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‘Don’t Ask’ repeal faces delay, uncertainty

Gates warns Congress not to act; protesters arrested for third time at White House

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Supporters of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ have turned up the heat on President Obama in recent weeks. Sunday’s White House protest marked the third time in two months that activists were arrested while demanding action on repeal. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In the wake of Defense Secretary Robert Gates advising Congress to delay taking action to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” LGBT advocates remain committed to pushing for repeal this year, but have expressed differing opinions on the best way forward.

In an April 30 letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Gates says “in the strongest possible terms” that the Department of Defense must be allowed to conduct its review of lifting the ban on open service before Congress takes “any legislative action.” The report is due to be completed Dec. 1.

Gates says “a critical element” of the review is engaging the armed forces and military families and noted that those in service “must be afforded” the opportunity to share “concerns, insights and suggestions” about the proposed change.

“Therefore, I strongly oppose any legislation that seeks to change this policy prior to the completion of this vital engagement process,” Gates says. “Further, I hope Congress will not do so, as it would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns, and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact and consequence for them and their families.”

In a statement responding to the letter, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said President Obama’s commitment to repealing the ban on service “is unequivocal,” but noted the White House is on board with delaying implementation of repeal.

“That’s why we’ve said that the implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed,” he said.

The White House didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to clarify whether this statement rules out an endorsement from Obama on including repeal as part of the upcoming Defense authorization bill or whether the president supports a vote in Congress now to repeal the gay ban, as long as implementation is delayed until 2011.

The impact of the two statements on the effort to achieve legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year remains unclear. Some experts previously said repeal was only one or two votes short on the Senate Armed Services Committee, but that may change following Gates’ request for a delay.

David Smith, vice president of programs for the Human Rights Campaign, said repeal remains possible this year.

“We think it should and can happen this year, and that is what we are fighting for,” Smith said. “We continue to work with both the House and the Senate.”

Smith said HRC continues to lobby the White House for support in the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

He added the grassroots work and lobbying that HRC is pursuing in six states — Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Virginia and West Virginia — would be an important part of the path toward winning the votes necessary for repeal.

In anticipation of the defense authorization bill markup in the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 24, the work is intended to influence key senators on the panel who are uncommitted on repeal: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

“The key is the votes and we think we’re close and we think that, at the end of the day, we’ll have those votes, and that’s what we continue to work for,” Smith said.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the best way to make repeal happen following the publication of the Gates letter is working with repeal advocates on Capitol Hill.

“We strongly believe repeal can happen, but this will require the president to lead the way at this critical hour,” Sarvis said. “To put it bluntly, we need his voice and help now.”

Some Hill supporters of repeal are staying mum following publication of the Gates letter and the White House statement. The office of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) declined to comment on the letter, and the office of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), the sponsor of repeal legislation in the House, was quoted in an interview with The Advocate this week as saying he was “blindsided” by the Gates letter, but still plans to pursue repeal this year.

“That’s my job — to make sure that we repeal this policy,” he said. “After my three years in Washington, I think when folks tell you to walk away, that’s usually a sign that you’re getting close.”

In the letter, Gates said he was responding to an April 28 inquiry from Skelton, who opposes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal at this time. Skelton’s inquiry and Gates’ letter come on the heels of an announcement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that she plans to hold a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal this year in her chamber.

“It is the speaker’s intention that a vote will be taken this year on [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] in the House,” Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, told the Blade last week.

In response to a subsequent Blade inquiry about Gates’ letter, Hammill said April 30 that Pelosi’s position was unchanged, although he used slightly different language.

“The speaker maintains her hope to repeal this discriminatory policy this year,” Hammill said.

Separately, Pelosi issued a statement calling for a moratorium on discharges of gay service members.

“We all look forward to the report on the review of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy by the Defense Department,” she said. “In the meantime, the administration should immediately place a moratorium on dismissals under this policy until the review has been completed and Congress has acted.”

Disappointment with President Obama’s lack of support for a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year led around 300 protesters to rally at the White House on Sunday.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean made a surprise appearance at the rally as six protesters were arrested after they handcuffed themselves to the White House gates.

The rally, a collaborative effort of GetEqual and Queer Rising, was aimed to move President Obama to call on Congress to include repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces as part of upcoming Defense Department budget legislation.

People at the rally carried signs reading, “Study: Navy has some bigots — Duh!” and “Mr. Obama, What’s the hold up?”

