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The Russian Government Has Forbidden Love

An investigative journalism piece written under the pseudonym Fiona Markova.

From oppressive government measures to societal prejudices, the queer community in Russia battles not just for visibility but for the fundamental human rights that many take for granted. Through intimate interviews and first-hand accounts, this piece strives to humanise the struggles faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in Russia, shedding light on the resilience and courage it takes to assert one’s identity in a society that often seeks to erase it.

On November 30th, 2023, Russian authorities officially declared the “LGBTQ+ international public movement” as “extremist.”

Говорят, запретят целоваться

На территории Российской Федерации

Я не знаю, куда мне деваться

Я не знаю, как не подставляться

За теми, кто все же рискнули

Уже наряд выслан

Мне нравились кудри и скулы

А теперь — смелость и здравый смысл

Оригинал текста песни АлоэВера “Дискац”, 2022

They say we will be banned from kissing

On the territory of the Russian Federation

I don’t know where to go

I don’t know how to not be caught

For those who took a chance

The police squad has already been sent for

I used to like curly hair and cheekbones

But now — courage and common sense

Translation of song lyrics “Discac” by AloeVera, 2022

Over the past decade, the Russian Government has initiated a series of campaigns targeting marginalised social groups, with one such group being the LGBTQ+ community.

On June 11th, 2013, the Russian government introduced a federal law prohibiting the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.” This discriminatory legislation characterised queer individuals as societal outcasts, labelling them as perverse and deviant — a perception embraced by over half of the population, primarily due to the success of Kremlin propaganda.

Since then, the next ominous step in the criminalisation of the marginalised LGBTQ+ community became the primary source of anxiety for queer individuals.

On November 30th, 2023, Russian authorities officially declared what it called the “LGBTQ+ international public movement” as “extremist.” The criteria for labelling this “international movement” as such remained ambiguous, especially considering that beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, no such “movement” exists — the term itself was fabricated by the Russian Ministry of Justice. This law was passed in a closed court proceeding, devoid of any representation from Russian LGBTQ+ human rights advocates. Consequently, the entire queer population of Russia has been ostracised and criminalised, subject to legal punishment for merely being who they are.

The absurdity of the newly passed law has caused havoc amongst the queer community, prompting many to hastily flee the country.

As a Russian writer/journalist and an openly lesbian woman, I see it as my duty to report to the world on the experiences of LGBTQ+ Russians that chose to stay or those who were unable to leave the country.

I aim to invite you to listen to the voices of the marginalised LGBTQ+ women of Russia and to lift the veil of oppression that has gloomed over my homeland. These women are beacons of light and hope amid discrimination towards their gender, as well as sexuality.

I have teamed up with a Russian queer activist group Cheers Queers (website and instagram page), to interview four volunteers in light of the new discriminatory law that puts the future of the LGBTQ+ people of Russia in a dangerous position.

Some of the names have been changed to preserve the anonymity of the interviewees at their request.

Jump straight to interviews with:

Katya (she/her), MA Psychology student, DJ and events manager
Lara (she/they), BA Philology student, languages teacher
Elizaveta (she/her), BA Marketing Student
Nika (she/her), BA modern art student

Katya (she/her) 25 years old, MA Psychology student, DJ and events manager

Q1: Could you share a bit about yourself, including your profession and how you identify within the LGBTQ+ community?

I identify as a lesbian, though I cannot openly declare this on the territory of the Russian Federation from November 30. I was born and raised in Nizhny Novgorod. Having received my bachelor’s degree, I moved to Moscow. With the start of Russian invasion of Ukraine, I moved to Armenia. After a year and a half, I consciously returned to Russia, which happened to be a week before the court declared the “LGBTQ+ international public movement” as “extremist”.

Q2: What does the life of an LGBTQ+ person look like in Russia? Could you share your coming-out story?

After moving to Moscow, I did not behave like an open lesbian. Partially due to my struggles with internalised homophobia but also due to preserving my own safety. I wanted to join the local queer community, but with the recent police raids in gay bars and clubs, I did not feel safe bringing my ID around in case the police questioned me at a queer event. I do not want to draw more attention to myself.

Currently, the life of a queer person in Russia looks sorrowful. I feel more anxious, a lack of security, and stability. With every new declared law, the societal pressure is rising, it feels suffocating. I physically feel that pressure. Though I try to find a way to live my life around this.

