homosexuality has been legal in Nepal since 2008, which is one of the most liberal Asian countries, but contestant tell stories of being abused and thrown in jail. In Nepal, homosexuality is often seen as a product of reincarnation and thereby a punishment for poor choices in a former life and same-sex marriage is seen as an import from Western and European culture.

The Mr. Handsome pageant was hosted by the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), Nepalese NGO focusing on LGBT awareness activities, as a way to fight discrimination across the country on the 2 of November 2013. The NGO asked for contestants through its 40-something offices and was ecstatic when they received 35 entry applications. They had expected none.

Prim Pakrim, 22 is one of the contestants, is from Kathmandu. When asked why he's decided to attend the pageant he said “because I’m gay and I'm happy being gay." His family is aware that he is gay but he thinks a beauty pageant like Mr. Handsome can change people's views on gay people and will hopefully end the discrimination gays are facing in the country.

Anup Shrestha, one of the runner ups, from Chitwan, is extremely happy for his prize. He is coming out as being gay by being a part of this competition. He said: “We are intelligent, and we are happy to be gay," and added “There are hundreds of people like us living in Nepal. It´s a wonderful life and we can´t hide it any more” He is now ready to face his family and all the questions that come along with his coming out.

On the stage the contestants are asked what they would say to a headmaster who, as many is currently doing in Nepal, is refusing gays access education. Biswo Raj Adhikari answered, “Every gay and lesbian should have equal rights to education. They should not be isolated or discriminated for their natural identity because being gay or lesbian is not a disease but a feeling.”

Sunil Babu Pant, BDS president, said: "This programme has encouraged gay men to reveal their hidden talents and will create more awareness about gender and sexuality” and added "Although treatment of gays has improved in recent years, many are still not willing to come out openly.” Sunil hopes the competition will become an annual event.

The country’s new constitution is expected to define marriage as a union between two adults, regardless of gender, and to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Photos and Text by Ulrik Pedersen

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Spills & Curses (6 of 20)
Yenagoa, Bayelsa, Nigeria
By Tife Owolabi
14 Jun 2013

Alagoa Morris, an environmental activist with a shirt saying "Climate Justice now," takes a snap shot at the spill site at Ikarama community near Royal Dutch Shell Facility in the oil rich Bayelsa state, Nigeria.

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Chapulling Generation, Occupy Gezi Park
Istanbul, Turkey
By Mais Istanbuli
11 Jun 2013

Musicians, artists, doctors, nurses, students, activists, environmentalists have joined the rallies against the Turkish government that they believe threatens their freedom and way of life. The Park (Gezi) became a symbol of civil resistence, a laboratory for a new culture of resistance.