Gayropa – Portraying the New Reality Shaped by LGBT Refugees in Europe




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Jan 21, 2020
by Klaus Mueller
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Gayropa – Portraying the New Reality Shaped by LGBT Refugees in Europe

Photojournalist Bradley Secker discusses his work documenting the lives of LGBT refugees in Europe British photographer Bradley Secker is capturing the stories of LGBT refugees across Europe, including Noel Inglessias and Faris Cuchi Gezahegn from Ethiopia and now in Austria, in his series Gayropa.

British photojournalist Bradley Secker has been working in Istanbul, Turkey and across the region for more than ten years. One of his long-term projects is a photo-led documentation of queer migration and asylum across Europe, documenting not only the difficult process of finding asylum, but also the new lives LGBT refugees build for themselves in Europe. Some of the refugees he works with are also fellows of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum.

Klaus Mueller, Chair & Founder of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum met with Secker to talk about the growing recognition for Bradley’s work, his project Gayropa in which he profiles the vastly different personal stories he captures by photo and text, and his future plans.  

Bradley, how did you come up with the title Gayropa for your new project?

“Gayropa” is a word often used by Russian authorities to refer to Europe, in a derogatory sense. By adopting the term for my project, I want to make a statement: Yes, Europe is indeed a place where LGBT people can live openly, even though it is not perfect and discrimination still exists. I want to reframe the term: Gayropa is a place where LGBT people can form their own communities, and I want to show their lives and faces. This includes the entire spectrum of LGBTI or non-binary people, and how someone defines themselves.

It is also personal for me. The stories I hear and the things I see do affect me. Collecting their stories takes time and I try to show how different refugees arrive and cope with their new environment, also of course depending on the country where they are. I am very impressed with how LGBT refugees I meet are dealing with the daily challenges of creating a life for themselves in a new country with a sense of purpose and, despite everything, joy.

In general, being LGBT often means that one has to migrate, from one small place to a bigger city, or escaping one’s country for safety reasons. I myself come from a small, dull and unwelcoming place where I was the “only gay in the village.”

After a first trip to Syria, you went back in 2010 with a focus on the situation for gay Iraqi men who had to flee from Iraq. Since your move to Turkey in 2011, you documented the story of Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian LGBT refugees. There was no editorial interest at that time. Now recognition and support seems to be growing. Can you explain?

I think the focus on LGBT human rights has become more international and because of huge numbers of refugees arriving in Europe since 2015, there is a wider interest by the public and also publishers. Social media has changed a lot, people can tell their own stories and form communities online, then bring them into actual physical spaces. It is helpful for my work as I can reach people more easily: networks are much larger than they used to be. On my first trip to Syria, it took me three months to connect. Now I can set it up remotely already through the net. My work on queer migration receives funding from the Pulitzer Center and other organizations, and also more recognition from LGBT networks like the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum.  

You also work with Fellows you met at sessions of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum , for example with Faris Cuchi Gezahegn who is a refugee from Ethiopia. Can you share how you approach people you want to profile? How do you work?

For Gayropa, it’s a mixture of people I worked with in the past, or people I contact through friends and friends of friends, or social media. I want to cover as many countries in Europe as possible, and each refugee gives a glimpse into that country.

I met Faris – who identifies as a non-binary person and is using they/them as a personal pronoun – at the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum [in 2015]. Faris comes from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and now lives in Vienna. Faris was forced to seek political asylum in Austria after attending a program in Salzburg. The offices of their LGBT group in Ethiopia had been attacked, and their security became worse and worse. Faris was granted asylum in Austria in July 2017.

So we hooked up, and I visit Faris several times during a year whenever something really relevant happens. Only with time one can build a relationship that allows me to portray a person, their house, friends, and work. I give myself a whole year to complete the Gayropa project, and maybe I need to add more time.

When I first met Faris at the Forum, our relationship was one of activists. I presented my project later and we have been in a lot of conversations about the project, online and in Vienna, to explore comfort levels.  

How do you share your work?

Gayropa is soon to be a standalone website documenting stories of LGBTIQ migration around Europe (, and already an Instagram page. I work also with various outlets like or Buzzfeed News. I hope to reach politicians and in general people who never met LGBT refugees and introduce them to the different lives of LGBT refugees. And of course our LGBT community and refugee communities.

I hope that the LGBT refugees are happy with how I capture their stories.

I’m not a big believer that photojournalism can change the world. I don’t think it’s that profound. Purely and simply I think the work I’m doing will just illustrate and educate people.

But together, as a more cohesive body of work, I hope it would stand as a documentation of queer newcomers to Europe for this period that I’m covering it.

Bradley Secker was a participant at the fifth annual Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum – Home: Safety, Wellness and Belonging.

* LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. We are using this term as it is currently widely used in human rights conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as exclusive of other cultural concepts, contemporary or historical, to express sexuality and gender, intersex and gender non-conforming identities.