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Less equal than others A history of anti-queer persecution in the USSR

Source: Meduza
Illustration by Rita Cherepanova for Takie Dela

From time to time, Meduza in English requests permission to translate outstanding Russian-language stories from around the Web. This piece by Nina Freiman was originally published on Takie Dela.

Note: This story contains disturbing imagery related to torture and other physical and emotional abuse. It also includes offensive language.

“Receiving the position of Sugar Distributor in the cell was a great victory for me. The pariahs were not permitted to have contact with meals that belonged to everybody else, as their touch would defile it. They were forced to eat separately, in the corner, from a bowl riddled with holes (the “drip dish”). For me, the position of Sugar Distributor was a significant marker of social recognition. Not one scholarly title meant so much to me in reality. And in the camp, I immediately received the bottom bunk in the corner as an Uglovoy, and that is a very high office.”

This is how the historian and anthropologist Lev Klein describes the structure of Soviet prison life in his book An Upside-Down World.

Lev Klein
Igor Simkin / CC BY-SA 3.0/ used with permission from Takie Dela

The “pariahs” he mentions were those who belonged to the lowest ranks in the prison hierarchy. At the age of 54, Klein was convicted under Article 121 of the Criminal Codex of the Russian SFSR. Article 121 was established in 1960 to criminalize “sodomy,” and that conviction led straight to a place among the “pariahs.” It was only thanks to Klein’s perseverance and good luck that he was able to avoid the fate of a total outcast. He served his sentence in the early 1980s, at first in Leningrad’s Kresty Prison and then on the outskirts of the city. The criminal case against him was arranged with help from Soviet security agencies: Klein had published too often in the West and proffered ideas that were too bold. A veteran of the Second World War and a world-class scholar, Klein was deprived not only of his freedom but also of his advanced degree and his academic rank. After his release, he defended a new doctoral dissertation, became one of the founders of the European University in St. Petersburg, and wrote several books. Now, at 91 years old, Klein continues to conduct research. However, many of those who were convicted under Article 121 or its predecessor, Article 154-a, met their deaths in prison camps under extreme, torturous conditions. These individuals went unmentioned in the laws that rehabilitated the victims of political repressions in the Soviet Union, and they are officially considered convicted criminals to this day.

Between two laws

Present-day homophobic rhetoric notwithstanding, traditions of aggressive intolerance toward homosexuality in Russia have their roots not in the distant past but rather in the Stalinist era. A law prohibiting “sodomy” among civilians appeared in Russia only under Tsar Nicholas I, who ruled from 1825 to 1855. By the reign of Nicholas II (1894 – 1917), officials had already begun to consider overriding the law. As it was, the ban was not actively enforced, and its enforcement weakened over time. From 1874 through 1904, 440 people were convicted under the statute. After the revolutions of 1917, the law was repealed.

Russian society bubbled and seethed. After 1905, the country’s censorship became more relaxed, and popular science books began to be published actively in Russian translation. In these works, people with same-sex attractions were described not from an unequivocally negative religious point of view but rather from a scientific perspective that invited active discussion of sex and gender.

A letter to the psychiatrist

Psychiatrists in particular began to take a sustained interest in homosexuality, and the most famous among them was Vladimir Bekhterev. Numerous letters to Bekhterev that were written by people experiencing same-sex attraction have been preserved to this day. These correspondents shared their stories, doubts, pains, observations, and desires to be cured or, on the contrary, to be allowed to live like everybody else. Many of them faced hostility, violence, and blackmail. Bekhterev began his research on homosexuality before the Russian Revolution and traveled the country giving lectures. The historian Ira Roldugina has meticulously studied and published on Bekhterev’s archives in recent years. Her greatest find was a letter signed N.P. that essentially took the form of a human rights pamphlet full of piercing details.