My friends have been a huge help; we try to support each other in these unprecedented times. I find support in groups like “Cheers Queers”, zoom calls, and general interaction with others, which doesn’t let me feel completely isolated.

Living in Russia, I do not have an understanding of freedom –- “How can someone be so liberated?”

Our friend’s group’s first reaction to the new law was to make it into a joke as a coping mechanism, but now I realise, “Will I ever be able to discuss such topics out loud?”

As a person who lives in Russia, I do not feel envy, considering that in the past, I have lived in queer-friendly countries, e.g., America, but I can feel just how far Russia is from social democracy.

Recently, my mom and I were reading an excerpt from “I Love Russia: Reporting from a Lost Country” written by journalist Elena Kostyuchenko, about Russia’s hostile attitude towards queer people. And then I said, “it does not sit right in my mind: in Russia, it is absolutely normal to go to war voluntarily and, at the same time, to completely alienate the people who are against war and just want peace and love. How can such opposing worldviews get along in one country?”

My coming out story is not an easy topic for me; since my childhood and adolescence, I completely lacked LGBTQ+ representation. Moreover, almost all parents have heteronormative expectations. In this regard, I see Russia as a conservative country, and I had to learn from my mistakes.

Q3: How has your openness (or lack thereof) affected your relationship with family, friends and society as a whole?

My mom was the first person to know about my sexuality. It was a difficult conversation to have for both sides. I had to educate her that it is not an illness and I was simply born this way, that I am unable to live differently. Eventually, years went by, and she accepted me with the words “I just want you to be happy, be it with a man or a woman”.

My dad still thinks I’m going through “a phase”, though he is also heavily influenced by the Russian media propaganda and is convinced I have been brainwashed “by the liberals and Western culture”.

My grandparents do not know of my identity. I wanted to come out to my godmother; she and I are very close, although I am anxious about it. She had a homophobic past, but with regular therapy sessions, she seems to have gotten slightly softer in her worldviews.

I cannot be openly lesbian in the Russian society, but I have surrounded myself with allies and queer friends, where we can be our authentic selves. Generally, if we have different worldviews with a new person, I do not proceed with friendship.

Q4: How has your life changed over the past decade in terms of your level of openness and feeling of safety within the LGBTQ+ community in Russia?

It’s difficult for me to say as I had fully accepted myself as a lesbian only five years ago, which was already an unstable time for queer people in the country. I didn’t have the opportunity to be an activist or publicly announce myself as a lesbian, as they did in the early 2000s. It deeply saddens me to be lacking lesbian representation within society. I’d love to wear queer representation badges etc., but I can’t, it would put my safety at risk.

Q5: How did you personally experience the impact of government’s influence and the overall societal atmosphere?

I remember when they passed the law regarding LGBTQ+ propaganda among the underage ten years ago. Back then, I was only at the start of my self-acceptance journey, which felt like a total blur for me. I was not accepting myself as a lesbian due to internalised homophobia.

Now, I watch the Kremlin propaganda build societal hatred towards the marginalised groups because they need to declare “an enemy” to justify their aggression — classic fascism.

Q6: From your perspective, how are LGBTQ+ individuals portrayed in the Russian Kremlin media? What percentage of the population do you think believes this representation? If this portrayal were to shift positively, do you think society would be receptive to it?

I think one of the main goals of the Kremlin propaganda for the past years was to demonise the LGBTQ+ community in order to preserve the “traditional views of the Russian society”, which do not include marginalised groups in its development.

It’s difficult to determine in a percentage, but I believe an average “Russian uncle” truly believes in the notion that “the West has brainwashed our brains”.

Q7: Describe your initial feelings when you first learned about the possibility of the new law “banning the international LGBTQ+ movement” on November 30th. Now, compare those emotions to how you feel today. Has anything changed?

I felt angry. I remember going to meet my friends with a general feeling of “we will make them pay”.

Today, I feel slightly calmer about the situation because I can’t stay angry forever. I need to live my life.

Sure, sometimes I get an occasional thought of “how will I find myself a girlfriend now, if any sign of queerness is now criminalised?”

But then I think that I am young and will outlive the current government and the bandits that came to rule. My life is in my hands, and sooner or later I will leave my homeland if things take a turn for the worse.

Q8: What does the word “extremist” mean to you? Have you ever been accused of “LGBT+ propaganda” before?

Thankfully, I have never been accused of such a thing, and I try to keep it that way.