At one point, demonstrators chanted, “What do we want? Full equality! When do we want it? Now!” They also shouted, “Shame on Obama! Shame on your silence!”

Speaking before attendees, Dean said an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is necessary because it robs the U.S. military of crucial personnel, such as Arabic translators.

“We can’t afford to lose any talented people, and to kick talented people out of the military because they happen to be gay or lesbian makes no sense at all,” he said.

The six protesters who handcuffed themselves to the White House gates Sunday were Anne Tischer of Rochester, N.Y.; Mark Reed of Dallas; and Alan Bounville, Nora Camp, Iana DiBona and Natasha Dillon, all of New York City.

As they handcuffed themselves, protesters chanted, “I am somebody, and I deserve full equality.”

Led by Lt. Dan Choi, who was previously arrested twice for handcuffing himself to the White House fence, the crowd shouted out the Pledge of Allegiance to the six people handcuffed to the fence. After reciting the last line of “With liberty and justice for all,” attendees repeated the refrain, “For all! For all!”

After the six demonstrators were arrested, Paul Yandura, an organizer with GetEqual, said they were charged with misdemeanor failure to obey a lawful order. He noted that each paid a fine of $100 and their cases are now closed.

Those attending the rally said they joined the event to show their frustration with Obama and his approach toward “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Erika Knepp of Annapolis, Md., said it’s “absolutely ridiculous” that Obama hasn’t called for repeal this year.

“He was voted on making promises, and that’s all it’s come to,” she said. “We had the National Equality March to make him promise to keep his promises, and there’s been nothing so far, and it makes me very angry.”

Also expressing anger at the rally over Obama’s handling of the issue was a gay Army Reserve Office Training Corps student at Georgetown University, who spoke to the Blade on the condition of anonymity to avoid being expelled under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The student said he felt Obama “betrayed” him because the president has not fulfilled his campaign promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“When he said that, I was really relieved, knowing that I might be able to come out without having to lie all the time to my peers,” said the student. “But after learning that the White House is not following through on that, it’s actually disappointing.”

Many repeal advocates now see a delayed implementation bill as the best chance for overturning the law this year.

Such a measure would technically meet the standards set forth in the White House statement, which said “the implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed.”

HRC’s Smith called delayed implementation an “essential” component of any bill that would pass this year.

“I believe that the work of the working group likely needs to be completed before repeal can be implemented, but it still can be executed this year and implemented over a period of time based on the working group recommendations,” he said.

Sarvis said SLDN has supported the approach of delayed implementation before in what he called a “60-60-60” plan for repeal.

“We delay repeal of [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] for 180 days after the president signs the defense bill to ensure a timely transition to open service and an orderly implementation,” he said.

Under the plan, Gates would retain authority for discharges immediately upon the legislation’s passage. An estimated 60 days later, the Pentagon working group would make its recommendations on Dec. 1. After an additional 60 days passes, the Defense Department could issue guidelines on implementing open service, and 60 days later, the services can issue their own regulations.

The issue of whether the White House would support delayed implementation legislation came up during a panel discussion on May 1 at the Equality Forum, an annual LGBT summit in Philadelphia.

Brian Bond, LGBT liaison for the White House, sidestepped a question about whether the Obama administration would support passing delayed implementation legislation.

When the letter came up during a panel discussion highlighting LGBT officials in the White House, Bond read a prepared White House statement saying Obama’s commitment to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is “unequivocal,” but that the president wants to wait on implementing repeal until the Pentagon completes its study of the law.

“If change were easy, we wouldn’t be having to have this fight right now,” Bond said. “I think that letter is a good example of how this is going to be a fight and a challenge.”

In response to the statement, Washington Blade Editor Kevin Naff, who was on the panel with Bond, asked whether repeal supporters could infer that the president supports a congressional vote for repeal “as long as the implementation is delayed until after December.”

Bond didn’t say whether the White House supports such a move, but noted an endorsement of such a proposal is part of an “ongoing discussion.”

“I think that’s an ongoing discussion right now,” Bond said. “Again, there are several camps here trying to figure out — don’t forget, at the end of the day, it is Congress that will repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ not us.”

Bond said the president is committed to his campaign promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and that Obama has made clear “on any number of times that we are working on this.”

“It’s not going to be easy,” Bond said. “It’s going to messy. It was about this same time last year that my phone was blowing up and my e-mails were blowing up that we’re not going to get hate crimes done. So, I guess what I would say to you is the president has not changed his position.”

