“Some faith remains.” How do LGBT people feel, whom the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recognized as extremists?

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Later, the Saratov-based news outlet Svobodnye Novosti managed to obtain a copy of the decision, which they published on January 18. It turns out that the Supreme Court believes that “the LGBT movement and supporters” are prone to repression, and the views of the movement “are based on hatred of traditions, religion, thousand-year-old culture and their bearers, and imply the superiority of the bearers of this ideology over other people and a tendency to repression”.

The Barents Observer spoke with an anonymous representative of the Russian LGBT community, who told us about the thoughts, sentiments and fears of those whom the Russian government now considers “extremists.”

 

 

– Good afternoon. Tell us, how do people feel now?

It varies. Some decided to leave the country after this. And there are people who believe that this does not concern them at all and they continue to live their wonderful lives as before.

My friends and I are still laughing among ourselves: “Hi, extremist!”

But there are people who are aware of the real risks for themselves. Most often these are activists. As far as I know, some of these people left the country. Some for good, and some just to wait it out, so as not to be afraid that they will come after them because of their activities. 

The community as a whole is scared and has become more withdrawn. 

– How unexpected was the decision of the Supreme Court?

This was completely unexpected. No one in the community expected such a sharp turnaround. Before this, a law was passed on (banning) propaganda among everyone, and people had already begun to somehow adapt to it (*On November 24, 2022, the State Duma adopted a law on a complete ban on “LGBT propaganda” among all Russians, regardless of age). Now the community is completely confused by this news. Although no one ever expected that the court would make a different decision.

“The most dangerous thing about this law is that it has no clear definitions or criteria for declaring someone an extremist. Now everyone in the community can become an extremist to some extent.”

The decision is very strange, everything is just lumped up together there. Allegedly, this movement appeared in 1984. Seriously? I simply don’t believe that something like this could have appeared in the USSR under Andropov, who headed the KGB. Back then sodomy was a crime, and people were convicted. 

– It also reads that the community of LGBT supporters is radical in their views and manifestations, and is prone to repression.

If you recall the LGBT marches that joined the democratic rallies, for example, in St. Petersburg, in Moscow, they were always peaceful, there was never any aggression. There were no attacks on police officers or anything like that. It was exactly the opposite –  homophobes attacked marchers, and most often the police did nothing. There have never been people beaten by LGBT activists. In this ruling, it is sometimes unclear what facts the court’s conclusions are based on.

– In your opinion, can this decision lead to people being given real sentences simply for their orientation in the long term?

It is yet to be seen whether the orientation itself will be a punishable offense, although there is already a precedent. If I’m not mistaken, the regional or city court in Stavropol said that the LGBT flag or coming out will be equated to inclusion in the international LGBT movement. 

*On January 18, Perviy otdel (the “First Department”) reported that a resident of the Saratov region was charged with an administrative offense for “demonstrating the symbols of an extremist organization”. She posted photos with rainbow flags on social media. The woman faces a fine of 1,000 to 2,000 rubles or an administrative arrest for up to fifteen days. A repeat violation will entail a criminal charge and an imprisonment of up to four years. 

The thing is that the wording in decisions is vague without detailing what is extremism on the part of LGBT people. Is it their openness, some actions or inaction, or appearance? It’s like what happened with the law on propaganda among minors and the question of what is ultimately considered propaganda. 

* On June 11, 2013, the State Duma adopted a federal law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors.” The law came into force on July 2, 2013, and it established liability for disseminating information about “non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors.

It is unclear how they will decide whether you are a member of this movement or not. Will you be considered a member of this movement, for example, because you have been open about your orientation for many years, or if you were just a volunteer at some pride event?

 

Barents Pride 2023.

 

Your fate is in your own hands 

– The end of last year saw a high-profile Almost Naked Party held by (top-tier Russian influencer) Nastya Ivleeva. It became clear that society reacts very strongly to manifestations of “otherness.” It can be assumed that clubs that work for the LGBT community will also be illegal. How many clubs are still open?

There are clubs like this, sometimes a few of them, in larger cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk or Yekaterinburg. 

The clubs have greatly changed their strategies, if they did not do so after the law on propaganda. They have become more careful in their work and removed the posters. They work under neutral posters and do not publish photos of performers. A travesty show is no longer called a travesty, it is called an “Original Genre Show” or “Parody Show.” 

The word gay has been removed from the names of all clubs. Now there is simply “Club for everyone” or “Club where everyone can be themselves”. People avoid any mentions related to the LGBT community. 

– But now even a simple dressing up in a Snow Maiden costume at a New Year’s party causes a public outcry. Are there any concerns that renaming will not save you from persecution?

Some artists do have such concerns. But I think that demanding punishment for dressing up as Snow Maiden at a school party is way too much. 

