Much ado has been made of Russia’s so-called LGBTQ anti-propaganda law, making it a crime to promote “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors.
We’ve also heard horror stories of beatings by antigay gangs — events so shocking and drastic that they manage to attract worldwide attention.
But what is it really like to be a young queer person living in Russia today? The everyday stories help to complete a fuller picture.
Aleksey*, 21, from Saratov
Everything’s hidden. It’s hard to find a soul mate when you’re gay. People aren’t tolerant. I’m out, and if someone asks me whether I’m gay I’ll say, ‘yes I am’. But it’s not always safe to do so. I often got insulted at school but it didn’t bother me. I only cared about the opinions of people I care about. And I always had the support of my friends.
Dmitri* (above left), 17, from the Leningrad Region
It’s not so scary. It can be hard to find a partner in a small town and plan for the future though. My friends and classmates know I’m gay and they reacted positively to it, but I haven’t told my family. They grew up in the Soviet Union and the way they were educated means they don’t tolerate such things.
In Russia, there are people who call themselves patriots but think that gays are traitors of the country; enemies; paedophiles. I often think about leaving Russia, but not because of the homophobia but because of the politics. I want to live the way that Europeans do. It’s difficult living in the Russia of today.
Despite the anti-gay law passed by Parliament banning ‘gay propaganda’, I do think in general the situation is improving for gay people. The younger generation don’t observe that law, although at any time it may change.
Nadya* (above), 18, From St. Petersburg
It’s dangerous for us. In the eyes of others, we are mistakes. We’re freaks. We’re sick. We’re killing our country, because we can’t have children – even though the laws do not allow us to adopt children. Gay people in Russia risk their lives organizing events for LGBT people or going out on pickets. Even straight people risk their lives standing up for the rights of LGBT people.
When I told my Mum I was bisexual she said she hates gay people. That gay people are sick people who rape children. That was the worst thing she’s ever said to me. Even when she used to hit me for my bad marks in school when I was little – that wasn’t as painful to me as her words. I don’t talk to my Dad anymore after he said that anyone who protects gay people is sick. I’m glad he doesn’t know I’m gay. I also feel scared. I’m scared I’m going to be alone until the end of my life. It’s painful.
Anna*, 17, from Moscow
Being openly gay in Russia is not easy. I know people who are out and they face homophobia daily. Some of my LGBT friends are persecuted in school; blackmailed; beaten. Only a few of my best friends know I’m a lesbian. Sometimes I’ll be watching Troye Sivan videos with my friends and they’ll be talking about how much they love him and they won’t even know I’m gay. My family doesn’t know I’m a lesbian either. I know they won’t accept it, so I don’t tell them. I love them, so I put that part of me aside.
I love Russia and I don’t want to leave here. It’s obvious to me that being openly gay in Russia is unsafe. I’ve encountered homophobia on social networks, but never in person. I hate politicians like Milonov and Mizulina and I hate the fact that Putin said that gays in Russia have many rights. We don’t. It’s not true.