But Bond’s comments didn’t appease some on the panel, who expressed disappointment with Obama’s work on LGBT issues in the nearly 18 months that he’s been in the White House.

Panel moderator Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, noted a growing impatience in the LGBT community with Obama.

“We are impatient and, I think, a lot of the folks out there are impatient,” he said. “Whether it was the ‘fierce advocate’ speech, or whether it was the campaign, we heard a little bit more zeal than we feel right now.”

In a subsequent panel, Choi had stern words for the president on the issue and gave him a D-minus for his handling of LGBT issues.

“I’m absolutely dissatisfied by the thinking of the entire administration that hundreds of soldiers [losing] their jobs this year is not as important as a handful of Democrats who might lose their jobs,” Choi said.

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Colorado

Biden calls Club Q owners as community grapples with aftermath

Fallout over the shooting continues as anger mounts at what many in the LGBTQ+ community see as a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech

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Entrance to the Focus on the Family complex in Colorado Springs after the mass-murder at LGBTQ+ Club Q (Photo by Nic Grzecka/Instagram)

As the LGBTQ+ community continues to mourn the loss of the five people killed in last weekend’s mass shooting, focus is now shifting to a reflection of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has evolved from prejudice to incitement according to Nic Grzecka, a co-owner of Club Q.

In an interview with the Associated Press, one of his first since the chaos of the aftermath created by the mass-shooting, Grzecka said he believes the targeting of a drag queen event is connected to the art form being cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children.

Even though general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate, he said.

“It’s different to walk down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and getting spit at (as opposed to) a politician relating a drag queen to a groomer of their children,” Grzecka said. “I would rather be spit on in the street than the hate get as bad as where we are today.”

On Thursday, President Joe Biden spending the Thanksgiving holiday with the First Lady and family members in Nantucket, Massachusetts, called Grzecka and Club Q co-owner Matthew Haynes.

The President and the First Lady offered condolences and reiterated their support for the community as well as their commitment to fighting back against hate and gun violence. They also thanked the two men for the ‘incredible contributions they have made and will continue to make to Colorado Springs.’

The president told reporters enroute to Nantucket, reflecting on the mass-shooting at the LGBTQ+ club and then another mass-shooting Tuesday, at a Wal-Mart store when a night manager opened fire in a breakroom in Chesapeake, Va., killing six, and wounding at least half a dozen more, said he has plans to support a bill banning assault rifles during the lame-duck session before the next Congress is seated in January.

“I’m going to do it whenever — I got to make that assessment as I get in and start counting the votes,” Biden said

As the memorial outside Club Q grows, more attention is now being focused on the needs of the survivors and others in the LGBTQ + community in Colorado Springs affected by the mass-shooting.

An annual ‘Friendsgiving’ feast for the members of the LGBTQ+ community unable to spend time with relatives because of their being LGBTQ+ and which was normally held by the owners and staff of Club Q was shifted to a community dinner at the Colorado Springs MCC Church.

In an Instagram post, earlier in the week, Grzecka thanked Colorado Governor Jared Polis, state Attorney General Phil Weiser, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez and city councilmember Nancy Henjum whose district the LGBTQ+ club is located, “for your hard work to ensure there was a Crisis Center to service the Club Q and Colorado Springs community during the holiday.”

Fallout over the shooting continues as anger mounts at what many in the LGBTQ+ community see as targeted hate amplified by a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech online and by right-wing media outlets and far-right figures such as Fox host Tucker Carlson.

Colorado Springs is also home to Focus on the Family, one of the largest anti-LGBTQ+ groups in the United States. The Christian ministry group has opposed same-sex marriage, LGBTQ+ service in any branch of the U.S. armed forces and continues to advocate for the discredited practise of conversion therapy.

Late Thursday person or persons unknown vandalized the sign at the main entrance to the group’s headquarters complex. “We went out there to investigate if there was a crime that took place,” Colorado Springs Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Jason Ledbetter told the Gazette regarding the overnight incident. “There is no suspect information at this time.”

In a Instagram post, Club Q owner Grzecka displayed a picture of the vandalized sign with graffiti spray painted in black reading; “Their blood is on your hands five lives taken.”