N.P. was born into a large peasant family living in Siberia. When he was 19 years old, N.P. was married off against his will, and he left his wife despite the extreme guilt he felt as a result. The young man attempted to explain himself and maintain a friendly relationship with his wife, but she would have none of it.

Some time later, he met the love of his life, a man whose passion for self-education he soon began to emulate. Both men enlisted in the Red Army. Roldugina was able to establish the identity of the letter’s author (Nika Polyakov) and to discover that he and his partner lived happily together for 26 years until they were arrested in Leningrad in 1933. They were both sent to prison camps. What happened to Polyakov in the Belomoro-Baltysky camp is unknown. He concluded his letter to Bekhterev as follows: “We never bring anyone into our lives by force, and if we join together, we do so by a mutual agreement from both sides, and for us, that is normal. No laws and no conventions will ever convince us that our actions are criminal and abnormal. Laws are written by human beings, and human beings can change them. We are certain that there will come a time when our rights will be recognized, that is, our civil rights to free cohabitation.” The letter can be read in full on the Russian outlet Colta, where scans of the text were published for the first time in early 2018.

The history of Nika Polyakov lead Roldugina to the documentary theater Teatr.doc. The dramaturg Valery Pecheikin helped transform the letters of Soviet queers (as Roldugina prefers to call them) into a play, and it was on the theater stage that their voices were first heard aloud. The play premiered in April of 2017.

Equality for nearly all

“Now, I focus on the 1920s and 1930s. I’m working on a book about how homosexual subjectivity formed precisely during that period,” Roldugina said in an interview. “We’re talking about a generation of people whose homosexuality, while it was still conceived in primarily medical terms, was not a reason for self-suppression, was not perceived as an illness to be cured, but was instead conceived as an integral part of their identities. Many of them counted on the idea that the new government would not just tolerate them; they hoped it would treat them as legitimate participants in the socialist project because, as one of the men I’m researching wrote in the mid-1920s, ‘the majority of us fought for’ this government ‘from the first moments of its existence.’ And they had good reason to believe that.”

“In 1917,” she added, “the Bolsheviks repealed the criminal statue on sodomy, and in 1922, that statue was not included in the first Soviet criminal codex. The idea of equality and justice (and we have to add here that those ideas did not apply to alienated economic classes), the recognition of rational arguments as superior to ‘bourgeois’ and church morals — all those were favorable indications that homosexuality would not be persecuted, and that had a very strong effect on this generation’s self-consciousness,” Roldugina explained.

In the 1920s, Petrograd became the capital of queer culture. Some people moved there to live a typical, full-fledged life, and others moved there “to be cured.” Some of the city’s residents even organized weddings for men only. At least two such instances are still known today, including one “real” wedding and one fake one. The latter event, organized by a sailor named Afanasy Shaur, caused quite a stir. In hopes of receiving a promotion, Shaur aimed to expose an “antirevolutionary conspiracy” by turning all of his guests in to the police. Although the incident attracted widespread attention, all those who took part in the wedding walked free in the aftermath.

Guests pose at a wedding organized by Afanasy Shaur in Petrograd in 1921.
Wikimedia Commons / used with permission from Takie Dela

Homosexual women, unlike men, were never very visible, did not form large societies, and did not organize major events. Of course, smaller, secret groups did exist, but they arose primarily in bohemian and university circles.

“A crime against nature”

“Medical and lay sources confirm that, at least in towns, the woman regarded as ‘masculine’ was a fixture of early-Soviet society, adopting styles of dress and behavior that at least metaphorically facilitated the occupation of masculine social terrain,” writes Dan Healey, the first scholar to research the history of Russian homosexuality. Masculine clothing, haircuts, and behaviors became widespread among active Bolshevik women. They used these social markers to demonstrate their strength and attract the attention of potential romantic partners.

