Another successful witch-hunt St. Petersburg hosts a new round of LGBT persecution in education
In St. Petersburg, activists from the Russian Orthodox movement National Union recently succeeded in getting fired Dmitry Isaev, the head of the medical university's department of clinical psychology. Isaev also led a medical commission that addressed issues relating to sex changes and supported Deti-404, a project founded to offer support to LGBT teenagers. “Everything will be fine,” the university administration told Isaev, “as long as you leave.” These very same crusaders against gays, together with a local children’s rights activist, were also able to force social science teacher Maxim Ivantsov—who worked in different St. Petersburg LGBT organizations—to resign from a local school. Daniil Turovsky, special correspondent for Meduza, set out to meet these men who lost their jobs—and talk to the activists responsible.
Dimitry Isaev arranges our meeting only a few yards away from the office of the activists who orchestrated his dismissal. He has no idea they’re there. The scientist arrives in a bright orange raincoat, carrying a black briefcase. He is perplexed: why write about him? Who will that help? The situation cannot be changed; let bygones be bygones.
For 12 years, Isaev worked as the director of the department of clinical psychology at St. Petersburg State Pediatric Medical University, where he lectured on the psychology of gender and sexuality. Isaev is the author of over 120 academic publications, the majority of which are dedicated to the subject of homosexuality (such as “Suicidal tendencies among boys of a homosexual orientation,” “Characteristics of gender identity among persons of a homosexual inclination,” and “Characteristics of the sexuality of adolescent male suffers of schizophrenia”). He also led a medical commission that consulted on requests for sex changes (which, after a series of tests and examinations, issued permits to patients permitting surgery and hormone-replacement therapy).
In May 2015, Dmitry Isaev participated in an online conference organized by the Deti-404 project, answering questions on transsexualism, his committee's work, and views of homosexuality among Russia's psychologists.
Two weeks later, the trouble started.
On June 1, 2015, acquaintances told him of groups on social media dedicated to hunting down “LGBT teachers” (scholars who supposedly “teach” homosexuality). Activists had begun to post messages in these groups detailing Isaev’s activities, such as the following: “At the initiative of President Vladimir Putin, Russia orients itself towards traditional family values, but Dmitry Isaev actively disseminates destructive ideas of genderism and pederasty in our country. There are numerous examples on the Internet: videos, photos, and articles, in which Dr. Isaev actively participates in LGBT seminars across Russia and makes frequent visits to the United States—also to attend such seminars. Dmitry Isaev actively supports Lena Klimova's paedophilic project Deti-404.”
The messages continue: “He has furthered this evil and his commission provided perverts en masse with permits, with which they were able to undergo operations to cut apart their natural genitals, the better to replace them with artificial ones. For some reason, they call these operations ‘sex changes.’ To change sex is impossible; to mutilate oneself is not. Those unhappy few who have undergone such mutilation are beyond help—they cannot be reformed.”
These activists called on each other to disseminate this information and write statements to the medical university and the local district attorney.
Varsonofi, Metropolitan of St. Petersburg and Ladoga, blesses Lyubov Kachesova for her work as children's rights commissioner. April 25, 2015.
Those who initiated Isaev's dismissal turned out to be activists of the National Union movement and assistants to the St. Petersburg unofficial children's rights commissioner—an office created in January 2015 at a conference held by local patriotic movements, who appointed Lyubov Kachesova. Kachesova, an activist of the Parents' Committee movement, which opposes the introduction of juvenile justice and sex education in schools.
The post was established as an alternative to the state's representative for children's rights, who—in the opinion of the patriots—was not sufficiently engaged with pressing problems. The state representative did not censure “destructive literature,” stand against sex education in schools, close sex shops in shopping centers, or call for the dismissal from schools of teachers who supported, defended, or otherwise maintained ties with LGBT organizations and individuals. The remit of the unofficial children’s rights commissioner is stated as being the “defense of the institution of the traditional family” and “blocking destructive technologies from the West aimed at destroying family values.”
When she took the job, Lyubov Kachesova was blessed by Metropolitan Varsonofi of St. Petersburg and Ladoga.
