Belarus indie-rock band Kiwi Time speaks up for LGBT people in Russia

Kiwi Time, one of San Francisco's most popular & spirited indie-rock / pop bands, is donating proceeds to and raising awareness for Uprising of Love, a coalition whose mission is to give Russian LGBT activists a voice and provide the financial resources to fight discrimination. The donated proceeds came from their headlining show at the Great American Music Hall, January 25th and will continue with additional efforts in the months to come.

Originally from Belarus, a neighbor of Russia, the band members of Kiwi Time relocated to San Francisco. The anti-LGBT atrocities taking place in neighboring Russia made it obvious that they had to immediately take action and lend their voice to the effort of bringing awareness to LGBT equality in Russia. Singer Anna Makovchik says, “attacking people’s sexual orientations is shattering the lives of Russians; we want to make music that inspires change.”

GLAAD was able to ask some questions to Kiwi Time about why it was important to them to speak out.

What was your experience with LGBT people in Belarus?  

As children growing up in Eastern Europe we did not know or understand the differences in sexuality or much anything else, people are people. As time went on the differences we began to notice in the classroom setting were related to bullying and the discrimination of fellow classmates who were often recognized as “different” or gay. The view toward LGBT people among the Belarussian public and media has been either neutral or negative. Mostly the gay community has been treated as outcasts. Even we as former punk-rock musicians were treated as outcasts or abnormal. Yet we still couldn’t comprehend the full gravity of discrimination from fellow humans. Being beaten on the street was commonplace for “different” people. While in Belarus we cannot say that we had defended LGBT rights. All of us knew deep down inside it was wrong for humans to treat anyone this way based on differences in lifestyle, sexuality or music. Witnessing such negative actions led us to leave the country and come to San Francisco looking for an opportunity to liberate ourselves and our music.

Not many musicians and artists in Belarus are LGBT supportive, so what made the band so vocal about LGBT equality?  

We were raised in a country that portrays LGBT people as third class citizens. It’s been hard coded in our brains from childhood, but we learn and change on a daily basis. We‘ve learned about basic human rights, about what the full concept of freedom means and we've struggled internally with what we've been brainwashed with and what we as adults are unlearning now. We are not perfect and still make mistakes and we want to take our friends and our former countrymen on the journey we are going through. Our goal is to help open their eyes and gain acceptance on other issues. It’s not well known that the LGBT people of Belarus and Russia are actually supported by many musicians and artists. Outward support for anyone in the LGBT community can jeopardize someone’s career. Living in San Francisco for the past 5 years has taught us a lot about how to embrace and celebrate the differences in everyone. We want to help people who assert their rights to build a strong spirit. We are advocates for an aware society that offers equality for everyone, whether it be politics, religion or the right to love.

Was it hard to speak out for LGBT people in a culture that opposes it so much? 

Yes. Russian & Belarussian Government propaganda makes one believe that gays are the outcasts of society; the stereotype we intend to break. As we mentioned it wasn’t only we who were silent. Speaking out could cost you your reputation, career or friendship. The band was different and that was our voice. Since moving to San Francisco, we now have gay friends that surround and support us in our daily and professional activities. We love and respect them dearly and we have great friends in them. The owner of our Granted Access label by Baynetwork Inc, Yuriy Petushkov, said it took him 20+ years of living here in the US to start to understand true equality: He felt “I was like any other Russian! I was judgmental, close-minded and opposing equal rights for everyone. Time and education helped me to change my views.”

How did you learn about the Russian Freedom Fund?   

For us it’s more than just music. We love freedom of expression. We wanted to do something substantial, something bigger than music. Be part of the new generation and new society. When we put our heads together we learned about the Russian Freedom Fund through uprisingoflove.org  It was uprisingoflove.org that put us in touch with GLAAD and the Russian Freedom Fund to help us carry our voice beyond our music.

Tell us about the concerts you have done to support the Russian Freedom Fund. 

On Jan 25th we had the honor to headline at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Our support for uprisingoflove.org drove hundreds of fans and concert goers to the show. During the show Anna made a speech about LGBT issues in Russia that was received with open arms. “We're grateful to share our music with you at the Great America Music Hall, and we're also very happy to help a cause that needs the attention of the world. Many of you may know, the Russian LGBT community is facing an increase of harassment, arrest and violence. To bring attention to these injustices and raise awareness we will be donating our proceeds from tonight's show to the organization, Uprising of Love, a coalition whose mission is to give Russian LGBT activists and supporters a voice and provide financial aid to fight discrimination. We are blessed to be able to share our music freely.” Joining forces with Baynetwork Inc., they matched our donation to Uprising of Love.

How has the news from Russia and the Olympics impacted the band? 

To be honest, we are proud to have neighboring Russia host the Olympics just as any person born in the country of the host would be. The athletic opportunity it represents for the entire world is awesome. However, knowing there are still arrests and discrimination occurring during this worldly event drives us even further into wanting to help make change. We don’t want to take away from the athleticism and beauty that the Olympics represent, but we did use this event as an opportunity to amplify our message for human rights. It was very painful to watch the Russian government arrest LGBT people for something as simple as a rainbow t-shirt and we are ashamed of uneducated people. The Olympics were a springboard for our human rights message that we plan on carrying throughout our lives and music.

What do you want US allies to know about LGBT people in Russia? 

Russia is old-fashioned conceptually. Currently the LGBT Russian experience is like what happened in the United States 40-50 years ago. “Hideout” locations for the LGBT to congregate are commonplace and the government barely tolerates this. Everyone knows that Russia lags behind the West on the development of society, so the US and US allies have to continue to show Russia the way toward what tomorrow can look like. Education and time are the main ingredients in helping Russian’s change their stereotypes.

What do you want LGBT people in Russia to know? 

You are not alone. There are people fighting for your rights and voicing themselves about how beautiful life can be, but you cannot be silent. Speak up for your rights and let love conquer. Everyone is born with a unique point of view and offered a birthright to freedom and love.

Kiwi Time's new 5 track EP “It’s Kiwi Time” infuses memorable dance-rock rhythm with the energy of their live performances. The upcoming EP is slated for release later this spring. You can hear some more of their music here

Kiwi Time is signed on with San Francisco Bay Area’s Label Granted Access Studio's by Baynetwork, a new entertainment media and tech savvy company based in Menlo Park California. Additionally Baynetwork matched funds and donated to Uprising of Love and will continue to work on this project with their artists.

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As a Major League Baseball umpire for the past 29 seasons, Dale Scott has worked three World Series, three All-Star Games, two no-hitters and numerous playoff games. He is also the first out active male official in the MLB, NBA, NHL, or NFL, and the first Major League Baseball umpire to publicly say he is gay while active.