Today we present to you the book ‘(Im)Maculate love’.
‘In this book, I will tell you a story about love, which can exists not only between a woman and a man. Special love, known as a same-sex love. This is the story about a guy who falls in love with his fitness coach, as well as about racism, harassment, feminism, drug dangers, HIV, AIDS and much more. It is also the story about the life of four people who fled to Germany from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan because of homophobia, rejection by their parents, relatives and society.’ – Victor Muck.
On June 26, 2021, the LGBT World Beside team together with RUSLGBTIQ organised a joint picnic for Russian-speaking LGBT+ people residing in the Netherlands. At first, we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to do the picnic due to COVID-19 related restrictions but luckily most of the restrictions were lifted exactly as of June 26, and our event did take place — with necessary precautions.
The picnic started at 2pm and went till late at night. We were surprised by the number of people who showed up and by the diversity of the group. LGBT+ people of all ages and backgrounds came by. We welcomed guests from Germany, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and other countries.
Most venues were closed in the past 18 months due to the lockdown, so everyone was really missing such events and get-togethers. Together with RUSLGBTIQ we provided snacks and beverages. Some guests brought their own treats, too, including homemade delicacies. We danced and sung songs from different countries in different languages. Adults also played volleyball and other ball games, while kids entertained themselves with drawing.
Our team is profoundly grateful to RUSLGBTIQ and to all those who made the picnic possible. Big thanks go to all the guests who showed up. Many of them also asked us to specially thank Harlem, leader of LGBT World Beside, and Kirill, head of RUSLGBTIQ, for what they are doing. We’d like to organise such events more often.
We also informed our guests about the upcoming Amsterdam Pride, which is scheduled for August 7, and hope to see everyone there again. Be happy and love each other.
Eight years ago, on June 30, 2013, a law on “gay propaganda” came into force in Russia, prohibiting the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors. Contrary to the law, LGBT people in Russian society have become noticeably more noticeable over the years, and much more information about the problems and life of the community has appeared in the public space. However, government-backed homophobia has intensified. Non-heterosexual Russians regularly become targets of aggression, to which the authorities actually incite. Here are some examples of the consequences of homophobia, which has become part of the state ideology.
Legal prosecution of LGBT activists, bloggers and journalists.
It is still dangerous to openly declare oneself as an LGBT person in the public space of Russia and to cover the life of queer people. In addition, it is impossible to predict which actions can attract the attention of security officials – and what, on the contrary, can protect them from this.
For example, a criminal case was opened against activist Yulia Tsvetkova (she is accused of distributing pornography) because of harmless drawings on the topic of body positive. Tsvetkova has already received several administrative fines under the article on “promoting non-traditional sexual relations among minors”. In March 2021, the Ostankino District Court banned the distribution of a video by journalist Karen Shahinyan about LGBT parenting (although it is still available on YouTube).
Complaining about “propaganda” is a convenient formal excuse for canceling cultural events and lectures. So, in April 2021, a charity evening in support of LGBT people “Show me love” was disrupted: the police and activists of the pro-Kremlin radical movements NOD and SERB came there. They also disrupted the St. Petersburg Artdokfest, after which Moscow canceled the screening of the film A Quiet Voice, which was in the festival’s competition program (a documentary film about a homosexual refugee from Chechnya – an MMA fighter).
Sometimes, in order to be detained, it is enough to pull the rainbow flag out of the bag, as happened with the teenagers in the St. Petersburg loft “Etazhi” (in June 2021, the prosecutor’s office declared the detention illegal). The main offense of LGBT + in the eyes of the state is not “propaganda”, but simply the appearance and very existence of queer people; in fact, they have no right to declare themselves openly. In the official discourse, they are given the place of marginality, cartoons, and any attempt to change this status quo is persecuted.
Crystallization of the enemy image. News about LGBT people is not journalism, but hate speech.
Most media outside the independent sector write about LGBT + people outside of most ethical and professional standards. For example, here is how Izvestia explains what Pride Month is (in the news about the rainbow flag hung on the British Embassy in Moscow): there are parades of sexual minorities, during which representatives of gay people propagandize tolerance towards members of their community and the ideas of LGBT people. “
In addition to deliberate emotional coloring, which helps to present queer people in a negative light (“promote tolerance”), this text is full of outdated incorrect terms: “sexual minorities”, “non-traditional orientation”. However, the language that journalists of the pro-government media use to write about LGBT people actually replicates the manner in which the head of state speaks. A year ago, Vladimir Putin commented on the rainbow flag hung at the US Embassy in honor of Pride Month: “Yes, they showed something about who works there. Not scary”.
In fact, this is nothing more than hate speech; from news sites, this vocabulary wanders into everyday life and becomes the language of conversation in the kitchen. Even people who position themselves as allies, that is, those who support the struggle for the rights of LGBT people, often allow themselves controversial actions. For example, the singer Lolita, who for many years was considered a gay icon in Russia (it was she who sang the unofficial LGBT anthem “Stop the Earth, I’ll Get Down,” sounded in Felix Mikhailov’s film Veselchaki, 2009), has been consistently defending the protective initiatives of the State Duma deputies for many years. and now Senator Elena Mizulina, including the law on “gay propaganda”. The singer does not consider him discriminatory; it adopts and retransmits the idea that this is a legal norm aimed exclusively at protecting the interests of children.
