New Voices of Change: Transformative Community Organizing of New Immigrants in the U.S. A Case-Study of RUSA LGBTQ+

Tanzilya Oren, Fordham University


Problem: The population of Russian-speaking LGBTQ+ immigrants in the U.S. has increased due to the intensified political violence against LGBTQ+ people in Russia since 2014. These new immigrants encounter global and U.S. homophobia and transphobia, racialization, and the violence of immigration and modern social welfare regimes. Little is known about the strategies these new immigrants deploy to counter oppressive systems of political violence in their countries of origin and the violence of asylum and social welfare systems in the U.S. Goal and theoretical lenses: This study explores transformative community organizing among Russian-speaking LGBTQ+ immigrants through the analysis of the lived experience of members of RUSA LGBTQ+ and the case of RUSA LGBTQ+ as a transformative group. The themes of global and Russian LGBTQ+ rights, the violence of immigration and local welfare state policies, historical and LGBTQ+ traumas, and collective healing contribute to the study's conceptual framework. Translocational belongings as an operationalized intersectional approach, emergent strategy, and transformative organizing are the theoretical lenses to analyze the group's individual, community, and societal transformative work. The study contributes to the research on the intersectionality of migrants, bringing together grassroots organizing, immigration and queer migration studies on micro, meso, and macro levels, and transformative organizing through the lens of Critical Race Theory (CRT) with its intersectionality. Along with the problem of racialization, the study centers sexualities and gender as problematized in immigration policies of control and governance and neoliberal welfare systems. Methods: A qualitative case study is based on an Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) of 26 in-depth interviews with members and stakeholders of RUSA LGBTQ+, with data from the participant observation notes, and artifacts such as digital media, and news stories used for triangulation. Results: Three interconnected major themes emerged: 1. Political is personal: making sense of the international and Russian anti-LGBTQ+ trends; 2. Grappling with multiple minority identities’ reshuffling in migration, and, 3. Coming together for a reason: belonging and RUSA LGBTQ+. RUSA LGBTQ+ leaders come from particular social locations as marginalized internal migrants from ethnic minority backgrounds to newly transformed by migration locations in the U.S., preparing them for progressive organizing. The identities they held in their countries of origin lost their salience or moved in the order of importance, with lost social and professional statuses and erased ethnicities, where the host society saw them as homogenized LGBTQ+ migrants-refugees, mostly racialized as “white.” These translocations happened on the backdrop of broader contexts in both countries: from the patriarchal, Orthodox Christian, autocratic and corrupt, anti-liberal-West, anti-LGBTQ regime, and unresolved traumas of the Soviet Union, to the violent U.S. asylum regime and the lottery-like multi-level decentralized and privatized social welfare system that led to differential treatment and access. RUSA LGBTQ+, an informal group established in 2008, used an emergent strategy to do organizing that encompassed personal, community, and societal transformative work. This work included healing through mutual aid, providing a welcoming, friendly space for queer and other migrants who speak Russian, - a chosen family, and directing action against global and local LGBTQ+ and immigrant oppressions. Implications: For RUSA LGBTQ+ the critique is presented, and the four areas of growth are suggested that encompassed working on their shared goal and vision, strengthening their processes, joining common struggle more explicitly, and embracing conflict and ensuring safety at the same time. For social work educators, the study is critical to expanding the understanding of intersectionality by highlighting a small and very diverse subgroup within a larger marginalized population of LGBTQ+ and other gendered, sexualized, and racialized displaced people. The within-group diversity adds to the training in cultural humility. Being versed in geopolitical and historical events and immigration and refugee policies through the lens of CRT contributes to building knowledge about intergenerational and historical traumas of various migrants and non-migrant populations. A transformative organizing framework helps students and educators to connect clinical assessment and interventions to community and policy social work with a radical social justice orientation. For researchers, "slow" community-engaged research methods help understand how deep organizing happens within groups. Social work practice would benefit from the study by moving to an integrative and holistic approach with a community-based and policy change orientation. The study offers analyses of historical traumas and offers thick phenomenological descriptions and the lived experience of the violence of immigration and welfare policies. The struggles of new LGBTQ+ migrants and their organizing for larger solidarity goals add to the development of more progressive social work practice.

Subject Area

Social work|Political science|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Oren, Tanzilya, "New Voices of Change: Transformative Community Organizing of New Immigrants in the U.S. A Case-Study of RUSA LGBTQ+" (2022). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI29393110.