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After Brutal Murder, Gay Activists Struggle to Highlight Russia’s Rampant Homophobia

vladimir-tornovoiThe 23-year-old man brutally tortured and killed in the Russian town of Volgograd over the weekend has been identified as Vladislav Tornovoi. His murder has enraged gay activists who continue to struggle against their country’s blatant dismissal of their rights.

The Moscow-based Investigative Committee initially reported that Tornovoi was killed after he came out to two men he was drinking with during Victory Day celebrations.

The assailants, 22 and 27, “hit him…and then they brutally beat him, set fire to the clothes he was wearing, slashed his anal area and then stuck three bottles in there, again beat him and then threw a 20-kg stone onto his head,” said Andrei Gapchenko, a senior investigator in Volgograd. They face up to 15 years in jail on murder charges.

Though his sexual orientation was given as the motive for the murder, Tornovoi’s parents deny that their son was gay. “We have no information about him belonging to this cast of people or not,” investigators in Volgograd told BBC. “A lot of media are writing about this and the parents of this lad are going about complaining.”

Igor Kekshin, a friend of the deceased, added that Tornovoi had “never shown any interest in people of the same sex and had mixed with a lot of girls.”

One might assume Tornovoi’s friends and family are trying to protect what’s left of his memory in the virulently anti-gay country, where homophobia is rarely cited as a motive. Just last month, President Vladimir Putin blamed Russia’s declining population on homosexuals, while a national ban on “gay propaganda” looms in the near future.

The social climate is as unfriendly as the political, according to a survey by independent pollster Levada: 50 percent of Russians believe homosexuals should be given medical or psychological treatment, while 5 percent said they should simply be ‘‘destroyed.’’

Gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev argued that investigators noted Tornovoi’s homosexuality “to portray him as someone abnormal…expendable” and downplay the gruesome nature of his murder.

Despite the city’s 100-year ban on pride parades, Alexeyev and other activists are planning one in Moscow on May 25 to bring attention to the dangers facing the gay community. They are considering dedicating the parade to Tornovoi.

Hoping the eighth time would be the charm, activists sought approval for the parade at City Hall on Monday, but unsurprisingly they were denied.  “From our point of view, there is no need for such events in the city,” said Alexei Mayorov, head of City Hall’s security department.

It’ll take more than a tersely-worded statement to rain on their parade, however.  “Whether authorities grant permission or not, we’ll hold our parade,” Alexeyev said ahead of the City Hall encounter. “Otherwise it looks like we’re accepting defeat, and we can’t allow that.”

Photo: IB Times