Two Openly Gay Men Running For Russian Parliament

Bulat Barantayev (l) and Aleksei Korolyov (r), via Facebook.

Two openly gay men in Russia are running for seats in the State Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly, in a challenge to Vladimir Putin and his government’s antigay policies.

Aleksei Korolyov, 29, and Bulat Barantayev, 33, are both longtime activists who say they were inspired to run for office after the passing of Putin’s 2013 antigay propaganda law.

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Korolyov and Bulat Barantayev know they have no chance of getting elected, but are hoping that by running they will show that they are not afraid to stand up for their rights and stand against the homophobic government. They are members of the liberal pro-Europe People’s Freedom Party (Parnas) political coalition.

“For a long time now, I have used all opportunities to cultivate an audience for accepting LGBT people,” Barantayev told Radio Free Europe. “By my example, I show that gays in Russia can create their own successful businesses, can meet with people, can have children, and can even run for the State Duma.”

“The LGBT community now is in a desperate situation,” Korolyov said. “I decided to run because the ruling party has adopted an extreme homophobic position. The authorities are facilitating a homophobic discourse in society that is inciting hate crimes.”

The mechanism that the authorities are using to foster homophobia in society is very primitive,” Barantayev said. “The LGBT community has been branded as enemies in order to divert the public’s attention from real economic and political problems.”

Millions of Russians are living in poverty. That rate has grown at a speed not seen in years. The average Russian now spends more than half of their income on food.

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He reports not feeling particularly threatened by running for office, despite the hostile climate against gay people.

“I am risking less than other candidates from our party,” he said. “The leader of the Novosibirsk branch of Parnas, Yegor Savin, is under tremendous pressure. His assistant was recently assaulted. People who are distributing his leaflets have been threatened over the phone. The building where his business is located was set on fire.”

“I’m of no interest to local officials, the police, or the United Russia party,” Barantayev added. “The authorities believe there is no chance I’ll be elected in today’s Russia. So they don’t pay any attention to me.”

That said, he has faced violence for being gay in the past.

“I have been attacked,” he said. “I was called and summoned to the mayor’s office in response to my application to hold an LGBT event. But outside the building, I was jumped by thugs and beaten up. When I return home late, young men that I don’t know call me by name and shout obscenities. Because of the attacks, I am a little afraid to be out in public sometimes. But I don’t have a victim complex. They treat us the way we let them treat us.”

While they know their chances in this election are slim to none, they are optimistic about the future.

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“Maybe I’ll be elected to the eighth Duma [in 2021],” Korolyov said. “We can’t hide and be afraid. The discriminatory law has activated the LGBT community and has spurred development. We recognize that if we don’t do politics, politics will do us.”

“These days, the best journalists come to LGBT events and report about them properly and positively,” he said. “In 2016, being a homophobe is the same as having ‘I’m a provincial rube’ tattooed on your forehead.”