For me, the notion of “extremist” means that the government has come up with so many ways of labelling a person, that no matter what wording they use, any person can see how it is only a fear-inducing tactic. The same applies to declaring activists, journalists, etc. as “foreign agents”.

Q9: Have you personally experienced occurrences of discrimination based on your sexuality? Has your family (or you personally) received threats, perhaps related to your posts on social media?

I’ve always been very cautious about coming out to people, and for this reason, I still can’t label myself an openly lesbian. With age comes more confidence in my identity, making it easier to come out to new people I meet (mostly women, as they tend to be more tolerant).

I remember working as a waitress during my earlier college years when no one knew about my sexuality. There, during small talk, a male bartender said something very homophobic and aggressive towards the LGBTQ+ community, and I realised it was better to not disclose my identity in that place.

My family has not received any threats, and neither have I, as I am not completely out. In Russia, it is dangerous to engage in activism. I might be dull in that regard, but at least I am safe.

Q10: If you had the opportunity to change something in the country, what would be your priority? Perhaps there have been positive changes in Russia before, or even now, despite the new law?

  1. Invalidate the court’s decision to label us as extremists.
  2. Make amendments to the constitution to legalise same-sex marriages, be legally equal to heterosexual marriages.
  3. Invalidate the law prohibiting the “LGBTQ+ propaganda among minors”.
  4. Legalise pride.
  5. Legally conceptualise law about domestic violence.
  6. Develop effective legislation on domestic violence.
  7. Re-join the European Court of Human Rights.

I am also worried that they may ban abortions, as there are rumours about prohibiting it in private clinics. If this happens, I want to give women their rights back over their own bodies.

Lara (she/they), 21 years old, BA Philology student, languages teacher

Q1: Could you share a bit about yourself, including your profession and how you identify within the LGBTQ+ community?

For the last 2.5 years, I have been studying foreign philology, teaching English and Spanish. I plan to apply for a master’s program abroad and immigrate. I identify as a lesbian and am quite open about it; my sibling, my mom, all my friends, and students at the university are aware of my identity. I don’t particularly conceal it, and I recently found out that some of my colleagues also know.

Q2: What does the life of an LGBTQ+ person look like in Russia? Could you share your coming-out story?

It entirely depends on the area which you live in – some are safe, some aren’t. The people I communicate with make my life quite calm and safe.


Somehow, I always knew I liked girls, but I didn’t think much of it. During my teenage years, guys would often show interest in me, but since I didn’t want to be romantically involved with them, I would often feel disappointed when they confessed their feelings to me.

Around the age of 16, I embraced feminism, and I think it was then that I fully realised I was not heterosexual. I initially thought I was pansexual and identified as such until I was 19. At 18, I had my first relationship with a girl, and before that, I had set my Tinder filter exclusively for women. The relationship was wonderful, but we broke up after about six months because both of us needed to move towns.

At 18, I worked as a barista for a year after high school. TikTok contributed to my complete “yassification”: I started dressing more boldly, expressing my “queerness.” Then, at 19, I moved to a city in the southern region of Russia to attend a university. At a party, I realised I’m surrounded by many attractive guys, but they didn’t interest me at all. I had previously started to identify as a lesbian, but this was a moment of complete realisation and acceptance.

In 2019, I attended London Pride and having come back home with a pride flag, I tried to convince my mom that I was “merely an ally”, regardless of the fact I had printouts on my wall of “do you listen to girl in red?”

The only time my coming out was significant to me – was with my mom. It happened just last winter. My mom and I have a close relationship, and despite her homophobia and support of the war, she accepts me because she “just wants me to be happy” – her love for me outweighs her internal biases. However, phrases like “give men a chance” and “when you will have a husband” occasionally slip through, which I immediately counter with a statement like “when I will have a wife, not a husband.”

Personally, I see my mom as a queer individual, but it seems to me due to societal norms imposed on her, she considers herself heterosexual.

I have no intention of coming out to my dad. My sibling came out as a non-binary person and was greeted with a complete non-acceptance. I don’t want a similar experience for myself. When my dad visits, I remove any symbols/flags indicating that I am a lesbian due to his non-acceptance.

If I ever have a wedding with a future wife, I will only invite my mom.

Overall, for many years now, I’ve consumed mainly queer content. Almost all my friends are queer, I read books by queer authors, and studying philology also surrounds me with a vast number of non-heterosexual individuals.

