Analysis: Why life is getting harder for LGBT Russians

PinkNews logo with white background and rainbow corners has spoken to a PhD student originally from Moscow and now living in the UK on the challenges facing Russia’s LGBT community.

Anna Grigoryeva was among several hundred people, including Stephen Fry, who gathered in Westminster on Saturday to protest against Russia’s homophobic censorship laws.

She says it was important to attend the demonstration in order to show “solidarity” with all of her “queer and trans friends in Moscow,” adding: “They are amazing strong people and I really want to be here for them.”

A federal bill banning gay “propaganda” was signed into law by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in June.

It prescribes fines for providing information about homosexuality to people under the age of 18 – ranging from 4,000 roubles (£78) for an individual to 1m roubles (£19,620) for organisations.

Anna told that the main effect of the legislation so far in Russia has been the sanctioning by the state of “public organised homophobia and transphobia.”

She says: “There are lots of far-right groups; lots of Orthodox Christian activists who will show up at LGBT events and harass people and attack people quite violently – and that’s been pretty much sanctioned by the state.”

“The police won’t arrest them for it.”

Anna mentions how reports of gay teenagers being kidnapped by far-right gangs have increased in recent months. The most “horrifying” result of the new laws seems to be that homophobia and transphobia has gone from being in the background of Russian society to the forefront.

She agrees with the view that Vladimir Putin appears happy to preside over the legislation as it allows him to bolster his political support and to divert attention away from Russia’s other problems.

It is significant that Anglo-Russian relations have deteriorated since Putin’s 2012 return to the presidency; both UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama seemingly managed to keep things far more cordial with Putin’s immediate predecessor.

Incidentally, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who kept the presidency warm for his boss from 2008-2012, failed to see the merits of implementing tougher legal sanctions against gay Russians.

But he conceded in December 2012 that it was perfectly within the Russian Parliament’s right to do so.

Of her friends in the Russian capital, Anna says: “One not so obvious effect of the laws that I have encountered is that lots of my liberal activist friends in Moscow who wouldn’t have really thought about gay rights or trans rights before are all of a sudden clued up on it.

“Independent liberal papers and magazines – the Moscow equivalent of Time Out – [and others] have done whole issues with rainbow covers and that sort of thing.

“All of a sudden the Russian liberal establishment is a lot more aware of LGBT issues and that’s an unexpected effect of all of this.”

Anna explains how LGBT issues are treated by Russia’s broadcasters

“The Russian media is very divided between state controlled stuff and independent stuff. Television is very state controlled,” pointing to how a small number of independent cable channels may be inclined to support LGBT rights – she stresses that the majority of Russians will be getting a negative LGBT viewpoint.

Anna says the main TV networks will either ignore Pride events or report them as examples of “‘moral decay coming from the West’.”

She adds: “In print media it’s the same divide so there are a few reasonably helpful liberal independent papers and a couple of left-wing liberal websites that are supportive of LGBT rights [but] the mainstream government controlled stuff won’t.”

With mixed messages coming out of Russia over the security of gay athletes attending next year’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Anna says it’s unclear how the authorities will respond.

“At the moment they seem to be quite confident playing this ‘moral decay’ card,” she adds: “I don’t know how they are going to deal with it coming up to the Olympics [although] I am sure they will continue playing that card, and trying to ignore and smear whoever is boycotting the Games.”

Speaking exclusively to at Saturday’s Whitehall demonstration, TV presenter and writer Stephen Fry suggested that all athletes attending February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi should show solidarity with Russia’s LGBT community by performing a symbol on the medals podium.

Anna believes it would be interesting to witness if police in Sochi decide to enforce the laws in the event of athletes showing up at the Olympics with rainbow flags.

She says any display of LGBT solidarity would be “brilliant” to see – and despite Russia’s huge legal step backward, Anna remains optimistic of an eventual brighter future for her country’s LGBT population. She points to the rise of different sub-cultures in Moscow, which although may not have anything directly to do with the LGBT community, illustrates Russia is not as isolated and uniformly conservative as some of its homophobic political figures would like to contend.

Anna hopes in time that these different groups in Moscow will come together and unite in order to deal with “whatever the government throws at them.”