Will I survive? The weird Russian law against the queer

Words by: I Voice
Posted: 20/11/13 8:40

Will I survive? The weird Russian law against the queerWhen earlier this year Russia passed the law prohibiting the propaganda of homosexualism among the underage, the tolerant Western world was shocked by this quite unexpected stroke of discrimination. Yet many activists tend to forget that even though Russia resembles Europe in many aspects, gays in this huge country have never had the same rights and freedom they could enjoy, for example, in the UK or in France. Russian members of the LGBT community have always been hiding from the public eye, afraid of coming out for the fear of being not just despised or hated but physically beaten or maybe killed.

Actually, such thing as gay propaganda has never existed in Russia – unlike the problem of homophobia. So what for did the Parliament pass this law and how did it affect the gay life?

Being homosexual in the USSR was simply out of question – in the Soviet society everyone was supposed to be married and have kids. Even the fact of being single, or not having children, or getting divorced was considered reprehensible, let alone having an alternative orientation.

But wait, did we say “orientation”? In 2013 the specialists of Levada Analytical Center asked Russian citizens is they regard homosexualism as a disease – and 35% said yes. 43% think that it is a bad habit and only 12% admit that being gay is a sexual orientation.

Here we are facing a controversy: if homosexualism is a disease, how can it be popularized? People don’t fall ill of flu, cancer or schizophrenia just because they are promoted. It might seem like Russians in their majority are confused about the nature of being gay and it’s easier for them to eliminate this issue by any means than to subject their traditional mentality to stress trying to investigate the delicate matter.

Gay communities exist in a more or less discrete way in big cities such as Moscow, Saint-Petersburg or Ekaterinburg. Gays from small towns in Russia have three ways out – to move to a slightly more comfortable place, to suppress their sexuality and start a traditional family or to commit suicide (such cases are becoming quite frequent). Professional life of Russian outright gays is mostly confined to such spheres as fashion or show business where the fact of being queer could be tolerated, but the combination of homosexuality and holding a high post is unimaginable – at least openly. But of course there are covert exceptions.

 All in all, it’s not your sexual preferences that matters – it’s dangerous to be different in Russia.Popular Moscow site The Village recently published an interview with a cleaning lady from a gay club in the centre of the city. She states that the venue is protected by influential gay politicians and once she found an identity card of a member of the Parliament there. While readers argue in comments if this is a real interview or a piece of fiction, the truth is that gay clubs and gay parties in Russia do exist – however, they are quite clandestine and absolutely not numerous.

A promoter who organizes gay parties in a city in Central Russia with a population of half a million says his events gather some 150-200 persons each time. With the course of time people change, but this number has never been exceeded. His parties happen once in two months – making them more often is not viable. These events have never been attached to a particular venue – they migrate around the city for the reasons of not just novelty but also safety. Normally owners and managers of a bar or a club would refuse to host a gay night for the fear of sullying their reputation. Those who agree console themselves by saying “Money has no smell”, and it was only once when the promoter got a response “Wow, it’s such a privilege for us to welcome you! Gay parties are so cool and fashionable!”. The only gay club in the city was located on the top floor of a shopping mall where no strangers could find it, gave no advertising and closed in half a year.

I don’t think the law has changed the life of the majority of gays. Most probably, it will be used as an excellent means of exerting pressure on personae non grata” – says the promoter. “Now we put the 18+ sign at gay pages and groups in social networks and keep vigilant over no underage public at our events”.