In the 1920s, psychiatrists studied women who had successfully occupied masculine roles with genuine interest. One notable biography that appears in Dan Healey’s work is that of Evgeniia Fedorovna M., a patient of the psychiatrist Akim Edelshtein. At age 17, she began presenting as a man, and at the height of the 1917 revolutions, she worked as a political commissar in the Russian security services and fought on the Southern Front of the Russian Civil War. With the aid of a set of forged documents, Evgeniia Fedorovna became Evgenii Fedorovich. While working in a small town for the State Political Directorate, the second Soviet secret police organization after the Cheka, she even registered her marriage to a female employee of the local postal service. Local authorities charged “Evgenii” with “a crime against nature.” However, the case failed, and the two women’s marriage was recognized as legal because both parties had consented to it. The couple even raised a child after Evgenii Fedorovich’s wife gave birth. Nonetheless, the head of the family was soon called back to Moscow, and she lost her job shortly afterward.

Civilian life did not treat Evgeniia Fedorovna well. She began drinking heavily, starting barfights, and entering multiple short-lived relationships with women, ultimately marrying a second time. Police began to arrest her for hooliganism and racketeering with increasing frequency, and she ended up in a psychiatrist’s office. Doctor Edelshtein summed up the situation as follows: “it is beyond doubt that the social future of such a subject will be very difficult.” For her part, Evgeniia Fedorovna — demonstrating, by the way, an impressive understanding of contemporary psychiatric texts — wrote that “The neuter gender is only recognized in grammar and is applied to inanimate things. In reality, however, people live among us who do not fit neither the one nor the other gender … Such beings must be called people of the neuter, or middle, gender … People of the middle gender will begin to feel a sense of responsibility before society and become useful to it only when that society stops oppressing them and strangling them due to its lack of consciousness and its petty-bourgeois barbarity.”

Some psychiatrists, including one V. Osipov, believed that “a doctor should make strides toward the reeducation of the patient by lowering his sex drive using rational measures (physical labor, athletics) and developing within him an indifference to individuals of his own sex.” The same Osipov argued that the social value of homosexual people was insignificant because they supposedly preferred “lighter” professions.

Biological experiments

A rather different, endocrinological hypothesis was also in circulation at the time; it claimed that unusual activity in sex-related hormonal glands was responsible for homosexuality. In 1924, a Red Army soldier who had attempted suicide due to his sexual orientation went on to undergo a course of “suggestive therapy” with a psychiatrist. When the therapy proved ineffective, the patient agreed to an experimental operation. The biologist M. Zavodovsky described the procedure: an eighth of one of the man’s testicles was removed and replaced with a corresponding portion of testicular tissue removed from a rhesus macaque. This surgical manipulation brought about no recognizable results.

In the late 1920s, the psychiatrist Yakov Ionovich Kirov conducted an operation using techniques derived from the “rejuvenation therapies” that were fashionable among wealthy Europeans at the time. 28-year-old Efrosinia B. agreed to allow doctors to implant sheep and swine ovaries underneath her left breast. Doctors believed the operation might help her change her sexual orientation. The experiment failed. Dan Healey describes both of the above-mentioned cases in his book. He also mentions that researchers in Leningrad attempted to study human blood in hopes of discovering an indicator for “sexual anomalies.”

“A social defect”

It is possible that the Soviet government saw an advantage in making the borders of gender more flexible at first in the hope that women, at least, would be quicker to join the effort to build a new Soviet society. As for homosexual men, it seems that the Soviet government simply did not see them as a serious threat in its early years. “The struggle against bourgeois prejudices” spread to encompass anti-homosexual laws. However, in the 1930s, that attitude changed. Homosexuality began to be seen not as an illness, not as an unacceptable or shameless form of otherness, but as a social defect and a political threat.

Ira Roldugina was able to discover and research the multivolume records of a Leningrad criminal case that became the starting point for anti-gay repressions. “They came to his home and took him,” Roldugina said. “The Leningrad arrests took place in the summer and fall of 1933. If you were to try and paint a collective portrait of those who were arrested, you would describe someone who was born in the late 19th or early 20th century, someone from a simple background, a high school graduate, a manual or service worker with no party affiliation. The one who made the greatest impression on my memory was a chef in a military medical academy who was born in 1886.”