Language largely determines our attitude to phenomena: if we constantly hear about “LGBT ideas” (mentioned in the Izvestia article quoted above), then we will really perceive LGBT people not as ordinary people, but as carriers of an aggressive ideology, among which have no other goals than the desire to obtain new channels for the dissemination of their views.
One of the objectively existing difficulties in covering LGBT issues is that specialized vocabulary is updated too quickly. Fortunately, there are many guides out there on how to properly write about LGBT +. For example, Takie Dela has prepared a short thesaurus of words that describe different gender identities. Sasha Kazantseva – journalist, blogger, editor of the queer-zine “Otkrytye” – together with the trans-initiative group “T-Action” published the book “How to write about transgender and not screw it up”; it, by the way, is in the free public domain.
Censorship is being tightened (including self-censorship).
A direct consequence of the 2013 law is censorship and self-censorship, when a person tries to protect himself from voluntaristic law enforcement, removing any hints about a sensitive topic, according to the authorities. This includes the actions of film distributors: from the film “Rocketman” (a biopic about Elton John) they cut scenes of intimacy between men, from the film “Supernova” – three “extra” minutes of gay sex, without which the film begins to look like a parable about strong male friendship , not a story about a couple of older gay men.
At the Docker Festival in June 2021, for example, the main competition showed films about queer people – Her Moms and Prince of Dreams. From the descriptions of the feeds on the site, it was not clear that we were talking about queer people. “Her Moms” is like a film about fleeing the country and adopting a child from an orphanage, while the English-language page of the film clearly states that this is a documentary about two women who are raising an adopted child together, and their emigration is a consequence of the toughening of homophobic rhetoric in Hungary.
Brands also resort to self-censorship: for example, Adidas brought a part of the 2021 Love Unites pride collection to Russia, but on the main page of adidas.ru, unlike the English version, there is no information about this. If you enter the name of the collection (Love Unites) in the search box, you can see a list of things available in the Russian online store: the description says that summer is “a time of bright colors and spectacular images”. But not Pride Month.
Employees of Adidas stores were instructed not to tell customers about the essence of the collection, but to answer only “on the details of the product itself”: an internal mailing list for employees (available to Meduza) said what Pride Month is and how the abbreviation LGBT + stands. However, in addition to information and infographics, there was an urgent request “not to post photos of the Pride Month celebration on external social networks.”
Nike also released the Be True pride collection in 2021, but there is no information about it on the Russian-language website. The paradox is that the Russian media write about the pride collections of global brands, but the brands themselves, if they bring some of the things to Russia, try not to advertise this fact.
Homophobic and transphobic violence continues in Russia.
In 2017, Novaya Gazeta reported on the mass arrest of “Chechen gays”. American documentary filmmaker David France’s film Welcome to Chechnya (2021 won a BAFTA) is dedicated to this.
But the persecution of LGBT people in the Caucasus did not end at all: in June 2021, Khalimat Taramova, a girl from Chechnya who ran away from home, was abducted – she was subjected to violence there because of her sexual orientation. Despite international publicity and calls from activists to pay attention to the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya and Dagestan, the very existence of such a problem is denied by the Russian authorities.
In Russia, there are no official statistics on crimes motivated by homophobia, but even recorded cases say that violence against LGBT + people is state-sponsored behavior, for which in most cases there will be no responsibility. But not always: in March 2021, the Frunzensky Court of St. Petersburg passed a verdict in the case of extortion from homosexual men, in which 18 people were injured. The old scheme is fake dates. The Russian LGBT network received information that local police officers are organizing fake dates in the Krasnodar Territory. But often the criminals only pretend to be police officers – they threaten with physical harm or plant drugs. The most common mechanism for finding victims is fake profiles on gay dating sites.
LGBT parents are also attacked by the authorities: in 2019, for the first time, a criminal case was opened against employees of the social protection department, who allowed the adoption of children by a homosexual couple in Moscow. In September 2020, the Investigative Committee opened a case for “trafficking in newborn children” and announced that it was going to arrest gay fathers who had resorted to the services of surrogate mothers.
“The most vulnerable are LGBT families with children,” says Olga Baranova, an LGBT activist and project manager at the Moscow Community Center for LGBT + Initiatives. – According to this law, if you are a lesbian, gay or transgender and you have a child, then you have already broken the law. That is, you simply live constantly outside the law in fear that your child may be taken away from you. In history, unfortunately, there are examples of similar persecutions against a certain group of people. It would seem that these are all relics of the past, but no, in Russia now, with respect to the LGBT community, they operate according to the same scheme. They are not yet burnt, but, apparently, because it is impossible to burn fires in our streets. “
There are no effective legal remedies for LGBT parents. If the state decides to purposefully destroy such a family, it will be impossible to prevent it, and emigration remains the only way to ensure safety for itself and its family. And for those for whom such an option is unacceptable, it remains to live as unnoticed as possible – for the state and professional fighters against LGBT +.
