On Holding Hands and Fake Marriage: Stories of Being Gay in Russia

MOSCOW — Yegor grew up in a Siberian town called Lyubov, which means “love” in Russian, but he has never told his parents that when he falls in love, it is with other men. I don’t want them to feel ashamed,” Yegor, 34, wrote in response to an invitation to readers of The New York Times to share their experiences of what it is like to be gay in Russia. “This has nothing to do with legislation,” he said.

He was referring to a federal law signed by President Vladimir V. Putin in June banning “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships.” Officials say the law will protect children, but it is widely recognized as an effort to suppress homosexuality.

In the West, the law provoked a loud outcry, including some calls for a boycott of the Olympic Games in February in Sochi. Within Russia, the law has drawn unprecedented attention to the issue of gay rights. It has also apparently contributed to a rise in anti-gay violence, including an attack on Sunday at the office of a charitable group in St. Petersburg that works to prevent the spread of AIDS. One victim lost an eye when two masked men stormed the office and began firing guns that shoot high-velocity rubber bullets.

To better understand what it is like to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in a country that officially discourages openness, The Times asked readers to share their stories. More than 400 responded, in Russian and English, from across this vast land, from the cosmopolitan metropolises of St. Petersburg and Moscow, to Vladivostok on the Pacific, from the predominantly Muslim Caucasus in the south, to sparsely populated towns in Siberia.There have been few prosecutions under the new law, and none of the readers said they knew of anyone arrested.

Still, nearly all the readers who wrote in said they had felt the psychological sting of the law, and many said they were afraid. Many asked to be identified only by their first names. “Though my hair is short and I don’t look gay, I am always scared,” wrote Mikhail, 30, from Novosibirsk. Some expressed self-loathing; others a fierce desire to leave the country.

Visiting Sochi on Oct. 28 with the new president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, Mr. Putin insisted that there would be no discrimination during the Winter Games. “We will do everything, and our athletes and fans will do everything, to ensure that participants and guests feel comfortable at the Olympics in Sochi, irrespective of nationality, race or sexual orientation,” Mr. Putin said. Russian rights groups complained that Mr. Bach did not respond to a request for a meeting.

The disquiet among Russian gays and lesbians is pervasive. “Our country is afraid of those who are different,” wrote Anastasia Nikolaeva, 18, a lesbian who lives in St. Petersburg.A number of teenagers in smaller cities said that they had never met anyone who is openly gay, at least not in person. Readers of all ages cited the Internet as the best way to meet others who identify as L.G.B.T., meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, though some said they were now nervous to go online because of reports of the Web’s being used by “hunters” to find targets for violence. “I pretty much always knew I’d die alone unless I got out of the country somehow,” wrote Eugene, 28, of Orenburg, near the border of Kazakhstan. “There are about 100-150 people from my town registered at one of the few dating sites for abominations like myself and I’m pretty sure at least a tenth of those are hunters.”

Following are a selection of fuller reader responses, lightly edited and translated if necessary.

Bron: New York Times

8 RUSSIANS’ STORIES

 

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