Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, things began to look up for the LGBT community in Russia. I was studying the Russian language at the University of New Hampshire, at the time, so I wasn’t exactly in the know. But I was in touch with Russians who’d come to my country around that time, and I learned some things from them. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, and the LGBT community was beginning to make some headway. Attempts were being made to organize pride marches.
Then, in the late nineties, Vladimir Putin came to power. And he’s managed to retain it for nearly twenty years despite constitutionally mandated term limits. The Russian Orthodox Church, too, which had suffered greatly under Kruschev, regained much of its property and influence under Glastnost and Putin.
Unfortunately, these two things combined proved devastating to the LGBT movement in Russia. The church has demonized gays, insisting there is no distinction between gay men and women and pedophiles. Putin turned a blind eye to anti-gay hate crimes, many of which have been committed by the police, and in 2013, he signed the notorious LGBT “propaganda” law, which made it illegal to promote positive information about homosexuality. (Similar laws had been enacted in different regions prior to this, but this made it countrywide.)
In a poll in 2005, the majority of Russians opposed same-sex marriage, however, they also opposed discriminating against people who were gay. This was just one year after You, I Love (я люблю тебя, which is better translated as “I love you”) became the first film with LGBT main characters in a happy relationship to come out of Russia. To my knowledge, it was also the last.
In a similar poll in 2013, opposition to same-sex marriage had jumped to 85 percent. More disturbing, according to an English-language article in The Moscow Times:
“27 percent said they needed psychological help. Another 16 percent suggested that gays be isolated from society, 22 percent insisted on compulsory treatment, and 5 percent said homosexuals should be “liquidated.”
That same year, two gay men were tortured and murdered, and Moscow’s gay nightclub, Central Station, came under attack several times with gunfire and gas attacks.
In 2014, the BBC released a chilling documentary called Hunted: the War Against Gays in Russia, which followed two gangs who lured gay men into hotel rooms, where they could beat, torture, and possibly kill them. Nobody was killed while the cameras were filming, but it’s likely some men who have disappeared were killed by gangs like these. The filmmakers believed their presence kept the victims safer than they would have been otherwise, but the film is still not for the squeamish.
Also in 2014, there were international boycotts of the Olympic games held in Sochi. Several gay athletes voiced their intention to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBT community in Russia, perhaps by kissing in public, but after the government announced it would arrest any athletes violating the propaganda law, they—understandably—backed down.
Olympic skater Johnny Weir, who had fallen under criticism for his appallingly naive views of what was happening in Russia, produced a documentary about his time there during the games called Johnny Weir: To Russia With Love. Weir doesn’t come across particularly well in the documentary, in my opinion, though he does at least seem to have his eyes opened a bit. But the real star is Greg Louganis, who participated in the “gay games” held at the same time by an LGBT group, despite the police shutting down most of the events with blatantly false claims of bomb threats and other hazards.
The most positive result of Weir’s documentary was that it led to a Russian teenager being brought to the USA for his own safety, through the assistance of Billie Jean King, who was our ambassador for the games. Unfortunately, other LGBT Russians were let down by the international community, feeling abandoned by all those who professed solidarity during the games.
After all this, it may seem that the LGBT community in Russia must be deeply underground for its own safety. This is partly true, but there are, surprisingly, still gay clubs and a gay scene in the cities. Grindr is popular. There are activists who are fed up and fighting back. It’s dangerous for them, but they aren’t going to go away, regardless of Putin, the Church, and the bigots. ( http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jun/13/gay-putin-moscow-life-nightlife-clubbing-law-lgbt )
Eventually, Russia will learn LGBT people cannot be kept down forever.
Films referenced in this post:
Johnny Weir: To Russia With Love (2014): http://www.amazon.com/Johnny-Weir-Russia-With-Love/dp/B00ST1J82S
You, I Love (2004): http://www.amazon.com/You-I-Love-Damir-Badmaev/dp/B0009MAPKO/
Hunted: the War Against Gays in Russia (2014): http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/hunted-the-war-against-gays-in-russia
For the 7&7 anthology:
Humankind possesses a dual nature, the ability to rise to the brightest heights—or sink to the darkest and most perverse depths.
What inspires some to reach the pinnacles of virtue while others cannot resist the temptations of vice? Is it something innate, or a result of destiny and circumstance?
Delve into the minds and spirits of saints and sinners alike with a collection of stories that explore the call toward good or evil—and the consequences of answering it. For while rewards certainly await the righteous, there are also pleasures to be found in the darkness. Venture off the expected path with some of the most innovative voices in LGBT speculative fiction as they present their unique takes on the classic vices and virtues.
Train To Sevmash—Jamie Fessenden
Jax Colby is an American secret agent operating within the Soviet Union in 1967. His assignment is to infiltrate the Sevmash naval shipyard in Severodvinsk in pursuit of an American scientist turned traitor to his country. But in order to do this, he must first kill a naval lieutenant traveling to the base and steal his transfer orders. He homes in on his target on the two-day train ride from Leningrad to Belomorsk.
But there’s one problem. Lt. Yuri Veselov is handsome and friendly. As Colby spends time with him, he begins to like him—and it might be more than friendship. The train draws nearer to Severodvinsk, and Colby grows increasingly reluctant to do what he knows he must—kill Yuri Veselov.
DSP Publications: https://www.dsppublications.com/books/77-by-andrea-speed-271-b
Jamie Fessenden set out to be a writer in junior high school. He published a couple of short pieces in his high school’s literary magazine and had another story place in the top 100 in a national contest, but it wasn’t until he met his partner, Erich, almost twenty years later, that he began writing again in earnest. With Erich alternately inspiring and goading him, Jamie wrote several screenplays and directed a few of them as micro-budget independent films. He then began writing novels and published his first novella in 2010.
After nine years together, Jamie and Erich have married and purchased a house together in the wilds of Raymond, New Hampshire, where there are no street lights, turkeys and deer wander through their yard, and coyotes serenade them on a nightly basis. Jamie recently left his “day job” as a tech support analyst to be a full-time writer.