“I can’t stop being an activist” : study on mediated activism and social change in Belarusian LGBT+ community

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Institutionen för mediestudier

Abstract: During the last five years mediated activism dedicated to LGBT+ issues in Belarus has flourished despite restrictive context: several new online initiatives, including a media project, have been launched. The current study investigates how one of the most politically underprivileged and marginalized groups – LGBT+ activists – make use of online social media to advocate for positive social and political modification in the Belarusian society. By collecting interviews with activists as a primary source of lived experiences, applying thematical analysis on the data from 13 interviews, and then contributing with netnography-informed content analysis as an instrument to analyse 34 posts written in February of 2018 on the personal Facebook pages of the same activists, the current research examines patterns of experiences surrounding participation in mediated LGBT+ activism. The power dynamics and the influence of the repressive context on the practices of mediated activism are analysed through feminist critical discourse analysis with specific focus on heteronormativity as a key-concept of imposing power on marginalized identities. Four global themes emerged in the result of the analysis: 1) heteronormativity and state control; 2) identity as “doing”; 3) the “other” activism, and 4) social change as individual transformation. Topics of heteronormativity, homophobia, hate-crime and violence turned out to be most present in the posts produced by the activists. It was found that in the restrictive spaces mediated activism and social media, instead of serving as tools for mass outreach and mobilization, endanger activists engaged in LGBT+ issues. Burnout, risk of poverty, emotional and physical assaults, and exposure to social sanctions are happening to activists because of their presence online, and there are extremely limited tools to combat these consequences of publicity. In Belarusian context, the shrinking space for civil society and limited political opportunities outweigh the potential of online social media, lower their impact and determine prospects of social change in such a way, when viral organizing or structural transformations become extremely limited.

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