Q3: How has your openness (or lack thereof) affected your relationship with family, friends and society as a whole?

I am out to some of family members, and I’ve even been their guide on a self-discovery journey (for example, my sibling realised their non-binary identity). My mom is not aware of all my relationships; she knows that I go on dates but doesn’t take it seriously.

Being open about my sexuality with my friends has no negative impact on me, since I don’t associate myself with homophobic/transphobic people and most of my friends are queer individuals. At university, many are aware of my identity as a lesbian, and are accepting of it. My surroundings include wonderful and understanding people. Occasionally, there are homophobic attitudes like “I don’t understand why you need to broadcast your sexuality” to which I do not react.

Not being fully out concerns me, especially considering that all my relatives watch TV propaganda. They are homophobic and openly discuss their position. It’s very unpleasant when they automatically assume I have a boyfriend. There was even a time when my father defended my assumed sexual identity, although I know he wouldn’t be so indifferent if I were to come out to him as a lesbian.

The stereotypes I face at student parties are also note-worthy: I interact with a lot of foreigners and never hide my identity. However, when I mention that I’m queer, I am immediately brought to meet another queer person, literally pushing us towards each other. This is quite strange and surprises me, considering that both heterosexual allies and queer individuals do this!

Q4: How has your life changed over the past decade in terms of your level of openness and feeling of safety within the LGBTQ+ community in Russia?

It seems I could never be completely open about my sexuality, especially considering the environment in the city, where it’s common for people to point fingers or even threaten me, it undoubtedly affected my safety.

I always feel safe in queer spaces and at home, but this sense of safety may dissipate when I step outside. Some streets are less safe than others; you just need to know the right places.

If we could discuss LGBTQ+ topics before, with the introduction of the new law, then both students and teachers could no longer afford to freely discuss queer issues. More often, we have these conversations in Spanish because the fear persists.

Q5: What was your personal experience with the impact of government’s influence and the overall societal atmosphere?

The condemnation of queer individuals deeply depresses me, especially when you love your country but not the government. Being dehumanised is truly devastating.

I plan to emigrate and live abroad. This decision is not solely related to my sexuality but stems from the overall atmosphere in the country.

In recent years, the idea of emigration seems more favourable, even purely if I want to get married or simply go on dates, openly meet people, and have unrestricted access to global apps and media. Tinder is banned here, and local dating apps don’t allow changing of gender preferences in settings.

Q6: From your perspective, how are LGBTQ+ individuals portrayed in the Russian Kremlin media? What percentage of the population do you think believes this representation? If this portrayal were to shift positively, do you think the society would be receptive to it?

I try to not discuss the media propaganda, since I hear enough of it from my family. However, contrary to popular belief, the Kremlin propaganda does not speak as much about the LGBTQ+ in contrast to other topics.

It’s been a while since I watched the news, but with the release of the new Barbie movie, every other person I met would throw a fit regarding the representation of a transgender actress, supporting their opinion with pseudo facts.

Generally, the image of the queer people of Russia is negative and I think more than half of population believes it.

Q7: Describe your initial feelings when you first learned about the possibility of the new law “banning the international LGBTQ+ movement” on November 30th. Now, compare those emotions to how you feel today. Has anything changed?

With the passing of the new law by the government, I laid in bed for hours thinking “how fucking tired I am” from how hard my country is working to lower the quality of life for the citizens. I’m also tired of how we constantly need to be aware of our surroundings.

It is ironic to point out that Putin said “trans people are people too” but then took back his words.

I was always sure that the new law could be accepted despite the little hope I had left.

After the news broke out, I reached out to my queer friends for mutual support and shared my grief through Instagram stories. A couple of people responded with supportive words online.

On Thursdays, I lead volunteer language lessons for Ukrainians, and so it happened that November 30th fell on this day of the week. On that day, I cancelled the scheduled lessons and my own work because I was not in a state to participate. I couldn’t gather myself, and I slept poorly that night. There was a feeling of hopelessness, and a fear arose about the travel ban — what if I couldn’t leave the country before it came into effect?

Today I’m calmer. I’ve adapted to these thoughts because a person can get used to anything, despite the lingering fear. I don’t think the new law will affect me because I’ve cleaned up my social media, and I’ll be more cautious. As a community, we’ve endured a lot, and we’ll get through this as well. Although of course, emotionally, it still impacts us.