“During his first interrogation,” Roldugina continued, “he carried himself with dignity and said fairly little: ‘I take part in homosexual activity on a school bench. I refuse for political reasons to reveal anything about the individuals connected to me in this matter or about my homosexual activity as a whole to the investigative organs of the Joint State Political Directorate.’ And that is all he said.”

However, Roldugina added, “the second interrogation in the case, which took place about one or two months after the first, looked entirely different. The accused gave testimony against himself and confessed not only to homosexuality but, on multiple occasions, to ‘hatred for Soviet society’ and ‘respect for Hitler.’ He even confessed to details like ‘the fact that a portrait of the Tsaritsa still hangs above my bed.’ Back then, people were not tortured as they would be later on during the Great Terror, but they were held in solitary confinement under very difficult conditions. In addition, it is entirely possible that in 1933, many people expected it to be possible to denounce themselves without being charged under criminal law such that they could leave prison as soon as possible and most likely be expelled from the city, as was often done with sociopolitical dissidents ... In fact, these people were convicted under Article 58, and they were sent to the camps.”

Counterrevolutionary corruption

In 1933, the vice chair of the Soviet Joint State Political Directorate, G. Yagoda, sent an official memo to Stalin in which he reported on the discovery of a “union of pederasts” in Moscow and Leningrad. 130 people were arrested. They were accused of forming “a network of salons, hubs, dens, groups, and other organizational formations for pederasts with plans for the further transformation of these unions into active spy cells.” Yagoda and his colleagues believed that “the core group of pederasts, using the insularity of pederast circles as a caste for directly counterrevolutionary aims, corrupted various layers of society’s youth politically, including the laboring youth, and made additional attempts to infiltrate the army and navy.”

Stalin responded with an order to “punish the scum” and amend Soviet law to keep punishing them in the future as well. Government circles discussed in all seriousness the possibility of a “psychic infection” of so-called “normal” young people. These absurd accusations came to light as Hitler was rising to power in Germany and German-Soviet relations began to decline. The standoff between communism and fascism intensified, and, as Dan Healey writes, “Accusations of homosexuality (hurled as an insult to the masculine honor of the opposition) had already become a significant new feature of this political discourse.”

On March 7, 1934, the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the Russian SFSR ruled that “Sexual relations between men (Sodomy) will entail imprisonment for a term of three to five years. Sodomy committed with the aid of violence or with reliance on the dependent position of the victim will entail imprisonment for a term of five to eight years.” Soon afterward, corresponding laws were introduced in republics throughout the Soviet Union.

From Klyuyev to Parajanov

A large number of tragic, high-profile cases followed. In 1934, the editor-in-chief of the literary journal Novy Mir (New World), Ivan Gronsky, triggered the arrest of the poet Nikolai Klyuyev by expressing outrage over homosexual motifs in the poet’s work. Klyuyev was accused of counterrevolutionary kulak agitation. In in 1937, the poet was executed by a firing squad.

Nikolai Klyuyev
Wikimedia Commons / used with permission from Takie Dela

Accusations of homosexuality were often accompanied or covered up by accusations of counterrevolutionary conspiracy or espionage. For example, 1934 was also the year of the high-profile bout of repressions known as “Florinsky’s case,” which targeted Soviet diplomats. Dmitry Florinsky himself received a five-year sentence “for sodomy,” and in 1937, he was executed for espionage. The regime began to devour itself: Nikolai Yezhov, the direct successor to the official who initiated the Soviet Union’s anti-gay law, was himself convicted under the “sodomy” statute. Because he was presented with an entire bouquet of anti-Soviet charges alongside sodomy, Yezhov and everyone he named as a lover under interrogation were shot. The musicologist Boleslav Pshibyshevsky was also shot after being convicted of sodomy; on top of those charges, he was convicted of espionage and planning a terrorist attack. The writer Yury Yurkun, the common-law husband of the renowned poet Mikhail Kuzmin, was executed for participating in an “anti-Soviet right-wing Trotskyist terrorist writers’ organization” during the course of the famous “Leningrad affair.” A devastating purge swept through Soviet cultural circles in 1933 and 1934. Artists who were accused of sodomy were often simultaneously charged with spying for Nazi Germany.

