Russia - What’s life like for LGBTQ people?
While the recent FIFA World Cup brought the media spotlight to Russia, that international scrutiny has since turned to other subjects. For LGBTQ people living in Russia, life goes on.
For some insight into some of the current issues, I spoke with a representative from the Russian LGBT Network. Due to the security protocols of their organisation, they have asked to remain anonymous for the purposes of this interview.
Now that the FIFA World Cup has finished, has that event had a positive impact for the LGBTQ community in Russia?
After the experience of the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, we didn’t expect too much from FIFA. It’s always good when people from different countries communicate, and that’s the big positive effect of an event like the World Cup.
However, I don’t think that it changed anything about the situation of the LGBTQ community in Russia. During the World Cup, the police didn’t detain people with rainbow flags. But, earlier this month, 29 people in St Petersburg were detained exactly for that.
There were a number of LGBTQ protest actions taken during the FIFA World Cup - was that helpful for the LGBTQ community in Russia?
In most cases, protest actions are helpful, and we’re grateful to everyone who supported our LGBTQ community while visiting Russia. For instance, Peter Tatchell from the UK bravely protested against the fact that people in Chechnya are still persecuted and that there are no investigations of these crimes. But it’s a pity that the majority of Russian media outlets - most of which are state controlled - didn’t cover these protests.
The national football team of Egypt was criticised for selecting Chechnya as their training base during the FIFA World Cup - do you think that the Egyptian players were used as a propaganda tool by the Chechen government?
It’s not surprising at all that the Chechen authorities tried to use FIFA for their own goals. What was surprising was the official position of FIFA that stated that they didn’t see any problems with the location of the Egyptian team in Grozny. For us, it sent a signal to all of the millions of people who were watching the World Cup - a message that people’s lives are not that important to FIFA.
The situation in Chechnya still seems very dangerous for LGBTQ people - you’re reporting that people are being abducted by their families and taken back to Chechnya. Is there anything that the Russian authorities could do to help try and protect the LGBTQ people of Chechnya?
Even though Chechnya is a very specific region, it’s still part of Russia. We are absolutely sure that the Russian authorities can stop the killings, kidnappings, and tortures, but they’re not willing to do so. The official position of Russia has been voiced many times, and it’s very clear - they say that there are no LGBTQ people in Chechnya. They deny not only the fact of the crimes, but even the mere existence of LGBTQ people - that’s very telling.
What’s the best way for the international LGBTQ community to try and help and protect the LGBTQ people of Chechnya?
The best way to help people from Chechnya is to talk about them, and this option is available for almost everyone. It was the support of the international community that made all these atrocities visible, and now we need that support more than ever. We believe that it’s the only way to stop what’s going on in Chechnya.
The Russian LGBT Network has also started a campaign to collect money for the evacuation and relocation of people from Chechnya, and that support is very important.
What are some of the biggest challenges currently facing LGBTQ people in Russia?
There are numerous challenges. The level of violence towards LGBTQ people - which is growing constantly since the adoption of the so-called ‘propaganda law’ in 2013 - is one of them. The perpetrators feel that they’re in a way protected by the State, and it make crimes more violent and more frequent.
Another issue that’s closely connected to the first one is the absence of freedom of expression. The same propaganda law in fact blocked all the possibilities of public discussions about homosexuality, bisexuality, or being trans. People feel targeted and afraid.
Just in the last few days, a schoolboy was fined 50 000 rubles for “propaganda of homosexuality among minors” - even though he is himself a minor. He was fined just because he posted some photos on his social media.
It’s really hard to fight this huge machine of state propaganda, which is trying to persuade everyone that LGBTQ people are dangerous.
How can the international LGBTQ community best help and support LGBTQ people in Russia?
The best way to help is to share information and to raise awareness of the issues being experienced by the LGBTQ community in Russia. Despite all of the horrible things happening, LGBTQ organisations like ours are fighting for our rights and the rights of all LGBTQ people in Russia.