A kiss and a murder. This is how recent events in Russia can be summarized in the LGBTQ+ community. Renowned LGBTQ+ activist Yelena Grigoriyeva was found dead in St. Petersburg in mid-July, with several stab wounds in the chest and signs of strangulation. Previously, Grigoriyeva had received several death threats after her name appeared on a list of a now-blocked website that had hunted down sexual minorities and their supporters. At the end of July, the German band Rammstein had set a clear signal against homophobia in front of 83,000 spectators during a concert in Moscow. Previously, when the musicians waved only a rainbow flag during a performance in Poland, they went a step further in Russia. Richard Z. Kruspe and Paul Landers von Rammstein kissed on the stage on the mouth. A strong statement that seems necessary in Russia these days. After Georgia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Lebanon, she is now analyzing the country about being gay in Russia for Couple of Men.
written by Sarah Tekath
translated by Karl Krause
– Where to be Gay? –
A law prohibiting the propagation of homosexuality
Although homosexuality is not officially illegal in Russia – same-sex sexual acts have been legal since 1993 – a law was passed in 2013 that criminalizes speaking positively about homosexuality in the presence of minors. Officially, lawmakers aim to protect minors. This forbids, for example, teachers, doctors, and therapists to enlighten and emotionally support teens. So, there is often only the possibility to use search engines to get any information. The social network of the activist Lena Klimova with the name Deti 404 (children 404 – based on the error message Error 404 -Page not found), has set itself the task to build a platform for the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics. The official website is now offline again, but Deti 404 continues in VKontakte, the Russian Facebook.
Also in 2019, the situation is still critical. Anti-discrimination laws still do not exist. In the case of crime, the sexuality of the victim is not included as a factor to be assessed, and layoffs based on sexual orientation are not punished. A large part of the population has a critical opinion about homosexuality. For example, a survey conducted by the independent Levada Center in May 2019 revealed that the choice of potential neighbors would most likely favor a same-sex couple. In March of the same year, the Russian politician Tamara Pletnyova spoke of homosexuality as a disease that needs to be cured – although homosexuality was removed from the WHO list of mental illnesses already in 1990.
The annual updated ranking of Spartacus’ Gay Travel Index for 2021 informs travelers about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people in 202 countries and regions around the world. Which countries are gay-friendly? Where do LGBTQ + travelers have to be extra careful?
Violence by radical groups
In 2014, the activities of the Russian neo-Nazi Maksim Martsinkevich became known. As part of his ‘Occupy Pedophilia’ campaign, he hunted down gay men, tormented them on camera, humiliated them, and then put the material online for the world to see. Dating apps were used to lure men to a specific location. The attacks took place on the pretext that the victims were pedophiles. Although not related to Martsinkevich, a case from the city of Volgograd in 2013 shows the threats members of the LGBTQ + community are facing in Russia. Thus, the 23-year-old Vladislav Tornoi was found dead. The autopsy revealed that the man was raped with several beer bottles and succumbed to the injuries. Tornois’s family later denied his homosexuality. The opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta also reports in April 2017 that there has been an increase in violence and numerous cases of the disappearance of LGBTQ+ people in the Chechnya region in Russia. International media increasingly reported concentration camps for gay men.
Gay Pride in Russia
A gay pride parade has not officially been held in Russia yet – events always happen without authorization. Therefore, in 2010, the European Court of Human Rights imposed a fine for discrimination. Nevertheless, after 100 individual requests for a gay pride parade in 2012, no permit was issued in Moscow. The reasons given were possible attacks on the participants. Also, a Gay Pride Parade, filed by LGBTQ+ activist Nikolay Alexeev, was revoked after first confirmation by the mayor of Strezhovoy, stating that children could see the event. Alexeev had tried to parade in the city of Yablonevy the previous year, but that was forbidden within 24 hours. Incidentally, the city had seven inhabitants at the time.
The current Spartacus Gay Travel Index of 2020/21 ranks Georgia number 103 in its ranking, with an overall rating of -6. In categories such as same-sex marriage, persecution, anti-discrimination laws, or transgender rights, the country does not score in a single case with a positive rating.