In 1944, a conflict arose between the famed singer Vadim Kozin and the notorious secret police chief Lavrenty Beria. Beria had promised Kozin that his family would be evacuated from the then-besieged city of Leningrad but did not keep his word, and the singer’s loved ones died. The resulting dispute ultimately led to Kozin’s arrest. He was given an eight-year sentence for “sodomy committed with the aid of violence” and “counterrevolutionary propaganda.” This was all in spite of Kozin’s incredible popularity: members of the public stood in incredibly long lines to buy his records. After his release, Kozin continued to perform, but in 1959, he was convicted of sodomy again. Fortunately, the singer lived to be released after that sentence as well, but he remained in the city of Magadan on Russia’s eastern coast for the rest of his very long life.

One more well-known sodomy case took place a good deal later. This one targeted the renowned film director Sergey Parajanov. His prison sentence proved to be a particularly unbearable experience: the director survived torture and contracted diabetes. In a letter to his nephew, Parajanov wrote, “I work as a janitor in the workshop. Someone recently flooded the workshop intentionally. All night, I stood in the ice-cold water and used buckets to remove the water. I am coughing up blood. Is this really how I will meet my end? I miss freedom. Where I am — it’s frightening!” The news of the director’s arrest expanded into an international scandal, but Parajanov’s sentence was shortened by only one year, and when it was over, he was prohibited from living in Moscow, Leningrad, Kyiv, and Yerevan. He returned to his homeland to live in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. In 1990, Yury Ilyenko created Swan Lake: The Zone, one of the darkest films in the history of Soviet cinema, on the basis of Parajanov’s memories of the camps.

Sergey Parajanov. 1984
Yury Mechitov / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

An upside-down world

Lev Klein, the historian and anthropologist whose words open this story, described the lives of those convicted under the sodomy statute in detail in his writings. Klein recalled that upon his arrival in prison, a lieutenant offered to list a different statute in his official papers to help the scholar avoid torture. He declined the offer, and his decision proved to be the correct one: “the laws of the criminal world dictate that covering up circumstances like those should be punished with a painful death,” Klein wrote after the fact. In the course of his first month in the camp, more seasoned convicts undertook what amounted to a well-researched background check based on the legal documentation of his case. They conducted a trial to determine how they would treat the newcomer. Klein was lucky: the “court” ruled in his favor.

“All convicts are very clearly and strictly divided into three castes: vory (thieves), muzhiki, and chushki (pigs) … Other prisoners were permitted and encouraged to target the chushki for humiliation, bullying, and beatings of various kinds. They were meant to do the dirtiest work … Among the chushki, the “pidory,” or pederasts, were a special category (the nickname emerged from the grammatically incorrect term “pidoraz”). A vor or muzhik is not even permitted to speak with one of them or be anywhere near them. If they do happen to find themselves near a chushok, they might spit something like “Fuck off, you stinking faggot!” through their teeth. That’s all one can say to a pidor in public. Another option is to punch him in the mouth and demonstratively wash your hand. The pidory were not limited to those who had a propensity for homosexuality when they were free (in the camp itself, only taking a passive sexual role was seen as reprehensible) — all kinds of causes could push you into that group. Sometimes, it was sufficient to have a relatively sweet appearance and a weak personality,” Klein wrote by way of describing the prison’s hierarchy. Without omitting any grim details, he wrote in his book about the conditions in which the “chushki” and “pidory” of the lowest imprisoned caste lived: working both their own assigned shift and the following one, serving the vory, total powerlessness, violence (including sexual violence), the constant need to hide, living in a state of starvation. “A chushok can be recognized by his folded posture, his head pulled down toward his shoulders, his downtrodden appearance, his fear, his thinness, his bruises. Pidory were entirely forbidden from eating at the common table or from common dishes—they were sent to eat in the corner like dogs,” Klein wrote.

