Artem and Sergey met me out in Orlando, Florida at the gorgeous Cypress Grove Estate House located in Cypress Grove Park. Having found my photography by chance on Google, Artem loved the romantic and artistic vibe to my photos. I was absolutely over the moon to capture their portrait session, as the two celebrated their love as a couple and having just been granted asylum in the US.
Like many of my couples, Artem and Sergey first met online. A spectacular resource – online dating has become a way to connect with others that you may not see everyday in passing. For the two though, online dating was a bit concerning as they had to remain incognito for sometime before sharing their personal photos. Unfortunately keeping your face protected is critical, as Russia at this time is not as LGBT friendly as the US. Finally feeling comfortable and opening up to one another, Sergey recognized Artem immediately when sharing photos, as he worked as a local TV host. The two began dating shortly after and built a foundation of love for their relationship to grow upon.
It is incredible how much we take for granted as citizens of the US. Artem explained that even thought they had to hide living together, they still experienced harassment and beatings. It wasn’t until flying to the US in 2014 seeking asylum did their lives turn around where they could finally open up to the world.
A difficult move at first, the two only knew two words, which were “sorry” and “thank you” when they arrived in New York. They even sheltered their secret of being gay, which should not have ever felt like needed to be a secret at all. Finally freely able to marry now that they were in a country who accepted the LGBT community, the two wed on January 7th of 2015.
About a year or so ago, they moved from New York to Florida, specifically Orlando, as they had heard to the city was very LGBT friendly. Artem explained to me, “we moved to Orlando because this city is known for tolerant relationships to gays, which is very important for us.” He also went into explaining that while they may seem distant at first as couple, i.e. not touching in public, it is because they came from a place of intolerance. Orlando though has slowly changed how they used to live, as they become more and more comfortable in their own skin.
It wasn’t until four years later after first arriving in the US that they would finally have their interview with the US CIS officer on April 30th to find out if they would be able to stay permanently. A long, grueling, seven hour interview, which was very hard emotionally. Recalling the difficulties they faced in Russia was heartbreaking, but their honesty was crucial in explaining why they could not and did not want to go back.
Two weeks later after their interview, they were notified that their case had been moved to a special services team for further verification. That verification came shortly after on September 22nd when they received asylum approval!
Living in Orlando, the two enjoy spending time together visiting local parks and dining out. They have found our city to be filled with kind people and warm weather, both of which they love.
Artem will soon be publishing a book recounting their lives and the struggle the LGBT community faces in Russia. The reason it is critical for everyone to know, as Artem explains, “I consider it necessary to tell people about it. In my country, there would be far less victims and violence if people would be tolerant.”
A big congratulations to Artem and Sergey on receiving asylum, and a big thank you for letting me share your story.
If you are someone you know is experiencing harassment, bullying, or isolation for being LGBT, please reach out for help. An incredible resource in our community, the Zebra Coalition, can help – please visit zebrayouth.org for more information.
Venue: Cypress Grove Estate House at Cypress Grove Park