Investigators used Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law to remove the boys from their home.
A trip to the emergency room soon turned into a nightmare for two dads, who have been separated from their adopted children after authorities ordered them to be taken away from them. Lawyers for the men have described their situation as ‘terrifying’ as Russian authorities try to seperate them from their children.
On 19 June 2019, two men brought one of their sons to a Moscow hospital to treat a suspected case of appendicitis. The men remain unnamed for their own safety.
But the doctor found out the boy had two dads and immediately reported them to the Investigative Committee of Russia. The Committee went on to sue the social workers who approved the children’s adoption for ‘negligence’. It also ordered authorities remove the boys from their family home.
In July, things got worse. Authorities from the Committee tried multiple times to search the dads’ apartment and those of their immediate family. Eventually, investigators broke down the doors of the men and one of their brothers. They also interrogated one of their fathers for more than three hours.
Gay propaganda. The Committee decided the adoption contravened Russia’s controversial ‘gay propaganda’ law. Introduced in the 2013, the law forbids the positive representation of LGBTI people in media. The government argued the law stopped the ‘promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors’.
The dads and their modern family. One of the men in the relationship legally adopted the two boys now aged 12 and 14 in 2010. Same-sex couples are not allowed to adopt children in Russia, but single people are.
According to their lawyers, the adoption agency in Lyublino carried out regular visits to the home from 2010 to 2019. The agency reported the men looked after the boys very well.
The neighbors of the couple were present during the search. They gave comments to the media, in which they said only good things about the family.
According to them, they did not notice any signs of trouble, the children grew up in an intelligent and calm atmosphere, and the parents took care of the children.
After the adoption of the so-called ‘gay propaganda’ law in 2013 on the federal level, it became apparent that this law was going to be a tool of oppression of the LGBTI community.
The only thing LGBTI people can do to be completely safe is to stay invisible, hide their SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity), lie in their social environment.
It also became clear that same-sex families with children were going to be the most vulnerable group under this law, because under this law, you are ‘doing propaganda’ every day just by being a family.
We were all scared for families with adopted children, because it would be so easy to annul adoptions and break up families.
This precedent will also pose a huge threat to all existing same-sex families, driving them further underground.
These trends will cause huge harm, first and foremost to the children, who otherwise could have loving and supportive families.
A same-sex couple from Moscow, which has become the object of attention of law enforcement agencies because of the education of two adopted boys, may not return to Russia. This was announced by lawyer Maxim Olenichev.
“They are currently on holiday abroad until the end of summer. They are following the developments now and by the end of the holidays they will decide whether they should return or not, ”he said.
The couple went on vacation with their children, the Moscow LGBT Stimulus group reported earlier.
In mid-July, the investigative committee opened a criminal case of negligence against employees of social welfare agencies due to the fact that the adopted boys are in the care of two men in Moscow. The Investigative Committee claims that they “promote non-traditional relations” and harm the “moral and spiritual development” of children.
On July 19, it became known that searches were conducted both at home and in the vicinity of the couple. The father of one of the men was summoned to the investigative committee for questioning.
The singer hit out at the “hypocrisy” the Russian president showed.
Earlier this week, in an interview with the Financial Times, Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia has “no problems” with the LGBTQ community.
“God forbid, let them live as they wish,” said Putin. “Some things do appear excessive to us… They claim now that children can play five or six gender roles.”
He added: “Let everyone be happy, we have no problem with that. But this must not be allowed to overshadow the culture, traditions and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.
“I am not trying to insult anyone, because we have been condemned for our alleged homophobia as it is. But we have no problems with LGBT persons.”
Given how the LGBTQ community is treated in Russia, with an intersex woman being evicted from her home following police harassment and a BTS concert being cancelled for being ‘gay’ in this year alone, many took issue with what the Russian president said.
Those included singer, Sir Elton John, who in a letter to Putin, wrote: “I was deeply upset when I read your recent interview in the Financial Times. I strongly disagree with your view that pursuing policies that embrace multicultural and sexual diversity are obsolete in our societies.
“I find duplicity in your comment that you want LGBT people to ‘be happy’ and that ‘we have no problem in that’.”
Making reference to the cutting of gay sex scenes and a picture of Elton John with his husband in the star’s biopic, he added: “Yet Russian distributors chose to heavily censor my film Rocketman by removing all references to my finding true happiness through my 25 year relationship with David and the raising of my two beautiful sons. This feels like hypocrisy to me.