In the capital clubbing life is intense and diverse. There are several rather popular gay clubs as well as established gay parties in venues that at other nights don’t associate themselves with “special clientele”. International party brands regularly include Moscow into their tour schedules, such gay-friendly projects as Matinee or Supermartxe among them. However, from now on they need to think twice before signing the booking contract with a Russian promoter. Just before the “gay law” came into force the big event room of Izvestia Hall welcomed La Leche party. In the heat of the night a special police unit broke in, stopped the music and started searching for drugs. Drug raids has grown rife in Moscow – any nightlife event can be interrupted by people in black uniform, sometimes with a dog on a leash. In this case, however, some guests got the impression that pills and powders were just a pretext for an anti-gay action. Although only two dealers were found among several thousand punters at La Leche, TV channels presented the information in such a way as if gay clubs were a hotbed of drug trade and all things evil – tells us Tom Weitz, Germany-based staff reporter for Russian gay site www.kvir.ru (click Here to see the pictures of the police on the dancefloor). To be precise, Izvestia Hall is not a gay club at all – but who cares indeed.

The weirdest thing about the new law is that Russian gays have never tried to promote themselves – on the contrary, they have always been scared stiff of being seen.

According to the poll conducted by Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) in 2012, 92% of Russian population have never been subject to propaganda of homosexualism. This said, what for did they pass the law if there was no problem and no victims?

I’m sure that the law was passed to distract the public attention from the more urgent economical and political problems that the government is incapable of solving. It’s much easier to use sexual minorities as a scapegoat by saying that they threaten the society,” – pronounces Tom Weitz and backs up his words with an example of a recent assault.

Radical nationalists and religious fanatics got carte blanche to smash LGBT organizations scot-free, to cripple and kill gays and lesbians.
One of the latest cases took place in Saint-Petersburg on November 3 on the eve of the Day of the National Unity: people with traumatic guns and with their faces covered under hoods and scarves broke into the office of  La Sky, the organization that helps people with AIDS. They opened fire and caused serious injuries to two persons: Anna Prutskovskaya had all her back covered with hematomas, and videoblogger Dmitry Chizhevsky lost his eye

2005 only 59% of population thought that homosexualism can’t be justified, in 2012 this figure reached 75%.The polls by VCIOM show that intolerance against gays has been growing steadily in the last years: while in 2005 only 59% of population thought that homosexualism can’t be justified, in 2012 this figure reached 75%.

In addition to struggling against gay propaganda, since now Russia prohibits same-sex couples from adopting orphans. The aim of the ban is to strive against “artificial obtrusion of unconventional sexual behaviour” with the aim to protect the kids from “stress they are often subject to – according to the studies of psychologists – if raised by parents of the same gender”. This law gave rise to a joke: too many Russian families are same-sex anyway – because it’s usually mother and grandmother who bring up kids. Fathers tend to be too self-absorbed in a productive way (always working, no time for trifles) or, much more often, in an alcoholic way.

Incidentally, the impact of the anti-propaganda law on straight population with a traditional vision of family was downright groundbreaking: millions of Russians realized with awe that gays don’t belong exclusively to the parallel universe of Hollywood movies and European Bohemia, but live somewhere nearby, maybe even next door.

The difference between Russian and Western perception of gays was perfectly summed up by Patrick, aged 31, who submitted a letter to New York Times when they asked gay readers from Russia to share their experience: “Russia is an easy place to be gay insofar as the lack of exposure to openly gay people makes the Russian public almost comically unaware of the (stereo) typical behavior that homosexuals actually exhibit. Unless your public statements and actions explicitly reveal your homosexuality to someone on the street here, then no one will ever assume you are gay… Beyond this, the chief challenge for me in Moscow lies in maintaining interest in a gay scene that remains, for a city of 12 million people, completely hidden, spectacularly one-dimensional and mind-numbingly provincial.

To sum it up, the law that prohibits the propaganda of homosexualism among the underage in Russia looks as opportune and vital as a snowstorm fighting system in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s not that Russian gays were free and happy and then lost their paradise in the twinkling of an eye. They, who have always been regarded as outcasts, now have found themselves caught in an even worse crossfire of tension and hatred. All in all, it’s not your sexual preferences that matters – it’s dangerous to be different in Russia.


Lauren Lo Sung
Erick Morillo
Valentino Kanzyani