LGBTQ+ activism in Russia
Even though the situation for LGBTQ + people in Russia is difficult, nonetheless, in the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as in Yekaterinburg, NGOs still campaign for equality and education. A team among Pavel Loparev, for example, launched the project Illuminator a few years ago, which answers all the important questions about homosexuality, transgender, Intersex, etc. on a website with short videos. This website is specifically for parents of LGBTQ+ teens who want to learn more. The project will also feature reviews by parents “with whom other mothers can feel connected,” explains Loparev. The cause of the often conservative attitude of many Russians, Loparev sees justified on state television. There have been television campaigns in the past that have spread gay conspiracy theories as Western spies aimed to undermine Russian values. Many Russians, as the activist states, would categorically refuse anything that would be associated with the West. Meanwhile, Loparev is also working with people who are not from the LGBTQ+ community and who want to get in contact with this topic for the first time as part of their project Illuminator.
Same-Sex Marriage in Russia, is it possible? Although the marriage of the gay couple Pavel & Evgenii was officially confirmed, even in Russia, problems followed for them and their family. Couple of Men reporter Sarah got the opportunity to interview the brave gay couple. The interview about their story now on Couple of Men!
The LGBT Network in St. Petersburg also offers its support to LGBTQ+ people, with information events, emergency aid, especially for Chechnya, if it is necessary to leave the region, but primarily also with legal assistance. Alexander Belik works as a lawyer at LGBT Network Russia and represents LGBTQ+ persons in case of anti-gay violence. He reports that a case of homophobic hate commentary has recently been settled in court in favor of the LGBTQ+ community. Previously, the article of the Russian Penal Code was never used in connection with sexual discrimination. But despite local positive decisions for the LGBTQ+ community, there are still disturbances by homophobic people and groupings, such as at the end of August 2019 during the play Coming out of the closet. Often, the perpetrators then invoked the anti-propaganda law as a justification for their actions, while the law actually applies only to minors, so Belik. More often than physical violence, however, legal action would be taken against members of the LGBTQ+ by the state. For example, meetings might be aborted or websites were taken offline without warning.
A Gay-friendly Place to Stay in St. Petersburg
Shortly after we published Sarah’s article, we got contacted by Aleksandr. He is owning an Airbnb in St. Petersburg offering a safe place for LGBTQ+ travelers in Russia. In addition to that, he is stating on his page: “As a member of the community, I would like to show everyone, who wants to see my city from the rainbow side, that there are a lot of safe and good places in the city for the LGBTQ community and you can have a good time here.” Although we have not been in St. Petersburg, we gladly include him here on Couple of Men to support his efforts to make Russia a safe place for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer people. Take a look at his recommendations. All the best for you, Aleksandr and hopefully we will be able to meet you in person! Click here for his Airbnb >
More interesting travel articles for you:
- History of the LGBTQ and Gay Movement >
- Top List: Best LGBTQ* and Gay Travel Bloggers >
- List: Activists of the LGBTQ+ and Gay Community >
- Current Situation: Being Gay and LGBTQ+ in Georgia >
- Current Situation: Being Gay and LGBTQ+ in Lebanon >
Do you want to know and see more of us gay couple travel bloggers? Stay tuned on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook! See you around in Europe or on one of our next gay pride trips around the world!
International pressure on Russia for discrimination and human rights violations
Nevertheless, lawyer Belik sees the future positively for LGBTQ+ people in Russia. For example, Russia is generally not, as is often assumed, a place where gay men are in mortal danger as soon as they show up on the street. Certainly, there would be hostility, but they are also found in Poland, Lithuania or Ukraine.
He also believes in the positive impact of international pressure on the government, for example, through the EU or the UN, citing Russian political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann. So far, Russia has taken court decisions, such as the European Court of Human Rights, because of discrimination, etc., and has paid the fines accordingly. Although there would be shortly after the verdict always cocky speeches in public, that one would never obey the instructions of the West, but in retrospect, it would then happen secretly. “I hope international pressure will be quick and effective for Russia to be free,” Belik explains. After all, it does not matter if it happens in the back room at the end, as long as anything happens.
Photo sources: Pixabay | Unsplash
Information source: Independent | Pink News | Spiegel | Moscow Times | Jetzt.de | IB Times
Karl & Daan.
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