“I am proud to live in a part of the world where our governments have evolved to recognise the universal human right to love whoever we want. And I’m truly grateful for the advancement in government policies that have allowed and legally supported my marriage to David. This has brought us both tremendous comfort and happiness.”
In a decision to censor Rocketman, Olga Lyubimova, the head of the Culture Ministry’s cinema department, told Tass that no specific restrictions were put on the film, but films had to abide by Russia’s laws on “paedophilia, ethnic and religious hatred and pornography.”
Speaking to CNN, Putin rejected Elton’s claims, saying: “Speaking of Elton John, I respect him very much … but I think he is mistaken. I didn’t overstate anything.
“We have a law that everybody is angry at us because of the law that doesn’t allow propaganda of homosexuals among underage population. Let’s let the kids grow and then let them decide what they want to do.”
A homosexual from Chechnya, who left Russia after his arrest, told the “Caucasian Knot” how people with non-traditional sexual orientation live in the republic and how the fate of his acquaintances in the LGBT community has developed after the start of mass raids on gays. According to the man, he managed to avoid torture, but the security forces cruelly tortured his close friend, and three familiar men were killed.
“THEY HAVE BEEN BURNING THROUGH THE CAMERA, SHANGED”
“Caucasian Knot” (CK): Magomed, are you a native of Chechnya? When did you realize your sexual orientation?
Magomed: I was born in Chechnya. My relatives remained there – mother, father, sisters. I realized my orientation after the first homosexual experience, at the age of 18.
CK: Before the persecution began, did any of your relatives and friends know about your orientation?
M .: No. They knew only those with whom I met, as they say, “friends on the topic.” There were no conflicts in the family about this.
CK: How did you communicate with people “off-topic”? Was there no fear that a wide range of people would know about your homosexual relationships?
M .: Of course, scary. Homosexuals are afraid to live not only in Chechnya, but also in general in Russia. Only in Chechnya, unlike in other regions where they can be beaten, crippled, taken away, a homosexual is threatened with death. They will kill, if not their own, so strangers, and no one will declare a blood feud, because they killed the “fagot”, “made good” the family.
I did not get acquainted with “outsiders” people. I knew what this is fraught with from the experience of other young guys who came across homophobes. At first, young people met at Mail.ru, then various mobile applications appeared with chat rooms. After dating, they made an appointment, and there they caught the guys. They were beaten, filmed, blackmailed. The killings began just recently.
CK: Was it difficult for you to make relationships and hide them from prying eyes?
M .: Very difficult. Imagine if the family of straight people had to hide their relationships and children, not to appear in society. We, gays, have the same relationship, with the exception of children. We had to hide from relatives, from colleagues, and from friends, and from fellow students. It is difficult and painful: for example, it was necessary to invent why a stranger was sitting at our family party.
CK: When information about your orientation has ceased to be a mystery to others?
M .: After the security forces caught me.
CK: Before the arrest, did you hear anything about the facts of the persecution? About prisons for homosexuals in Chechnya?
M .: From the very beginning of the repressions against homosexuals, our entire company knew about them. Homosexuals, especially in Chechnya, are a fairly solid and strong community. We can only be with ourselves like we are, therefore the links [between LGBT people] are very stable.
When the first information [about the persecution] appeared, I immediately sent it to my [friends] to whom I could. Some people, as is usually the case, were skeptical of the messages – they say that I hide well, nothing will happen to me. And then the torture began.
CK: Are there people among those close to the Chechen leadership who successfully hide their homosexuality?
M: Yes. I know them. They work quite normally.
CK: Families who have independently dealt with gay relatives try to hide this fact from society and explain the disappearance of a person by leaving or more often they say openly that he is killed?
M: No one openly raises this topic. And no one will talk about this with the family. The death of a man has already cleared the race, say the Chechens. And if you remind about this, then you will have to answer for your words.
CK: Does your family know about your sexual orientation?
M .: The male part is not. If they did, I wouldn’t be here.
“I was handed over under torture”
CK: How exactly did your persecution begin? Was this related to a specific incident — for example, did a security official select a mobile phone with photos?
M .: I was handed over under torture. In the spring of 2017 one of the homosexuals in inadequate condition was detained by the police. It is worth noting that in Chechnya, it is absolutely impossible to drink to [local residents]. A personal correspondence with a lover and photos with him, as well as an extensive base of phones, were discovered on the young man’s phone. My contact was not there, since I only gave my address and telephone number to a very narrow circle of people, but they came to me through another detainee, who was seized at that very base. I was stopped at one of the posts of Grozny when checking documents, taken to the police department. After a brief stint, they let go, but set a condition – I must disappear from Chechnya, and preferably from Russia.
