College grad to support LGBT rights in Russia
Kelby Reed will help create a safe environment for LGBT youths in Russia
August 28, 2013, 6:24 pm · Updated August 28, 2013, 10:08 pm·
Most recent college grads plans do not include weekend trips to Russia for LGBT activism. But 2013 College alum Kelby Reed never confined herself to what most people are doing.
Kelby — who goes by Bee — left for Moscow on Monday and will be jetting back and forth from Russia as part of an international group of about 30 activists in support of LGBT rights there. The group includes Americans, Canadians, Australians, Brazilians and Argentineans, working in partnership with the Russian LGBT Network, a nonprofit based in Russia.
Bee plans to spend some weeks here and other weeks in Moscow — with very short turnaround times.
“I’ll be on my own time zone,” she said.
People at Penn who know Bee are not surprised that she has taken on this endeavor.
“That’s Kelby. She does crazy stuff really sensibly,” said professor Cam Grey, a faculty master in Kings Court English College House and one of Bee’s emergency contacts in the States. “While nothing that Kelby does surprises me, at the same time everything does.”
While at Penn, Bee was either stage managing or directing half a dozen plays at a time, being an RA in Kings Court and writing a senior thesis. According to Grey, she exhibited an almost supernatural ability to be extremely organized and involved while getting very little sleep.
However, she said she was never an activist at Penn. After graduation, Bee met the other members of the group during a Google Hangout about gay rights in Russia. During the Hangout, some of the participants expressed an interest in traveling to Russia to work as activists.
“A lot of us decided that we were in a logistical position to go [to Russia],” Bee said. “We didn’t have full-time jobs or families.”
Rather than taking the route of traditional activism, such as organizing rallies, the group decided to pursue community projects.
“We recognize that a small group is not going to change much politically,” Bee said. [Instead] we’re going to try to implement programs that worked in our own countries.”
Bee and several others plan to find an inexpensive foreclosed property in Moscow and convert it into a safe house for displaced LGBT youth. In addition to having a safe and secure place to stay, residents will have access to in-house doctors and a rotating group of psychologists.
Russia’s current homophobic political climate and new anti-gay propaganda laws will complicate setting up such an institution.
“The laws in Russia have rendered illegal what is known as gay propaganda,” post-Soviet expert and professor Kevin Platt said. Propaganda is defined as disseminating information, especially to children.
“It’s hard to imagine a safe house without some sort of outreach,” Platt said about Bee’s plans.
However, Platt believes that Bee and the other activists are unlikely to face legal implications if they do not take part in protests. Even if she is arrested, it is more likely that she will be deported than charged.
“The international climate is such that I doubt Russia would be interested in prosecuting foreigners,” he said. “But on the other hand, anything can happen in Russia.”
However, roaming homophobic gangs pose a physical threat to the activists and the house’s residents. The group set up an extensive system in the States in case they run into legal trouble while abroad. They also plan to have guard dogs at the safe house.
Platt also said that the group will likely encounter uncooperative and unsympathetic bureaucrats in Russia, who will make setting up the safe house all the more difficult.
“I was raised in a community [in rural Pennsylvania] where the attitudes of people [toward gays] were more like Russia than Penn and other urban areas. I was lucky enough to get out,” Bee said. “I know I’m not going to change every thing but if I can help people change their lives in any small way, it will be worth it.”