Conversion therapy

While lesbian relationships were not specifically criminalized, homosexuality was widespread in women’s prisons as well. As Healey describes in his book, in the second half of the 1950s, the psychiatrists Yelizaveta Derevinskaya and Abram Svyadoshch examined 96 female prisoners, most of whom were held in the Karandinsky corrective labor camp. In 1956 and 1957, after receiving permission from nine women, Derevinskaya and Svyadoshch carried out a course of what is known in English as conversion therapy. The patients took the sedative antipsychotic medication chlorpromazine to decrease their libido, but their sexual attractions did not change their “direction” and returned as soon as the women stopped taking the drug. Derevinskaya created a combination of medications and hypnosis for seven of the women, and three of them supposedly entered into heterosexual relationships as a result.

In 1973, Svyadoshch, who was Derevenskaya’s academic advisor, opened the Sexological Center in Leningrad and began offering similar “therapies.” He described how one gay patient was given apomorphine to trigger vomiting and then shown photographs of his partner. This “cure” caused a loss of any sexual interest whatsoever.

The researcher Vladimir Volodin, who studies homosexuality in Belarus, was able to contact and interview a psychiatrist who discussed Soviet conversion therapy on condition of anonymity. The psychiatrist said that Soviet doctors understood very well that it was senseless to try to “cure” homosexuality but that government officials literally forced them to use tranquilizers and neuroleptics to attempt to do so anyway.

Some researchers believe that in the late Soviet period, lesbians were regularly exposed to the same kind of penal psychiatry that was used to target Soviet dissidents. Over the course of two or three months, they were given psychotropic drugs, and after they were released from the hospitals where they were held, they were registered as mentally ill patients and were therefore forced to return for repeated examinations. Their “diagnoses” made it impossible for them to pursue certain professions and even prohibited them from receiving drivers’ licenses. “The degree to which this kind of punitive psychiatry was widespread is not clear,” Roldugina said. “My colleague, the French researcher Arthur Clech, recently defended a dissertation based on more than 100 interviews with gays and lesbians who were born and lived part of their adult lives in the USSR. He found loads of important, interesting details about how the criminal statute [on ‘sodomy’] affected women as well. First of all, many of them thought that the statute applied to them. That changed everything; it changed their lives. Second of all, a huge number of other methods were available for applying pressure [to these women]. For example, a number of women described being targeted by tovarishcheskie sudy, or “comrades’ courts,” and facing humiliating treatment from the collectives in which they worked. Naturally, statistics do not account for such things.”

Without fear of reproach

Men were arrested under the “sodomy” statute in every Soviet republic. Those who were not imprisoned were held under observation, frequently blackmailed, and made to work as informants. Many faced physical violence from local homophobes, and those attacks were euphemistically termed “repairs.” But people continued to build new relationships on Bulvarny Circle in Moscow, in “Katka’s Garden” in Leningrad, on the banks of the sea in Sevastopol, in Chelyuskintsev Park in Minsk, outside the Opera Theater in Yerevan, in banyas, on beaches, and, most commonly of all, in public bathrooms. Gay meeting places were called pleshki. There were even “pleshki on wheels” — gay people would find new partners in the backs of trolleys or buses.