For reasons of security, the interlocutor did not voice the circumstances of his release, therefore the “Caucasian Knot” did not ask any further details.
CK: Did you avoid torture?
M: Yes, this did not happen to me, but they tortured my close friend. For two weeks he was kept in the basement, beaten, tortured with electric current, and was not given any food or water. He survived only due to the fact that he was allowed to pray – during the ablutions it was possible to sip water.
CK: Was he officially charged with something?
M .: He was tortured for being homosexual, and that was the accusation. No criminal or administrative case was opened against him, just tortured.
There were cases when cases were brought against several homosexuals. This was done for blackmail: they say, we will put you, kill you as a terrorist. But, as far as I know, not a single case reached the court. Mostly [these people] had tolerant families, parents did not pay attention to their son’s sexual orientation. When the security forces understood that it was useless to tell the family, they frightened them with criminal prosecution, but [as a result of these people] were killed.
CK: Your friend was alone in that basement?
M .: Using his phone, the security officers came out for three more people, one of whom, by the way, was not gay. What happened to them, I do not know. After my friend left, we quickly left.
CK: You said that some detainees were killed. Who are these people?
M: I know about three homosexuals killed: two young people and one older person. The latter was tortured and beaten, as a result of which he died, his body was simply given to relatives. The other guy is a member of a wealthy family in Chechnya who is in (power). He was beaten half to death. Having found out who he was, the security forces brought him to his relatives and gave him away, said: “Understand yourself.” The family killed him himself. The third homosexual was beaten, taken out to his home, where he died – the ambulance was unable to help.
CK: It is known that many detainees had to pay the security forces for silence and release, some spoke of systematic extortion. Do you know what amounts gays were forced to pay?
M: Different. In May 2017, it was about 200-300 thousand rubles, sometimes reaching 500 thousand. It depended on the level of human well-being – what position he held, where he worked. You can’t take off your naked pants. If it came to the family, then they already looked at her condition.
CK: Why did they let you go?
M .: I will not answer this question.
CK: Have they applied to government agencies? For example, to the prosecutor?
M .: Are you crazy? [laughs]
CK: Were there difficulties in terms of moving? Did they take any things? Or abandoned everything?
M .: We only had a hand luggage – in a sports bag, where it was most necessary: pants, t-shirt, toothbrush. We didn’t go on a tour, we fled the country.
“I WANT TO GO BACK TO MY HOUSE”
CK: Now you are in one of the European countries. Did you manage to get political asylum?
M .: I was lucky: two weeks after my arrival, I was received by the Consul General of the country where I was, and immediately [documents for political asylum] were ready.
CK: What’s up with your friend?
M .: We flew to different countries, but neighboring ones. Is he Ok.
CK: Are you afraid that someone will chase you abroad?
M: Of course. Persecution is no longer carried out by Chechen security officials, but by members of the Chechen diasporas. If they find out that you are gay, then they can beat and kill. The most famous case of persecution is the story of Movsar Eskerkhanov.
CK: If the situation changes for the better, would you like to return to Russia and specifically to Chechnya?
M: Of course, I want to return to my house. I’m here alone, I have no one. It is very difficult to break away from family, friends, to leave for a lifetime. One thought that I will not see my relatives is already killing. I keep in touch only with the female part of the family. Women cover me – they say that I work in Europe.
CK: The reaction of the authorities and the security bloc in Chechnya to homosexuals is known. You say that society is extremely negative, but women are tolerant of your sexual orientation …
M .: [Women] humbled. They are more merciful than men, and for them I, first of all, are son and brother, and not gay. They would not want to lose a relative. Sexual orientation is not a reason to kill.
CK: How do you explain the fact that in Chechnya, some of the stars of show business who have the reputation of homosexuals are welcome?
M: They are not Chechens. First, they are brought in as a media person. Secondly, in this way they are denying that they are pursuing and killing gays.
CK: What actions would you recommend homosexuals to avoid in Chechnya?
M .: The advice is the same: to leave Chechnya.
CK: How to deal with persecution by relatives and members of the diaspora?
M .: Here, in Europe, you can “not shine”, do not give everyone your name. We go where secular society.