The next day my friends were attending a Hozier concert in Vienna and somewhere in Germany. I watched their Instagram stories and cried — I was sad and jealous that they can live their life freely. I was also happy for them, for their freedom.

My acquaintance in another country feels shame for the freedom of expression in real life and social media. They are trying to take away our joy, and we must preserve it, not let repression win. I hope that in the future, people of Russia will also be able to experience joy.

On that day, I felt disheartened, but I knew it was precisely what the Russian government wanted. I won’t allow them to prevail over me. I will thrive, find joy in life as much as possible, and I believe that change will come.

Q8: What does the word “extremist” mean to you? Have you ever been accused of “LGBTQ+ propaganda” before?

The official definition of “extremism” is associated with any radical view. If, according to the Russian government, love, peace, and kindness are attributes of extremism, then I am an extremist.

My mom genuinely believes that my influence has made my sibling identify as a non-binary person. She connects this to my “propaganda” and “brainwashing.”

Q9: Have you personally experienced occurrences of discrimination based on your sexuality? Has your family (or you personally) received threats, perhaps related to your posts on social media?

In the last 6-12 months, as the situation around LGBTQ+ individuals has intensified, there have been more instances where, while walking down the street, people might stop us and point out our appearances, harass us, even if we did nothing to provoke them. There was a situation in February: I have a fairly queer appearance, and despite my femininity, there was an incident where a man pointed at me/my friends or even at my non-binary sibling and yelled “Lesbians!” because of our appearance. Since then, I moved to a better neighbourhood where I feel safer.

I’ve now removed all my accounts from social media, eliminated anything that could lead to legal trouble. Of course, it’s self-censorship, but it’s better to be cautious now and leave peacefully later.

Also, two years ago, my friend wanted to attend a party where Roma Acorn (a popular YouTuber among young Russians about ten years ago) was invited. Riot police stormed the venue, lined everyone up against the wall, searched and recorded our identity details, and then let us go. The next day, a news article was released about the raid on a supposed “gay party and young perverts”.

It surprised me because this party was not advertised as a queer event; it was only because of one YouTuber’s sexuality. In the comments under the post on the Russian channel’s article, there were many negative words and threats towards queer individuals.

Q10: If you had the opportunity to change something in the country, what would be your priority? Perhaps there have been positive changes in Russia before, or even now, despite the new law?

First and foremost, there will need to be a change in the presidency, followed by addressing women’s rights in the country. However, the most crucial aspect is the fact that without a change in the government, envisioning any significant changes in the country is impossible.

Considering the damage already done to the image of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s challenging to imagine what monumental efforts would be required to rectify past mistakes. To improve the current situation in the country will take years.

Elizaveta, (she/her), BA Marketing Student

Q1: Could you share a bit about yourself, including your profession and how you identify within the LGBTQ+ community?

My name Elizaveta, and I identify as a cisgender lesbian. Currently, I’m pursuing a degree in Marketing, but I’ve explored various interests along the way.

Q2: What does the life of an LGBTQ+ person look like in Russia? Could you share your coming-out story?

During 7th and 8th grade, I couldn’t grasp what my classmates found appealing about boys. I thought they were somewhat shallow for paying attention to them. Despite going on dates with boys, my interest was purely platonic.

It wasn’t until around the age of 15 that I developed what seemed like strange feelings for a girl in my school, who happened to be a year older. Initially, I believed I disliked her and was afraid of her, which was very unlike me — I had never had such feelings towards anyone before. Following some advice, I realised that beneath the hatred, there might be different feelings. After delving deeper, it was obvious that I wanted to spend my entire time with her and get to know her better.

Through conversations, reading, and watching various media, I eventually understood that what I was feeling could be defined as a crush. Although I was aware of the existence of same-sex relationships, I had never considered it within the context of my own life.

Currently, only my friends and some acquaintances know about my sexuality.

Q3: How has your openness (or lack thereof) affected your relationship with family, friends and society as a whole?

It just so happened that all my friends who came to my life after I accepted my identity were also part of the LGBTQ+ community. There was only one school friend, an Orthodox Communist, who gave me an ultimatum – either I “get treated” or we stop being friends. As a reasonable person, we never crossed paths again.

Fortunately, that was the only negative experience I faced. At school, everyone was indifferent to my sexuality, and my family remains oblivious to it. Coming out to them won’t be challenging once I’m confident I can support myself in another city or country.