People, who are saturated with state propaganda on federal TV networks, with all this hatred they hear on air about Ukraine, about America, about Europe, now pour it out in this way. People are starting to believe in all this, and just like (State Duma deputy Vitaliy) Milonov ran around looking for a rainbow in St. Petersburg 10 years ago, they are now running around looking for this rainbow around their house now.

Let’s look back at classic Soviet films like “Hello, I am your aunt” (based on The importance of being Earnest), or (male actor) Oleg Tabakov in “Mary Poppins, Goodbye”, or “Gentlemen of Fortune”. Or let’s turn on the federal STS TV network. Every episode of their show Uralskie Pelmeni (“Urals Dumplings”) has men dressed as women even though they have women in their cast. 

They will go to the clubs only after the get the go-ahead command from above. For the time being, it seems to me that no one really cares about this.  

– Does that mean that clubs did not begin to close en masse after the law was passed? 

As far as I have heard only one club in St. Petersburg has closed so far. But there the owner of the premises simply refused to renew the lease. He was afraid of the possible risk of being put on the list of extremists for this. 

There are raids, but the question is whether this is really connected with propaganda? In general, clubs are always raided, officially this is the fight against drugs. 

– Can we assume that the authorities will pay attention to clubs only if they attract attention with events like “Almost Naked Party”?

As I understand it, if someone needs to close a club, this is exactly how they’ll go about it. 

The question is how much the clubs themselves care about their safety, how much they themselves show their insides on social media. I understand that there is competition, and you need to attract guests, but today you need to think about how to do it differently.

For example, it makes no sense to post videos of performances now. Although some clubs do not think that and continue to publish videos and photos. Well, please, go for it, if you are that brave.  

“I believe your fate is in your own hands in this situation. I’m afraid that when you are accused of extremism rather than propaganda no one will really defend you. Because you immediately become an accomplice. Everyone has already seen what happened to Navalny’s lawyers, who themselves have been declared extremists.”

Many clubs are deleting old photos and videos from their social media, but I think this is useless. I’m wondering what the start date for the enforcement of this decision is. Is it November 30, 2023 or January 10, 2024, when the decision came into force? Or is it 1984? It seems to me that if they want to put you in prison for the events of ten years ago, they will not look for anything. They will just take you and put you in jail. 

They don’t need any laws, they don’t need any evidence. Whoever is interested in you – they already have everything on you. You can delete, but those interested already have screenshots.

– Are there fewer people going to clubs? Has the number of performing artists decreased?

I was in several clubs in December and noticed a decrease in the number of people. I don’t know what this was connected with. Maybe because it was before the New Year holidays. Or perhaps people began to stay a little further away from such places. 

As for the artists, I haven’t heard of anyone leaving yet. There are only fears: “What if there’s a show on, and there’s a raid, and we’re here on stage.” Or “What if the clubs are closed where will we find work?” There are such fears, especially among people who have no other job than the stage. 

But people try to drive away such panicky thoughts. This is called “Faith in a better future.” They hope for a good resolution of the situation, or at least that it won’t get worse.

 

The right to identity. Barents Pride 2023.

The people themselves gave up their freedom 

– In your opinion, how did it happen that we went from t.A.T.u at Eurovision 2003 to extremism for the rainbow? Were there any clear signals that things were heading towards this?

There was one gigantic signal – the 2011 protests on Bolotnaya (Square in Moscow). So many people took to the streets to defend their freedoms! And the rally on Sakharovsky Prospekt?

It also became clear where everything was going. Then, for the first time, they began to use brute physical force to disperse the protesters. Then the first political imprisonments followed, and the people were silent. There were one-person pickets, no one came out en masse.

Look, today in Bashkortostan, a small town was all up in arms, thousands of people came out for one activist. But here only Moscow twitched then, and well, maybe St. Petersburg. We made a little noise and that was it. All of Russia simply continued to live.

Well, Putin looked at it, saw that everything was fine for the authorities, and it started. From that time on, the screws began to be tightened at a huge, colossal pace.

The people themselves gave up their freedom. I remember in 2011-2012, when there were Egyptian revolutions, millions of people took to the streets of Cairo. And here, Moscow which has a population of 15 million had just 100,000 people out, and that was all. And after this, the knots keep getting tightened more and more. It was after 2011 that the law on propaganda among minors and the law on foreign agents were adopted.

But the people didn’t care, and, by and large, now we got what we apparently wanted, what we deserved to some extent. If a million people had come out then, if not only Moscow had come out, but other cities as well, perhaps things would have been different.

– Are you pessimistic about the future? 

If there was no optimism at all, I probably wouldn’t be in Russia anymore. As long as I’m here, there’s still some faith. Faith in not that things won’t get worse, but that we will return to 2011.

Everything is sad and gloomy, but we will try to hold on for now.