Sofya Staune: Finding safe spaces

portrait of sofya staune
Photo: Khadija Moustafa

Seeking a contemporary arts education Sofya Staune left Russia and found that Scotland not only had the right university course but also provided a safe space for her as non-binary and queer.

Staune came to Scotland in 2013 to attend Glasgow School of Art’s fine art photography course.

Despite hearing about the prejudice about how murky Glasgow is, she immediately felt connected to the city upon her arrival: “I like to feel like the city has its own life and I felt that in Glasgow.”

“Being an immigrant is a weird feeling. You question where you belong. However, Scotland actually makes me feel like I kind of belong which is nice.”

“Once I got my residence permit here, it was such a burden off my shoulder.”

Despite having a residence permit Staune’s ability to stay in the UK feels jeopardized with Brexit on the horizon.

The 24-year old said she felt the xenophobia that fuelled the Brexit campaign: “There were several occasions where taxi drivers wouldn’t realize, I’m Eastern European and that I’m not a tourist and they would go on and on about how Polish people steal their jobs.”

However, Staune said she felt very little hostility in Glasgow.

Staune has established herself in Glasgow’s music scene, running club nights and as half of the promoter duo VAJ.Power.

Staune runs VAJ.Power alongside Holly McGowan, whom she met during her studies: “We both had the feeling we didn’t get enough actual skills in university and we started learning 3D software ourselves and I think everything that we did has been a reaction to what we think is missing.”

VAJ.Power’s FUSE nights run every two months and distinguish themselves in Glasgow’s nightlife by including audio-visual elements, with animations that react to the music played, also known as “VJing”.

“It’s a night run by two queer people, two non-binary people and we wanted to create the space for ourselves.”

The nights run on a safe(r) space policy, meaning they take active steps towards ensuring the space is inclusive and safe for as many people as possible.

“I’m queer and I wouldn’t be able to be openly non-binary in Russia.”

Despite decriminalizing same-sex relationships in 1993, being LGBTQ+ individuals still face severe discrimination in Russia.

“Being visibly queer is very dangerous. That’s one of the reasons I couldn’t go back to Russia because I just don’t feel safe and there are not many spaces for me.”

Staune now calls Glasgow her home and said the openness and general down to earth approach in the city resonates with her: “What I really like about Glasgow is that it is not judgemental, especially in terms of looks. In Moscow, I always felt judged on how I look, and I notice that I don’t feel it here at all.

“It is very liberating. You can just be yourself, which is quite a privilege.”