A picture of a blue and yellow light glows on the back wall of the stage at the 3 Dollar Bill. Maxim Ibadov, a 25-year old Brooklyn art educator, gets emotional. The image seems to summarize the hours of work that Ibadov and Leo Allenby had invested in making the fundraiser “We Stand Together with Ukraine” happen there earlier this year. The event was part of a series of queer night life spaces that a collective called “We Together” has been running for what they call the Caucasus, Eastern European, and Central Asian, or CEECA, LGBTQIA+ community in the city. 

The luminous picture is not a perfectly shaped rectangle and it’s not exactly a flag. Says Ibadov: “It’s such a sign of solidarity, it reminds me of the incredible support we got that night.” Ibadov and Leo see it as a symbol of the queer spaces they embrace as part of “the-post Soviet CEECA LGBTQIA+ community.” The latter, as Ibadov explains, “brings together the many folks from that region [who] come to the United States, escaping homophobia and transphobia and that then, here, usually don’t have places to express both their national and queer identity.” 

The rough texture of the exposed bricks serve as a canvas for a fabric made of light that expands beyond its borders. “Seeing a flag of a country from a region where I come from proudly shown at the largest queer club in New York city is just the kind of representation that is life saving,” says Ibadov. 

Some of the funds collected at “Together we Stand” had gone to a group called Cohort, an Ukrainian organization aimed at providing trans folks with shelter, refuge and also with the medication they need to be themselves.

Trans women in Ukraine who have a male marker on their passport haven’t been able to leave the country due to the ongoing martial law there that conscripts people legally considered men, ages 18 to 65, to remain in the country. Hormones have also been in short supply amid the ongoing war, forcing a lot of transgender people in Ukraine to detransition. 

The fundraisers are continuing.

Last month, We Together threw an event at the 3 Dollar Bill called “JUNETEENTH: TOGETHER WE RISE.” While they were preparing for that night, Ibadov and I talked on zoom about the photos I took back in March. The next event takes place at the end of July and it’s called “ART RIOT,” which calls itself an “educational town hall” that will, this time, split all the profits from the show “equally among the performers.”

Scarlett La Queen, a trans icon of Russian pop appeats next to Colombian musician and performer Chico Raro performing “1944,” a song that Ukrainian singer Jamala had performed at Eurovision 2014. Says Maxim: “two completely different artists born thousands of miles away from each other coming together to sing this song that represents a lot to Ukrainians because it’s about the ethnic genocide in their country.”

Photos taken by Juan de Dios Sanchez Jurado.

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