With the Sochi Olympics drawing closer, the public relations disaster surrounding gay rights in Russia gets more absurd by the day. Between the IOC backing down, the mayor of Sochi claiming his city is gay-free and major US corporations like Coca-Cola getting a serious case of foot-in-mouth disease, the situation is a mess.
Lost in the conversation though is the increasingly horrific institutionalized bigotry the thousands of out GLBT Russians are forced to deal with on a daily basis.
VICE magazine, famous for showing the gritty side of life (fashionable and grotesque), has produced a compelling five-part web documentary examining just that–what it’s like to be young and gay in Russia. Here’s the Queerty play-by-play of Part 1.
First, a quick video montage sets the stage. There are protests.
This guy in a suit gets dragged away.
And then this, which could either be another protest or an image from a VICE fashion shoot that got misfiled.
End of montage. Welcome to VICE news. Enter Russian twink, stage right.
He shares a quick message of hope for gay Russians, then we cut promptly back to more struggle.
There’s hope even in the face of hardship, which given the social climate is quite beautiful. But you know what we really need? A hipster journalist to frame this conversation.
Now we’re cooking, VICE. Milene tells us that gays have become enemies of the state, which has led to a rise in homophobia (imagine that), and some, “pretty horrific attacks and murders.” Don’t let her laid-back demeanor fool you–there’s nothing “pretty” about it. The B-roll turbulence we see next confirms.
Milene explains the anti-propaganda law, which if you’ve been living under a rock, makes it illegal to tell minors that homosexuality is normal. By her calculations, this is not good. And judging by the snippets we see of even more protests and arrests set against audio clips from interviews about how the law has brought increased oppression and the steady risk of injury or death, she’s on to something.
Next we hop into the back seat of Russia’s gay taxi service, created in response to the increased violence. The driver paints a bleak portrait, even for Russia. You can’t unhear the story he tells about a hate crime involving a 23-year-old being tortured to death with beer bottles for being gay.
Or the neo-nazi group that makes YouTube clips bragging about kidnapping and terrorizing gay youth. These crimes are generally not investigated, and labeled by Putin’s government as “civil movements fighting the sins of society.”
Heavy. So what are gays doing in response? Fighting back. We meet Julia, an amazing young lesbian who formed a gay self-defense class after her favorite bar in Moscow was attacked by twenty armed men in 2012.
This is getting really intense, VICE…could you maybe break some tension with a few hot shirtless Russians?
Thank you. Ok back to the self-defense, which if you think about it is so simultaneously unfortunate and bad-ass.
Moral of the story? Shit’s fucked in Russia, and gay youth are feeling a lion’s share of the hurt. But they’re not going down without a fight–which you can see more of in Part Two. Here’s part one in full: