Russia's LGBT community responds to label 'extremist'

On Thursday, November 30, the Russian Supreme Court outlawed the 'international LGBT movement' as an 'extremist' organization. The decision followed a request filed by the Justice Ministry earlier this month. The Ministry's arguments in court remain unknown: the hearing was not open to the public. On the day of the verdict, Meduza published a selection of letters reflecting the realities of life as an LGBTQ+ person in Russia. Their authors explain how they view the new initiative and give advice to other members of their community.

Pride in St Petersburg, 2014 (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

Irina (Yekaterinburg):

I’ve already stopped rolling my eyes at the absurdity of the laws our government enacts

My girlfriend and I have been together for 20 years now, and for the last ten of those years, we’ve been unable not only to hold hands but even just to fix each other’s hair or wipe a smudge off one another’s faces — for fear of attracting unwanted attention.

After my father found out I was a lesbian, he didn’t speak to me for 11 years — right up until his death. My mom condemns and refuses to accept me. My neighbors have called me a faggot and a dyke. Because I spent my childhood and adolescence in a sort of cocoon, it was very painful when I came out. So I can imagine what’s about to happen; we’ve already gone through it and survived it.

[Right now,] it’s better to direct one’s energy at preventing Putin from getting reelected. Then we can fight for whatever rights we want. The Putin regime persecutes all types of 'otherness.' Until there’s regime change, there’s no point in whining about it.

The gradual stigmatization of LGBTQ+ people in Russia was always going to lead to something like a ban of the LGBTQ movement as 'extremist.' I’m not surprised; I’ve already stopped rolling my eyes at the absurdity of the laws our government enacts.

Ayur (Moscow):

The idea is that any mention of LGBTQ+ people should disappear from the public sphere

I’m 33. It's funny that the so-called Supreme Court is recognizing me as an 'extremist' on my birthday, November 30.

After [the start of] the [full-scale] war, I started thinking more often about how I’d like to have children, thinking about what kind of parent I’d be. It seems that from an early age, so many gay men put an internal block on thinking about it because it’s less traumatic that way.

This year, my grandmother routinely asked me if I had a girlfriend, because 'it’s time to start having [kids],' otherwise 'when the kids go to college, you’ll be an old man.' The conversation weighed heavily on me. I thought that people who are childless for medical reasons must feel similar emotions when they’re asked: 'So, when are you having kids?' Realizing I’m essentially childless in my current circumstances, even though I’m healthy, became really distressing.

[The prospective 'LGBT movement' ban] is a hybrid replacement for Article 121 of the Soviet Criminal Code. The idea is that any mention of LGBTQ+ people should disappear from the public sphere, although physical elimination isn’t implied. Although I was expecting something like this, I’m deeply hurt. It’s humiliating and scary. 

Vladislav (St. Petersburg):

I’m not going to hide my orientation

I’m someone you could say is openly gay: I don’t explicitly tell people about my sexuality, but it’s not a secret to anyone. I wear a woman’s earring on my right ear, I have effeminate mannerisms, and my political views are liberal. I believe it’s extremely important not to hide one’s orientation. The best way to dismantle stigmas is for people to come out. It’s practically impossible to force someone to change their views by forcing the opposite view on them, but it’s possible to be oneself, live openly, and not demand anything from anyone. And that’s when things are normalized and people get used to it.

When I learned about the Justice Ministry’s initiative, I started crying. 'Extremist' status will make any openness illegal and will put our community in an even more vulnerable position. In situations like this, it’s more important than ever to come together and support each other. Together, we’ll get through this. But as for me personally, even after the LGBTQ+ community is criminalized, I’m not going to try any harder to hide my orientation. Sure, rainbow symbols might disappear from my social media, but I won’t take my earring out and I won’t act more masculine. I definitely won’t stop going on dates. Fortunately, they’re not reinstating Article 121 of the Criminal Code of the USSR (which banned homosexuality among men). I’m soberly assessing the risks.

Yelena (Rostov-on-Don):

When we’re gone, they’ll come for you

I’m an educated, well-read person. I left Russia, and I’m not going back. I could have done some good in my native country, I could have helped people, made their lives better. But no. I miss home, but I no longer have a home there.

People don’t choose their sexual orientation. If that were possible, would a gay person who was unfortunate enough to have been born in the Caucasus really choose to remain gay? I didn’t choose to be a lesbian, just like I didn’t choose my eye color. Persecuting LGBTQ+ people is just as illogical as persecuting redheads. Which might just happen soon: judging by everything going on, Russia hasn’t left the Middle Ages.

I’ve been through a lot of terrible things in my life. How many times have people offered to rape you so you’ll become a 'normal woman?' Is that what you want for your children? For people to offer to rape them to make them 'normal?' And if it is, do you seriously believe that’s normal?

We’re first on the [Russian authorities’] list. When we’re gone, they’ll come for you. Because an unhappy country always needs an internal enemy, a traitor, a spy, who can be hated and who has to be fought against. After we’re gone, that enemy will be you.

Sasha (Tomsk):

They burn you out using every trick in the book

It feels like my whole life has been in spite of, not thanks to, circumstances. It’s as if everyone wants you, your thoughts and emotions, to never have existed. They burn you out using every trick in the book. I think they’re well aware of how this affects people, particularly children and teenagers.

But I still want to love and will love. I want to be happy and I will be happy. Despite everything, I exist. We exist.

This article was first published by Meduza

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