"Leave No One Behind" Group Exhibition Vol2: do not leave yourself behind: self-love matters!

Artist: Fargana Abdulla Description: The music video is a love letter to the community by the artist on self-love and coming out. The clip starts with a woman looking at her "true" identity sitting under the table and hiding inside. She wants to come out to her family and has attempted several times. She imagines different scenarios in her mind. But it will remain unknown which one is true. The WHO constitution states that “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” However, according to a 2017 UN report, nowhere in the world does mental health enjoy parity with physical health in budgeting, education or practice. Young people also struggle to take part in democratic processes, not only because their participation has moved online but due to limitations on their freedom of association. Meanwhile, in activist spaces, the topic of mental health is being centered, with terms such as burnout, compassion fatigue, anxiety, climate grief, and self-care becoming of daily interest among communities that wish to invest in the long-term resiliency of their memberships. Queer Art Festival has conducted a community meeting by creating a safe space for women* and LGBTI+s to share their experiences to understand how existing mental health crisis is linked with the existing systemic and political problems. This article is the summary of the general discussion and different points made by the participants. First and foremost, homophobia and transphobia are deeply ingrained at societal and institutional levels in Azerbaijan. On the one hand, popular opinion is that being an LGBTI+ is “un-Azerbaijani” and against our national values, and people as such do not deserve to be entitled to any rights. On the other hand, the State has not taken adequate and effective legal and policy measures to protect, respect, and fulfill the human rights of LGBTI+s. It should be added that, since 2014, ILGA Europe is ranking Azerbaijan at the bottom of the Rainbow Europe Map due to not improving the legal and policy situation. Hence, it may not be difficult to anticipate the alarming scope of ongoing human rights violations committed against LGBTI+s in Azerbaijan. However, many of those violations go invisible due to various intersecting factors elaborated below by the participants: Distrust and lack of empowerment: Fear of being mistreated, not being taken seriously, discriminated against, and or harassed by law enforcement officers due to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression is a very pervasive phenomenon in the LGBTI+ community. Numerous documented cases prove the situation to be true. The example of “A and 24 others against Azerbaijan” cases before the European Court of Human Rights, where 25 applicants allege inhuman and degrading treatment, torture, and sexual abuse at the hands of law enforcement in 2017, can be the most systemic one. Consequently, when State and non-State actors enjoy impunity for their actions or inactions, it inevitably leads to unwillingness and reluctance amongst the community to report rights violations to the police or other respective state institutions. Lack of awareness and knowledge of human rights protection: Throughout the community meeting, it was discussed that the majority in the LGBTI+ community does not have sufficient awareness of basic rights, and lack the skills and knowledge to recognize and respond accordingly, such as where to report or how to report when violations occur. As a result, any act of State and non-State actor(s) (which could be considered a violation of rights due to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression) is becoming unnoticed by the affected themselves. Consequently, it minimizes the chances of reporting the case in the first place, even if the person would have had an interest in doing it. Interrelatedly, it falsifies the data on LGBTI+ rights in the country and creates an environment where authorities can claim a "good" situation for queer communities by looking at the statistics (which is highly incorrect due to the lack of reported cases). Mental health and well-being, lack of alternative tools All participants agreed with the fact that LGBTI+s like anyone, are experiencing mental health challenges and distress during their lifetime. However, many argued and the evidence shows that LGBTI+s have increased levels of common mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and stress compared to other population groups in society. Living in constant fear of danger, facing discrimination, exclusion, and harassment by State and non-State actors with impunity increases their vulnerability to mental health risks, and addressing those issues, initially requires the ability to recognize them. Unfortunately, many participants added that the majority of the community is not even aware that they are struggling with mental health problems in the country and many commented that they were also aware of their mental health problems quite late in life. Some acknowledged the group that there is an increase in LGBTI+ friendly mental health services offered by private entities or civil society organizations. However, due to the nature of such services, they cannot meet the needs of the wider part of the community. For instance, they are limited to a certain number of beneficiaries; approaching professionals privately and investing in mental health and well-being is costly and becoming expensive for the community that suffers from poverty; they are predominantly located in the capital. A participant added that, sadly, these services also exclude the people living in rural areas. Also, it needs to be noted that the majority in the community struggles with identity disclosure due to various reasons, such as housing stability and job security which affects their willingness to reach out to mental health services with disclosed identity. Lastly, participants discussed that, interconnectedly, this phenomenon is also relevant for people who are directly working with the LGBTI+ community (social work, activism, etc.) as often they forget to recognize and address their mental health problems that are exacerbated or triggered by their engagement. This stress and burnout are also compounded by the fact that LGBTI+s are trying to meet the wide range of common and unique needs of the community with fewer resources available at their disposal. When not addressed, this, in turn, affects the community-building process, effectiveness, and sustainability of given efforts.

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