RUS LGBTIQ and LGBT World Beside, two organizations of LGBT refugees from Russia and (former) USSR republics, will join forces during the first RussianPride in the Netherlands. Our first activity is a picnic for LGBT refugees on Saturday June 26 in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark. You can register for the event.
We will also participate in the PrideWalk on Saturday 7 August in Amsterdam, with a joint T-shirt.
Why are we doing this?
We think it is important to show with this joint RussianPride that we have rights and do not have to hide in the Netherlands. That we are openly proud to live here. With this RussianPride we also want to continue the work of generations of human rights activists before us. They have fearlessly defended the right to dignity for all and fought against discrimination. Many of us, representatives of the LGBT community, continue to behave as we used to in the countries where we were born, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Russia and other (former) USSR republics. All countries where homosexuality is forbidden and where we had to hide. But here too there are plenty of examples of insults and even attacks against us. This still affects our self-esteem, mental health, and our chances of happiness and success. That is not normal and we want to show that we can and should be ourselves. And that we are not alone, but that we are together! Who are we and what have we done so far?
RUS LGBTIQ was founded 2019 as a support group for newcomers by Kirill Uvarov, LGBT refugee from Russia, with the support of his friend Sergei Lavrischev. We think it’s important to help newcomers integrate into their new life here. To show that you can live freely and not be afraid to be yourself. Our community now has more than 250 members.
One of our main missions is to help newcomers get to know the history of our new home – the Netherlands – and of course learn the Dutch language. To this end, with the support of our Dutch volunteers, we organized a series of training courses and started the course ‘Knowledge of Dutch Society’ in Russian. In this way, the members of our community can learn about the basic principles and rules of the country that protects us. Since the beginning of 2020, when all language schools were closed due to the corona pandemic, we have started an online Dutch conversation course, taught by Dutch volunteers. It is very important to practice the language with native speakers, but also to show that we are not abandoning our community in these difficult times.
We also help with simple, but often difficult questions for refugees such as ‘how do you connect a SIM card’, ‘which shops are cheap’ and ‘how do you buy a ticket for public transport’. Many newcomers do not speak English and are happy to be helped in Russian. Many Russian-speaking migrant groups are still homophobic, so seeking help there is not an option. We have also set up a support group to exchange experiences. Our community is very diverse: talented artists, musicians and photographers, as well as people with non-creative professions. With the stress and horror still fresh in your mind, it is very difficult to develop your talents. That is why we think it is important to support everyone. We have held a large number of meetings, online as well as face-to-face meetings in various cities across the country. On February 12, 2020, a large solidarity meeting for LGBTI people in Russia and Chechnya took place at the gay monument in Amsterdam. It was an initiative of Russian-Dutch LGBTI activists, supported by the COC. The reason was the decision on 29 January 2020 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to give Russia full voting rights again. Russia had been stripped of that right to vote because of its annexation of Crimea. One of the conditions for regaining the right to vote was Russia’s cooperation in an investigation into the detention, torture and murder of LGBTI people in Chechnya. That cooperation never materialized. The demand at the demonstration was that Russia still fulfills all the obligations of the Council of Europe in the field of human rights. We also wanted to support LGBTI people in Russia and Chechnya with this demonstration and show that we do not give up, even though we had to leave our homeland.
LGBT World Beside was founded in 2017 by a number of LGBT refugees from Chechnya (including Harlem), when the persecution of gays and lesbians began there. It started with an urgent appeal to the Russian government to end the arrests and murders. We have received the help of journalists and filmmakers, who have made stories about this and a documentary.
On April 23, 2018 we participated in the demonstration at the Russian Consulate in The Hague in honor of the birthday of the missing Chechen singer Zelim Bakaev and on January 20, 2019 we held a memorial meeting with LGBT activists at the Homomonument in Amsterdam for the victims of the persecution of LGBTI people in Chechnya. On April 4, 2019, we made a speech in the Flemish Parliament on the occasion of the adoption of the resolution condemning the persecutions in Chechnya. Member of Parliament Piet de Bruyn has helped us enormously with this.
We also receive the gays and lesbians who have fled Chechnya and support them to integrate here. Together with Dutch and Belgian volunteers, we help the newcomers with free Dutch language courses and the Knowledge of Dutch Society course. These have been taking place online since the start of the corona pandemic. In 2019 and 2020 we held pride walks and picnics and organized football lessons in Amsterdam and Antwerp.
For the fifth year in a row, Major General Tatyana Moskalkova, Ombudsman for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, has presented a final report, which does not contain any place to mention the problems of the LGBT community.
65-year-old Tatiana Moskalkova in early April presented to President Vladimir Putin another report on the situation in the field of human rights. The 500-page document does not contain a single mention of the specific concerns of the LGBT community. The word with the root “sex” is used twice, the word “gender” is used once.
As in previous years, the problems of the transgender community have been completely ignored. There is not a single mention of the violation of the rights of HIV-positive people.
On April 22, with applause, deputies of the State Duma re-elected Tatyana Moskalkova to the post of Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation for a new term. Only two deputies voted against, one abstained.