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Sergey Troshin

‘Someone will always say it’s the wrong time’ St. Petersburg politician Sergey Troshin on coming out amidst a rise in state-sponsored homophobia

Source: Meduza
Sergey Troshin
Sergey Troshin
Valentin Yegorshin / Bumaga

Last month, St. Petersburg opposition politician Sergey Troshin came out as gay. After years of struggling with internalized homophobia, he said it was seeing other LGBT+ people speak openly about their identity that gave him the strength to finally accept himself. In recent years, Troshin has been a strong advocate for LGBT+ rights; he's even carried a poster in support of same-sex civil unions on St. Petersburg’s Palace Square and put up rainbow flags in local government meetings. St. Petersburg news outlet Bumaga spoke to Troshin about what it’s like to participate in Russian politics as an openly gay person. With Bumaga’s permission, Meduza is publishing an abridged translation of the interview.

Even in the best of times, Russia’s municipal deputies have limited power. In St. Petersburg’s Liteyny District, where members of Russia’s ruling party changed the rules in 2019 to prevent the majority-holding Yabloko party from influencing the budget, deputies have been reduced to little more than “public figures,” according to Yabloko deputy Sergey Troshin.

Luckily for Troshin, influencing the budget has never been his priority. Since his election to municipal council three years ago, he’s viewed the position first and foremost as a platform to advocate for “European values” in Russia, including democracy, free speech, and equal rights for all.

On June 24, in an interview with the LGBT+ health website Parni Plus (“Guys Plus”), Troshin came out as gay. While some may see his timing as imprudent— after all, the Russian government is currently both waging a war of aggression against Ukraine and preparing legislation that would further demonize LGBT+ people — Troshin saw coming out as both an important move towards a more progressive Russia and an important step in his personal journey.

“No matter what time you choose, there will always be someone who says it’s the wrong time,” Troshin said. “[But] all coming-out announcements, especially those of public figures, help to reduce homophobia and move society closer to living up to European values. The government is trying to lead the country in a completely different direction right now, of course, but I’m confident that progress can’t be stopped.”

Troshin’s announcement was a long time in the making. He said that after years of internal struggle, his friendships with other LGBT+ people in St. Petersburg helped him overcome his internalized homophobia enough to come out. He made the decision late last year.

“I decided I would come out at the end of winter,” he said. “Then February 24 happened, and suddenly I had other things on my mind. But in May, when I got a call from Guys Plus and they invited me to do an interview, I knew they would ask that question. And I realized I was emotionally and psychologically ready to give an honest answer.”

Aside from some comments on the Internet, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. “A lot of people have written to me to tell me it helped them,” Troshin said. The messages of gratitude brought to mind an important moment in his own self-acceptance process: “When Tom Daley, the Olympic diving champion, came out, it helped me a lot. I watched and thought, man, someone as cool as him is coming out. It gave me strength.”

The personal is political

When Troshin was elected to municipal council in 2019, he made waves by bringing a rainbow flag to council meetings and discussing gender equality and LGBT+ rights. But despite his unequivocal public stance, he was still fighting an internal battle.

“I almost never went to a psychologist,” he said. “For me, [I achieved self-acceptance] through internal work and political work, including my protests with the rainbow flags and my statements in support of LGBT+ rights.”

When he first felt brave enough to start attending LGBT+ rights protests, back in 2012, he watched from the sidelines to avoid being photographed. It wasn’t until 2016 that worked up the courage to go publicly.

“There was a pride march organized by [St. Petersburg activist] Yury Gavrikov on Palace Square. As a legislative assembly candidate for the Yabloko party, I went with a sign in support of giving people the right to enter a civil union regardless of sex. I was effectively protesting for same-sex unions, which have been the precursor to same-sex marriage rights in many countries. I’m confident that we’ll also get to same-sex marriages, but we’ll go through that step first,” he said.

There’s no question that LGBT+ people have become a scapegoat for the Russian government as it seeks to justify increasingly illiberal policies as necessary measures against an attack on “traditional values” from the West. Troshin recognizes that while still maintaining his belief that equality will prevail in Russia. “I don’t think you can stop progress,” he said. “And that means that the LGBT rights situation will inevitably improve. I’m confident that it won’t be long before there are gay parades on Nevsky Prospekt and rainbow flags on government buildings, including Smolny, on pride week.”

Troshin’s political activity isn’t limited to LGBT+ rights. He also advocates against other forms of political repression, such as the criminal charges against Sasha Skochilenko and Maria Ponomarenko, two women accused of spreading “fake news” about the Russian army. For their arraignment hearings, Troshin signed personal guarantees that they wouldn’t evade investigation and thus didn’t need to be held in pre-trial detention (though they were incarcerated anyways).

“[I did it] as a sign of solidarity, a sign of support, and a sign that these people absolutely should not go to remand prison. The criminal cases against them should not exist, and the law [against 'fake news'] should not exist,” he said.

For all of Troshin’s faith in his country’s European future, there are certainly safer places for an openly gay man than Russia right now. But Troshin maintains that he’s not going anywhere. “Now that I’ve come out, a lot of people from the LGBT community are watching me, and, to some degree, counting on me, so I’d better stay in Russia. If I leave, I’ll be betraying myself, the political path I’m on, and my vision of the future,” he said.

And despite the bleak political situation, Troshin has no regrets about coming out. In the interview where he made the announcement, he said, “If you’re constantly struggling with yourself, with who you are, and with your nature, then you’re not living your own life — and you won’t be happy.”

“Do you feel happier now?” Bumaga's correspondent asked him.

“Of course I do,” he said.

Interview by Anastasia Rozhkova

Abridged translation by Sam Breazeale

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