In his message accompanying the picture, Grzecka noted:

Focus on the Family moved to our city in the 90’s, was a large group behind pushing through amendment 2 along with Colorado for family matters. People such as Dr. James Dobson and Will Perkins have spread a nasty, false and hurtful narrative about our LGBT community.

Amendment 2 was passed in 1992, and Colorado Springs ( El Paso county) were the votes to pass the amendment, the same amendment that gave our city the nickname “hate city USA”

Words have consequences and your continuous false narrative about the lgbt community has consequences,
@focusonthefamily this message added to your sign has more truth to it than you may actually be able to understand.

This is not vandalism this is not an attack on Christian’s. This message is just that a message that was delivered in a way to ensure you receive it.

@cityofcos, Mayor Suthers when can we meet to discuss how this type of Anti Gay speech, is coming from our own backyard.

The Gazette also reported that people from around the nation are holding in-person and online fundraisers for victims and families of the Club Q mass shooting. 

While the state has an official online donation site, the Colorado Healing Fund, a private online drive, also has become one of the largest appeals.

Good Judy Garage in Denver, an LGBTQ business, raised $25,000 in two hours after starting a GoFundMe drive on Sunday. The initial goal was upped to $50,000 and now is at $750,000, as donations continue to pour in. As of Friday, the amount collected was $761,707 raised.

Link to the GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-for-the-club-q-families-and-survivors.

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Colorado

Defense attorneys say Club Q suspect is nonbinary

Alleged shooter to make virtual court appearance Wednesday

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(Photo courtesy of Facebook)

The suspect in the killing of five people and the wounding of over a dozen others in the Saturday night mass shooting at Club Q is nonbinary say attorneys in documents filed Tuesday in the 4th Judicial District and El Paso County, Colorado Combined Courts.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reported that lawyers for suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich filed a series of motions after they were released from the hospital and transferred to the El Paso County jail in downtown Colorado Springs.

Joseph Archambault, who is the chief trial deputy for the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender, and Michael Bowman, another state public defender, included a footnote in the documents which read: “Anderson Aldrich is nonbinary. They use they/them pronouns, and for the purposes of all formal [court] filings, will be addressed as Mx. Aldrich.”

The suspect has 10 charges stemming from the shooting. Five felony counts of first degree murder and five felony counts of bias-motivated crimes causing bodily injury.

In a press briefing earlier, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said the suspect had not made any statements to investigators, despite attempts to interview Aldrich.

The Gazette reported that Aldrich is scheduled to make a virtual appearance for an advisement hearing at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in 4th Judicial District Court. There is no date set for the suspect’s first in-person court appearance. 

According to the Gazette the six motions filed by the defense include a motion to unseal the arrest affidavit for the defense, a motion to limit pretrial public comment, a motion to provide ongoing disclosures to the defense, a motion for the court to prohibit ex parte search warrants by law enforcement, a motion for preservation of discoverable materials, and a motion demanding a preliminary hearing. 

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Gay Ukrainian immigrant looked to social media to find himself

Artem Bezrukavenko was born in Donetsk

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Artem Bezrukavenko (Photo by Andrey Strekoza)

On the streets of New York City, Artem Bezrukavenko stood next to a bystander with a microphone. 

“What would be your ideal boyfriend?” he asked the man. 

But he didn’t answer. Instead, he posed the same question to Bezrukavenko.

“My ideal boyfriend would be loyal, ambitious and monogamous,” Bezrukavenko said, adding: “He knows what he wants from life, loves me — I love him — and we have very good goals that are going to bring us together.” 

Of course, Bezrukavenko has already found this man. He and his boyfriend have been together for over a year and share a one bedroom apartment in the Upper West Side. 

But it hasn’t always been this way for Bezrukavenko. The 25-year-old, who was born in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, left the country for nearby Poland in 2014, the year Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine — beginning a period of prolonged bloodshed in the country’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. He moved to the U.S. a few years later, in 2017. 

Bezrukavenko told the Los Angeles Blade that he has been closeted most of his life. But, through social media, he said he learned to embrace his queer identity. 

“When I started to do content, I didn’t really show my gay side,” he said. “But, at some point, I just kind of dived into it. I saw there were a lot of people who could relate to me. And, in fact, I do change a lot of people’s lives.” 

Double-edged sword 

Discussions surrounding the LGBTQ community and social media often focus on cyberbullying and hate speech. However, some research has shown that the internet can also provide LGBTQ people, particularly youth, a safe space to explore themselves — especially if they come from an unsupportive environment.  