Precise statistics about the prosecution of homosexuality in the Soviet Union remain unavailable to this day. However, one thing is clear: after the death of Joseph Stalin, repressions related to homosexuality did not decline; instead, they became more intensive. “As strange as it may seem at first, the 1980s saw the peak number of convictions under this statute. For example, in 1960 in the USSR, in all of the republics put together, 439 people were convicted under the sodomy law, and eight people were acquitted. In 1987, 1155 people [were convicted]. The plurality, of course, were in the Russian SFSR. In 1985, 1620 people were convicted,” Roldugina said.

The artist and the Chairman

Historians are not the only ones involved in researching anti-gay persecution in the Soviet Union; visual artists have worked on the topic as well. In 2015, the Estonian artist Jaanus Samma presented his project “NSFW. A Chairman’s Tale” at the Venice Biennale. Samma worked on the project for several years and dealt extensively with archival materials. The basis for his work was the life of the war veteran, Communist Party member, and collective farm chairman Juhan Ojaste. Ojaste was married and had children but met with male lovers in secret. One of them turned him in. Ojaste lost his job, his family, and his reputation simultaneously and spent a year in jail before being forced to work in unskilled labor after his release. In 1990, at the age of 69, he was killed, evidently by a soldier who also did sex work. Jaanus Samma’s project brought together artistic video montages based on the Chairman’s life as well as archival documents and objects related to him, including medical instruments that were used to conduct a court-ordered examination and looked more like instruments of torture than anything else.

Jaanus Saama’s project is currently on display in the Kiasma contemporary art museum in Helsinki as part of the exhibition “There and Back Again. Contemporary art from the Baltic Sea region.” As he reflected on the creation of the project, Saama said, “I realized that in a certain sense, the Chairman was a quintessential Soviet homosexual man. I used his history as an example to tell stories about taking walks in the park with the aim of meeting people, about prostitution, about violence toward sexual minorities, and, most importantly, about the law that criminalized homosexuality. And even though the exhibit focused on the Chairman, I am not interested in him as a real person. This is more of an example of personal suffering in a system where you cannot be free.”

Flowers on stone

Nowadays, there are tours in St. Petersburg that memorialize LGBTQ victims of the Soviet repressions. The activist Pyotr Voskresensky organizes them once a year. His tour begins near a monument to the writer Maxim Gorky, who authored the infamous slogan “destroy homosexuality, and fascism will disappear.” The tour ends near the Solovetsky Stone, a monument to all victims of the Gulag system. Those who take the tour place flowers and portraits of those who were convicted under the Soviet “sodomy” statute by the stone, and Pyotr Voskresensky himself was once arrested there because he dared to arrive at a protest in memory of the victims of Soviet political repressions carrying a poster and a rainbow flag. Voskresensky concludes the tour by reminding his listeners that the persecution of gay people in Russia continues to this day.

The program coordinator of the Russian LGBT Network agreed with Voskresensky. He told Takie Dela, “It is not uncommon for employees of government anti-extremist agencies to become interested in volunteers of the Russian LGBT Network as well, and FSB employees often invite activists to interrogations under various unrelated pretenses or come to their universities or workplaces themselves to ‘have a chat.’”

Every year, the Russian LGBT Network’s monitoring program records an average of 250 instances of anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence. These cases take place in at least 10 of Russia’s administrative regions as well as its Northwest, Southern, and Central federal districts, the North Caucasus, the Urals, Siberia, and the Volga region. “The treatment of the victims varies from case to case, from verbal harassment and bullying in gyms to blackmail and intimidation at work. Adolescents report violence at home and at school, and adults tell us about illegal firings and muggings. Although the [current] prohibition on gay propaganda does not criminalize LGBT people as the criminal codex did until 1993, it does impose certain limits and a certain stigma that create a separation between the possibilities heterosexual and non-heterosexual people face in their lives. They legitimate that separation and the social inequality that comes with it,” the coordinator concluded. In short, the repressions continue.

Nina Freiman for Takie Dela

Translation by Hilah Kohen

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