'GAYROPA' is a word often used by Russian authorities to refer to Europe. It is meant to signify both Russia's lack of acceptance of LGBT+ people and to distinguish between the values of East and West, particularly when it comes to the rights of sexual minorities. GAYROPA is the latest segment of Bradley Secker's decade-covering work on LGBT+ asylum and migration. The project was made possible with the support of the National Geographic Society.

This project offers a window into the lives of LGBT+ people from around the world who are claiming asylum, or have been granted asylum, in European countries on the grounds of their sexuality or gender identity. Since the European Union doesn't have a common policy when it comes to dealing with LGBT+ asylum cases, these individuals face vastly different requirements to prove who they are, and demonstrate why they need protection.

Despite their differences, there's more that unites than divides this diverse group of people. Beyond a common experience of intolerance - sometimes violent - in their home countries, they are dealing with the daily challenges of creating a life for themselves in a new country with a sense of purpose, despite the challenging circumstances.

Growing up in a hostile environment where a threat to one's safety can stem from family members, the authorities, religious communities, violent non-state actors or a mixture of several of these, the majority of LGBT+ people face particular threats to their psychological well-being. In addition to being asylum seekers in a new country, having to learn a new language, adapting to a new society and finding a community, staying psychologically sound can be a battle and the need for support increases.

Many of those photographed have faced discrimination in exile; xenophobia and racism from host societies, including the LGBT+ community, and homophobia and transphobia from fellow asylum seekers, and the local population. Many steer clear of others from their own countries as they find themselves fighting similar issues they thought they'd left behind.

Some people photographed for GAYROPA like Hamoudi (Syria), Mir (Bangladesh) and Faris (Ethiopia) come from countries where their sexuality is criminalised. Others like Igor and Sergi (Ukraine) grew up in places where homophobia has become an increasingly political topic in recent years. Bella (Turkey), Komil and Khusen (Tajikistan) are from countries where being LGBT isn't criminalised but they continue to face threats to their lives. For others like intersex Wael (Morocco), Europe offers the means to change his legal gender and continue his life back home eventually.

Polarising as our current world may be, this project documents the unity and togetherness of LGBT+ people from around the world who have made, and are making, new lives and communities of their own across the continent. These brave and proud people are the opposite of victims and they use their strength to move their lives forward, redefining the term 'Gayropa' as they do so.
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