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‘Here's the evidence — you're gay’ Russian student disciplined after university officials find LGBTQ group in his social media subscriptions

Источник: Meduza
Vladimir Zhabrikov / URA.RU / TASS

Two local news sources, Eurasian News (EAN) and Yekaterinburg Online, reported on September 17 that Ural State Economic University (UrGEU) was planning to expel a student whom administrators suspected of being gay. The student had subscribed to notifications from an LGBTQ group on the social media network VKontakte. Regional government officials have criticized UrGEU’s leadership, and an LGBTQ organization has asked prosecutors to determine whether the university broke any laws. UrGEU officials responded to the backlash against them by saying they did not, in fact, plan to expel the student in question. However, they confirmed that they actively oppose student involvement in LGBTQ groups.

UrGEU administrators chastised a freshman for following an online LGBTQ group. The student says he isn’t gay.

A UrGEU student told EAN on September 17 that he had been disciplined because university officials suspected he was gay. “My institute’s director called. He said something unpleasant had happened and we had to talk. During our meeting, he explained that the university had created a group to monitor students’ social media activity, and they had seen that I was subscribed to an LGBTQ group. Then, I was called in to meet with the dean for student development, Roman Krasnov. He said I was ‘defiling the institute’s name,’ pointed out that I have a pink phone, and said the fact that I have a girlfriend is no excuse in his eyes and doesn’t prove I’m not gay,” the student said. EAN wrote that the student is under threat of expulsion.

“They told him to get his documents out of the university’s offices,” an anonymous friend of the student in question told Yekaterinburg Online. “Their wording was ‘We’ve tracked down your social media page. Here’s the evidence — you’re gay.’ I talked to him personally. He’s asking people to believe him and he says the accusations are groundless. He’s afraid. As far as I know, the expulsion papers are ready to go, and they’re just waiting for the rector’s signature.” The student himself told EAN that university officials asked for character statements from his high school and his workplace. EAN wrote that those documents would be used to “make a decision regarding whether or not he is gay.” The student has unsubscribed from the LGBTQ group university employees had found on his VKontakte page.

Neither EAN nor Yekaterinburg Online gave the student’s name. However, EAN indicated that he is 18 years old and in his first year of university coursework. The outlet also wrote that the student’s parents are both dead, and he lives in Yekaterinburg with his grandmother, who is an UrGEU alumna herself. According to the state television channel Rossiya 24, the young man is studying on a full scholarship and has maintained high grades.

Student development dean Roman Krasnov has confirmed that UrGEU tracks its students’ social media activity. “We have monitored, are monitoring, and will monitor our students’ social media accounts! There’s one very simple reason: We’re a public university, and therefore, we must look after the moral character of our students. We have the right to see how our students live. After all, these are public pages,” Krasnov told EAN. He declined to say whether participating in LGBTQ groups is sufficient grounds for expulsion and told journalists they would do better to submit a formal information request naming the specific student in question.

An LGBTQ organization has asked prosecutors to investigate the situation at UrGEU, and regional government officials have criticized the university.

Yekaterinburg’s LGBT Resource Center called the situation at UrGEU “unacceptable not only because the student is under threat of expulsion for his sexual orientation but because the very creation of the ‘moral character monitoring service’ mentioned in the article is against this country’s Constitution and violates the right to privacy.” The Resource Center submitted investigation requests to the Sverdlovsk region’s Education Ministry and to its Prosecutorial Office. According to the LGBTQ organization’s employees, the student himself did not reach out to them for help.

Yury Biktuganov, the regional Minister for General and Professional Education, told the news outlet Podyom (Rise) that he was not familiar with the situation at UrGEU. However, he confirmed that expelling a student for membership in an LGBTQ group would violate the Russian Constitution. “Everybody has the right to receive an education,” Biktuganov noted. Tatiana Merzlyakova, the human rights ombudsperson for the Sverdlovsk regional government, told Znak.com that she is looking into the situation. She said, “I want to talk to the university’s leadership and to the student. There would be good reason to discuss this with the regional council of university rectors because education is one thing, and a person’s private life is an entirely different thing.”

The university’s leaders say they consider LGBTQ group participation to be “gay propaganda” but insist that nobody was planning to expel the student.

According to EAN and Yekaterinburg Online, UrGEU officials held a conference session on September 18 to discuss the potential expulsion of the student at the center of the current controversy. EAN wrote that the university’s rector, Yakov Silin, was present at the meeting. The student himself was not, and the outlet indicated that he had talked his grandmother out of attending the meeting as well. The student explained to EAN that he believes “proving my sexual orientation in front of the rector is absurd, and it would bring the institution as a whole to shame.”

That same day, Rossiya 24 aired a segment on the conflict at UrGEU. During the segment, university leaders said they had not considered expelling the student, but they confirmed that they would not accept any participation in online LGBTQ groups among those enrolled at the university.

“I conveyed to him that he distributes this information on the Internet. His account includes his last name, his first name, his patronymic, and his affiliation with our very own university — he positions himself as a student. He is an active participant in this group. I told him it was unacceptable for him to publish commentary in the group or to participate in it at all because he is propagandizing all that,” Dean Roman Krasnov said.

Rector Yakov Silin affirmed Krasnov’s assertions. “He distributes [this information] and confirms that he is a student. From my perspective, that means he is providing a kind of example indicating that this is how things should be. I believe that shouldn’t be happening. That’s his private business, and it shouldn’t be associated with the university,” Silin said. In an interview with the state wire service TASS, the rector added that university employees had checked on the student’s social media accounts after receiving complaints from other students.

Report by Olga Korelina

Translation by Hilah Kohen