In early June 2015, anonymous letters began to arrive at the University where Dmitry Isaev worked. He had expected as much, having felt the “sword of Damocles hanging above for several years,” but believed that, whatever happened, he could count on the support of the university’s administration. “However, they decided to resolve the problem in the Stalinist manner—no person, no problem,” says Isaev.
A source at the university told Meduza that Kachesova turned up on campus in late June 2015, advising staff to “resolve the problem as soon as possible.” In early July, the rector asked Isaev to resign voluntarily. “Otherwise, other ways will be found to dismiss you,” Isaev was told. “They will always be able dig up dirt, to defame you,” continued the rector. Isaev believes that the rector did not stand up for him because “his own position was worth more to him.”
On June 10, Dmitry Isaev resigned, and the university immediately disbanded the commission he had led. “Our commission was one of the most famous in the country—the strongest,” recounts Isaev. “If you take a look at any transgender website, you will discover that the majority, a large number of people, came to us. Because we related to them as humans, not as lunatics.”
In the opinion of activists of the National Union, scientist Dmitry Isaev “furthered evil and provided perverts en masse with permits”
Today, Isaev is thinking about leaving Russia. “I have been barred from my profession,” he says. “I have absolutely no chance to defend a doctorate on this topic, even though I have sufficient material. There's a law against [“gay”] propaganda that does not permit such work. My lectures, speeches, and publications, where I discuss scientific problems and the views of academics around the world on homosexuality, are all accessible online. That's propaganda. In my dissertation, I assert that these people are not ill, but healthy, and that their characteristics are perfectly normal. In their point of view [government officials and conservative activists], everything I have done for science is simply propaganda.” Dmitry Isaev says that activists have promised to follow him wherever he goes—in any city in Russia.
The campaign for the resignation of Maxim Ivantsov, a social sciences teacher at school No. 216, began as early as December 2014. It started with an announcement made by an activist named Timur Isaev (no relation to Dmitry Isaev). The activist pointed out that Ivantsov had attended “gay parades” and worked for the LGBT organization called Coming Out. By this time, Timur Isaev had already pressured another St. Petersburg school to fire a music teacher (as covered in a December 2014 report by Meduza) for being gay.
Timur Isaev is an activist who engages in “forced outings,” searching for gay people on social networks and reporting their sexual orientation to their employers. By his own admission, this work has resulted in the dismissal of 29 teachers across Russia. However, on December 22, 2014, he was himself arrested and is now in prison for embezzlement, according to the local news agency Fontanka.
Isaev followed a simple method: he found photographs on social media that could serve as evidence of “immoral crimes” (the accused, for example, standing in a nightclub or attending an LGBT protest, a glass in one hand and the other around a companion of the same sex). The results of his research would be sent to employers and posted on social networks, along with demands to fire the “guilty.”
After Timur Isaev landed behind bars, activists of the National Union movement and St. Petersburg’s unofficial children’s rights commissioner carried on the “hunt” (which included the campaign against Maxim Ivantsov). The activists organized public appeals, letters to principals, and sent out messages on social networks to students at 216 different schools. Maxim Ivantsov says they wrote to dozens of students at his school, reaching out to kids as young as fourth-graders. Anatoly Artyukh, one of the leaders of the National Union, confirmed to Meduza that his organization actually does send such messages to schoolchildren.
Teacher Maxim Ivantsov was accused of attending “gay parades.”
Ivantsov gave me a transcript of a conversation between a pupil at school No. 216 and an activist at National Union, who went by the handle “Medic.”
Activist: Hello. Watch out—one of the teachers at school No. 216 is a pervert. It is the social sciences teacher Maxim Yurevich Ivantsov. Tell your parents and classmates.
Student: Oh my God. Please, go away. You're supposed to be a medic. Don't they need you at the hospital? Isn't anybody looking for you at the hospital?
Activist: So, do you know what a tolerast is? [A portmanteau of “tolerant” and “pederast.”] It’s shameful stuff, no? Some day, you'll get married and have children. Would you like your children to be taught by a pederast and a preacher of sin?