According to a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, sexual minorities between 10 and 16 years old more often reported joining a group or web-based community to make themselves feel less alone compared to their heterosexual peers. An Australian survey of people aged 14-21 found digital spaces provide an ideal practice ground for LGBTQ youth to come out, engage with gay culture, socialize with other LGBTQ youth and experiment with non-heterosexual intimacy. 

Ross Murray, vice president of the GLAAD Media Institute, said LGBTQ people often use social media to find people like them. He said it can be very easy to feel isolated, but “social media helps you find and realize that you’re not alone.” 

On the flip side, Murray said, social media is also used to broadcast who you are. “You can be the one who is sharing your life, being your authentic self, talking about the joys and struggles, so that other LGBTQ people can learn that,” he said. 

Bezrukavenko has seen both sides — inspired by LGBTQ creators and empowered by making content that celebrates who he is. 

“I looked at some people who were being gay on social media and showing their life,” he said. “I felt like, ‘oh, my gosh, there are so many gay people.’ And they’re not feeling it’s a disadvantage, they make the best out of it.”   

That’s not to say social media isn’t an increasingly dangerous place for LGBTQ people. GLAAD, for example, recently analyzed the five major social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok — finding none scored over a 50 percent for LGBTQ safety, privacy and expression. TikTok — the second most popular form of social media amongst teens, according to Pew Research — scored the lowest, with 43 percent. 

“This is the dark side of visibility, I guess,” Murray said. “The more visible you get, the more of a target you become.” 

Murray said social media is a place where we put ourselves out there. We do it for an intended audience, he said, like people we can educate, comfort or guide. “But that can be seen by anyone,” he said. “And that being seen by anyone also then can turn into a weaponization.” 

Bezrukavenko — who dabbled with, but ultimately abandoned, social media before coming out — said fear of online harassment kept him from pursuing it for most of his life. He said he always wanted to do social media, but his biggest fear was that he would be bullied for how he talked or walked, like in school. 

War in Ukraine

His life changed drastically in 2014 as war erupted 80 miles from his home in the Ukrainian city of Dobropillya. Bezrukavenko, who was raised by his mother and grandparents, was 17 at the time and had just finished high school. 

In an attempt to salvage his country’s lost influence in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded and annexed Crimea on the northern coast of the Black Sea in March 2014. Then, pro-Russia separatist rebels began seizing territory in the eastern part of the country. But as fighting with the Ukrainian military intensified, the rebels started losing — causing Russia to invade eastern Ukraine in August 2014. As of September 2014, more than 2,500 Ukrainians have been killed. 

Bezrukavenko wanted to build a life for himself. Not only was there war, but he also said he knew he was gay and — though he saw the country making some efforts toward LGBTQ tolerance — ultimately didn’t see Ukraine as a place where he would be comfortable.

“I knew I did not belong in Ukraine, and I always wanted to go away,” he said. 

Bezrukavenko said his Ukranian identity is complicated — he hasn’t felt a strong connection to the country since he left it in 2014. Even with today’s war in Ukraine, he still doesn’t feel a strong sense of Ukrainian identity. 

In February of this year, Putin announced a “special military operation” in the country — the war still has no end in sight. Nearly 8 million Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia’s invasion, making it the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Russia has also been accused of war crimes

Bezrukavenko still has family in Ukraine. In fact, his uncle is fighting in the war. “I don’t really miss Ukraine, and I don’t really want to live there,” he said. “But I don’t want them to be under the bumps.” 

Bezrukavenko said he thinks his sense of Ukrainian identity has faded because he moved from the country at a young age. He said since moving to America, the feeling has faded even more. 

“My whole adult life, I was out of there, so I feel like I’m probably more American than Ukrainian at this point,” he said. 

Bezrukavenko’s journey 

So he could leave the country, Bezrukavenko’s family — who he was not out — borrowed money and sent him to Warsaw with a three-month allowance. Knowing little Polish, he was set to start at the University of Management.

He said he had to “hustle” in Poland. In addition to school, Bezrukavenko worked two jobs at a time – working for months without a day off. At one point, he was expelled from school for poor attendance. (He was later readmitted.) 

“I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “It’s not like I didn’t want to go to school, I just didn’t have time.” 

After six months of being in Warsaw, Bezrukavenko’s mother joined him. They shared a small studio apartment with nothing to sleep on but a small couch. He worked during the day while his mother worked nights. 

