by Leander Milbrecht
A group of queer people climbs to the highest peaks in the world and waves a rainbow flag at the top: The pink summit campaign wants to raise awareness for violence against queer people in Central Asia and Eastern Europe and help create visibility.
Dastan Kasmamytov (28) lives currently in Berlin, Germany. He was involved in local LGBT activism in his home country Kyrgyzstan and one of the first people there to publicly come out seven years ago. His parents were concerned about his safety afterwards – it was one of the reasons why he left to continue his studies as a software developer in the US and Europe.
But raising awareness for LGBT people in Central Asia was still a big issue for him – he cycled from Kyrgyzstans capital Bishkek to Berlin for two and a half months straight, crossing 13 countries and collecting stories of local queer people. Together with friends he came up with the pink summit campaign – they already climbed the highest mountain of each Europe and Africa. SPARTACUS talked to him about the idea behind the queer mountaineering, the social situation for LGBT people in his home country and what summit is next to be gay-ed.
1. You have been living in Berlin for two years – what is the biggest difference to living in your home country?
Kyrgyzstan is a patriarchal and conservative society. There is a huge problem with human rights in general, but especially LGBT and women rights. The biggest difference to living in Berlin is that it is so okay to be gay here. Of course there are cases of violence in Berlin as well but in comparison it is a total different world – almost a paradise. Plus: If someone beats you up, you can at least go to the police and report it or to the hospital and they will take care of you. If you get beat up for being gay in Kyrgyzstan your biggest problems afterwards are the police, the hospital and your family and friends once they find out you are gay.
2. You want to increase the visibility of LGBT – how did you and your fellow campaigners come up with the idea of pink summits?
The media back in my home country reports about gay men – but only the negative news. I want to change the media landscape, I want them to realize that we are doing good things to our country and it’s economy: We are doctors, sportsmen, teachers, soldiers. And I wanted to inspire younger people: That despite all the hate and violence we are facing we can do many cool things and achieve a lot.
3. Are you an experienced mountaineer? Do you have professional equipment?
Yes, I am and I do. I started my mountaineering through rock climbing and wall climbing as a teenager.
Every mountain of course needs its own specific equipment. I have some of it, some of it I have to buy or rent out yet. And of course every mountain requires some training beforehand. The hardest mountain will of course be Everest, and I have to have a strict programm for one or even two years in order to ascend that mountain succesfully.
4. Is there a summit you are frightened to climb?
We are keeping Everest up until the end: I have never done anything like it before. But up until now my biggest problem are homophobic people in the state. When I went to Mount Elbrus in Russia, the highest mountain of Europe, I wasn’t afraid of the mountain as much as I was afraid of the state and the police. Elbrus is in Caucasus, so it is very close to Chechnya and other very conservative parts of Russia where gay people are abused, tortured and killed. It was a dangerous trip.
5. How is your venture financed?
Up until now it was fully self-funded. The next summits will be more expensive than the ones we did so far, so we try to find sponsors and raise money. Also, I am planning to offer tours for LGBT people through Central Asia, focusing on hiking and mountaineering. That way, we will not only bring different cultures together, but also raise money for the pink summit campaign.
6. Where there difficulties you did not expect when you started?
I am a citizen of Kyrgyzstan – compared to a German passport I am not able to get anywhere without a visa. It is more expensive, bureaucratic and difficult for me to get those things done. Getting the visa to Tanzania to climb the Kilimanjaro was especially difficult, I think they googled me first. But eventually I managed to get the visa.
When we crossed the border from Georgia to Russia I was interrogated by the secret service of Russia. It was the hardest border crossing in my life and took almost 6 hours.
7. Which summit is next?
This year we are planning to do two summits: Aconcagua, the highest mountain of South America in December. But before that we want to do a bit of training in June on the Montblanc, the highest mountain of Western Europe. In August we will do a Centralasian expedition. People are welcome to join us! You don‘t have to be an experienced mountaineer, you just need to enjoy hiking. There will be a short training where we will show you how to go on ice and snow, so you will be able to learn a lot. But the coolest part of it is to just have fun as a group of queer people going up there with a rainbow flag.
8. What positive experiences have you had on your way, what feedback have you received from other LGBTs?
Recently I was in central Asia, in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, giving speeches and presentations about the campaign for LGBT organisations. It was crazy emotional to see that we were able to inspire younger people. That is probably the most positive part of it. But I got also a lot of hate comments in Russian, Kyrgyz and Polish, saying mostly somethings like „The faggot should die or kill himself in those mountains“. I am documenting all of those messages and try to fundraise money for each one of those hate mails. When I was giving a speech in Bishkek publicly in a bar, there were people outside waiting with knives. It is actually still dangerous to be an activist, to be openly LGBT. For me personal, in this campaign, the most dangerous thing is not the mountains, but being an LGBT mountaineer, open about my sexuality. Especially in such homophobic countries.
9. What are your hopes for the pink summit campaign?
I will be the first Kyrgyz person who was able to summit all those mountains so it will be a historical moment. But the best part will be that this person is openly gay. I hope through the campaign i will race visibility about Kyrgyzstan and the issues for queer people not only in Kyrgyzstan but in the whole region of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Hopefully in the end, I will be able to change the hearts and minds of many people and inspire younger LGBT, but actually everyone, to do cool things in order to change our world for better.
- Dastan in Caucausus: Pink Summits
- on top of Elbrus: Pink Summits
- team in front of kili with a rainbow flag: Pink Summits
- Kili_rainbow flag between the stones 4: Pink Summits
- on top of kili with pink summits flag: Pink Summits
- Dastan with a kyrgyz flag: Pink Summits
- on top of kili with rainbow and kyrgyz flags: Pink Summits
A ridiculous amount of coffee was consumed in the process of building this project. Add some fuel if you'd like to keep us going!