Student: You know, you're kind of freaking me out... you should go to sleep.
Activist: Did you know that he goes to gay parades and is an organizer of a pederasts' movement in St. Petersburg?
Student: Go away. My teacher's just fine.
Once the headmaster had received the “dossier” on the teacher, he suggested to Ivantsov that he resign of his own volition. After a while, the headmaster even summoned all school staff to discuss the situation. At the meeting, he read out a letter from the activists and invited teachers to express their opinion. “You shook a gay's hand, so you don't have the right to work at a school,” declared one employee. A collective decision was made endorsing Ivantsov’s departure, in order to protect the school from possible repercussions.
But Ivantsov didn't leave. Unexpectedly, the administration of St. Petersburg's central district, where the school is located, rose to his defense. “Maxim Ivantsov poses no threat to the physical and moral health of children,” declared a state official, “and nobody intends to dismiss him.” Everything then settled down, but not for long. In January 2015, Lyubov Kachesova—the city’s unofficial children’s rights commissioner—arrived at the school, accompanied by a representative of the Orthodox National Union movement. However, in Ivantsov's words, their conversation with the school's administration did not work out.
In May 2015, activists once again began to pay attention to him. Ivantsov spoke at the Rainbow Flashmob, and was then a moderator at the LGBT film festival “Side by Side.” National Union again sent out letters and appeals. While on leave in July, Ivantsov stated his intention to leave, and was subsequently dismissed (although he argues that his departure was not directly connected with the activities of the anti-gay activists). Kachesova’s website took credit, proclaiming “another great success for the parents' community.”
Their headquarters is a small room on an office block of Nevsky Prospect. Icons hang in the corners. On one of the tables, there are mugs decorated with the words “National Union.” The interview is scheduled to be with “children’s rights commissioner” Lyubov Kachesova, but she’s accompanied by four other activists, including Anatoly Artyukh, the leader of the National Union movement.
From left to right: Anatoly Artyukh, Lyubov Kachesova and Andrey Tsyganov at the National Union office, St. Petersburg. June 24, 2015.
The “Orthodox activists” tell all: homosexuality is “indecent”—it is a disease that can be caught by watching pornography or even by witnessing a colorful LGBT march on the streets. They are convinced that “attraction to one's own sex can be cured,” and even recommend a psychiatrist who has been “very successful” in this pursuit. They all attest that the personal lives of citizens do not interest them. However, the ombudsman (who received the blessing of the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg when she started her job) is calling for the reinstatement of Article 121 of the Soviet criminal code (“against sodomy”). “Maybe then our streets, parks, squares, and the Internet will be cleansed?'
They also confirmed it was their work that cost scientist Dmitry Isaev and teacher Maxim Ivantsov their jobs.
'He [Ivantsov] was very ostentatious!' says Kachesova. “He may well be a good professional, but he made a point of demonstrating his interests in public, taking part in all kinds of get-togethers. And for teenagers, it's important to be cool. They'll also start hanging out at these parties and will of course be seduced. “What kind of message will that send to children in the classroom?” adds Artyukh. “That homophobia has to be fought? That it's impossible to live properly in Russia? That we illegally occupied Crimea? Enemies of the nation and pederasts need to be removed from the schools.”
Dmitry Isaev, the Orthodox activists explain, “distributed permits for sex change operations,” saying, “if a person declares that homosexuality is normal, that means he is a homosexual. […] We will ensure that there are no such people in our city.” Their position on the Deti-404 project is unequivocal. “They're maiming children,” says Kachesova. 'If somebody tells a child at a certain point in their development that they have the right to choose their sex, then such people should be shot,” argues Artyukh. “If they tell a child that he has the right to choose for himself, then is the child actually free? Such people should be prosecuted.”
Their Kampf, by Anatoly Artyukh
At the end of the meeting, Artyukh takes out a copy of his book, Their Kampf, from under the table. On the cover is a rainbow flag, from which a noose hangs. He opens the book to sign the first page for me and, as he puts pen to paper, spells out the words “Sodom will not triumph!”