“There was no time for anything,” he said. “It was just working.” 

Bezrukavenko worked several jobs in Warsaw — from distributing flyers to being a receptionist and sales associate. “You know, it sounds terrible but it was a good time,” he said.” I had a dream and I was saving money for America.” 

After three years in Poland — with only $500 in his pocket — Bezrukavenko moved to the U.S. in 2017. His mother stayed back in Warsaw. 

In the years since, Bezrukavenko has moved coast to — starting his journey in Ocean City, Md., then New York City (for one day), then Chicago, then Los Angeles, then Austin, until he ended up in Manhattan. 

“I did a circle kind of,” he said.  

All the while, he worked in restaurants, call centers and retail — to name a few — to make ends meet. 

Coming out — twice 

Artem Bezrukavenko (Photo by Andrey Strekoza)

During this period, Bezrukavenko was closeted. While living in Warsaw, he remembers telling his mother he was gay. She suggested that a psychologist could help him.

“Even though my mom is the most progressive mom ever — I mean, she was my best friend all my life. But she still couldn’t believe that I was gay,” Bezrukavenko said. “So we kind of forgot about it.” 

After having his heart broken in Austin — though he said it “wasn’t really that broken, I was just being [dramatic]” — Bezrukavenko came out to his mother again. This time went smoother than the last. 

“After I came out to my mom, I was just like, I just need to come out — I just need to get it over with,” he said. 

Bezrukavenko publicly came out as gay in a video posted on Christmas 2020 while living in Austin. In it, he held the LGBTQ Pride flag over his shoulders. Within three hours, the video had 500,000 views. 

“I thought in my head, I make a problem for myself being gay,” he said. “Why don’t I look at it as not a problem but an advantage?” 

He said that his life changed a lot after posting that video, something that shocked him. He began to grow on all different platforms — like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube — sharing his story, doing LGBTQ-themed videos, posting so-called “thirst traps” and doing comedy. 

Bezrukavenko also noticed that many people online were already saying he was gay. For example, he said he ran a YouTube channel in Polish about living in America while he was closeted. As the channel grew, so did the number of people saying he acted gay — which, at the time, made him feel ashamed. 

“They would say I am giving Cher,” he said, referring to a viral Shawn Mendes video, where the singer told his then-girlfriend Camila Cabello that “it’s giving Cher.” The meme invited inappropriate jokes about Mendes’ presumed sexuality. 

But as it turned out, Bezrukavenko said, being unapologetically himself on the internet set him free and racked up more views. 

“I realized at this point, why do I hide myself?” he said. “I have a very unique perspective.” 

Gay content for gay people

Now, Bezrukavenko is living in Manhattan with his boyfriend, mainly creating content on TikTok, Instagram and OnlyFans. 

Bezrukavenko recently teamed up with a fellow gay influencer, StanChris, to film a series of videos later seen on TikTok and Instagram. 

“He seems really, really motivated — and I really liked that,” Chris, who asked the Blade to use his first name only, said. “He’s like, go, go, let’s work. And he’s always thinking of new ideas and stuff.” 

The two met after Chris noticed a viral Instagram reel Bezrukavenko posted. When Chris clicked on the account, he noticed Bezrukavenko had already attempted to DM him. So he wrote back, and the two began communicating. 

Chris, who lives in New Hampshire, was in New York for a skateboarding event and suggested that the two meet in person to film videos. After spending some time in Bezrukavenko’s apartment, the two embarked on a night in the city.

“We were just interviewing random people, asking them questions for more short videos to make,” Chris said. “And we both got multiple viral videos from doing that, so we had some good energy, good vibes, good luck.” 

Bezrukavenko said he is focusing on making gay content for gay people. “I realized at some point that there is not enough gay content — that there is not enough good representation,” he said. 

He does have one account, Art in the Park — a TikTok page with over 120,000 followers and north of 3 million likes where he interviews people on the streets of New York City — with the purpose of capturing a wider audience. Though he has come to love interviewing people, he said he is also focused on his LGBTQ-themed comedy on his personal accounts. 

Bezrukavenko said his life is the most stable it’s ever been. After losing both his grandparents last year, he met his now boyfriend.

“I don’t want to say I’m a religious person, but I feel like there’s some power,” he said. “I told my mom a lot that I feel like [my boyfriend] was sent to me by my grandparents.”

He described his personal life as “very boring because it’s very good.”

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