In general, I understand that I lack some aspects of typical socialisation. While I’ve honed my ability to lie, I don’t view it as a positive attribute. 

Q4: How has your life changed over the past decade in terms of your level of openness and feeling of safety within the LGBTQ+ community in Russia?

With my first girlfriend, we used to hold hands and kiss on the streets of the largest Siberian city, and I didn’t feel any danger at all. Nowadays, we can get detained for publicly portraying our love for each other.

In the past, I would openly and honestly respond to any direct questions about my sexuality and, if necessary, defend my views. Now, I can be reported for it.

I used to attend Bok-o-Bok (Side by Side) festivals until one day the police cordoned off the event venue, and they were never held again. Everything that was possible before has become impossible.

Currently, I don’t have many friends in Russia with whom I can truly be myself. The only platform for my self-expression is through comments on TikTok, simply because I’ve never heard of anyone being jailed for that.

Q5: What was your personal experience with the impact of government’s influence and the overall societal atmosphere?

I’ve never experienced direct aggression from anyone, including the government. Nevertheless, the quality of my life is deteriorating —specific songs are being removed from Russian streaming services (others are less accessible), LGBTQ+ friendly media is becoming scarcer, and I must be more cautious on the Internet, among other things.

Q6: From your perspective, how are LGBTQ+ individuals portrayed in the Russian Kremlin media? What percentage of the population do you think believes this representation? If this portrayal were to shift positively, do you think the society would be receptive to it?

The LGBTQ+ community is portrayed as godless liberals who want to destroy the institution of the family, morally decay society, and force all children to change their gender. According to this narrative, if they are granted rights, they will organise monthly pride events and allegedly will bring the downfall of Russia within three days.

However, it’s essential to note that there isn’t a universally clear image either. For a regular heterosexual Russian citizen, being identified as a queer person is viewed in a derogatory manner. I think that explains the situation well.

I estimate that approximately 50% of the population buys into anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda. Introducing positive representation might not sway everyone’s opinion, but a considerable number of individuals have the potential to reconsider their views. This change could occur rapidly, especially since many people tend to defer critical thinking to the government.

Q7: Describe your initial feelings when you first learned about the possibility of the new law “banning the international LGBTQ+ movement” on November 30th. Now, compare those emotions to how you feel today. Has anything changed?

I didn’t take the news seriously because there have been so many absurd proposals from the government. It wasn’t until the day of the trial that I learned how far they were able to go with this initiative. Today, I realise that the gap between their nonsensical statements and actual actions has become smaller than ever. Now, I’m expecting nothing but the worst.

Q8: What does the word “extremist” mean to you? Have you ever been accused of “LGBTQ+ propaganda” before?

Currently, in the Russian Federation, being labelled an extremist applies to anyone who dares to think independently. If you disagree with the authorities, even on the slightest thing, that’s enough reason to use force against you. To be clear, I have been accused of working for Joe Biden, but for an unrelated reason.

Q9: Have you personally experienced occurrences of discrimination based on your sexuality? Has your family (or you personally) received threats, perhaps related to your posts on social media?

No, I have never had that experience.

Q10: If you had the opportunity to change something in the country, what would be your priority? Perhaps there have been positive changes in Russia before, or even now, despite the new law?

I would release all political prisoners.

I was born during Putin’s ruling, so in my lifetime, positive changes have occurred solely at the efforts of LGBTQ+ organisations, volunteers, independent media, and the development of global culture.

Nika (she/her) 21 years old, BA modern art student

Q1: Could you share a bit about yourself, including your profession and how you identify within the LGBTQ+ community?

My name is Nika, I am an openly lesbian individual studying contemporary art at university. I was born in Moscow but have moved around the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) a lot. At the age of 15, I returned to Russia. I’m currently 21 years old.

Q2: What does the life of an LGBTQ+ person look like in Russia? Could you share your coming-out story?

To be honest, it was very challenging. I was raised with the idea that gay people are sick, so I tried to suppress the initial expressions of my sexuality. When I fell in love, I wanted to cry out my feelings to the world. However, my parents didn’t accept it. Only four years later, I finally proved that it wasn’t an experiment, that I am indeed a lesbian. My mom cried, saying she didn’t want me to have such a difficult life, but I think hiding and altering myself would have been much harder.

Now, I’m studying at the most liberal university in Russia, majoring in “contemporary art.” Most of our group identify as queer people, and it feels like we live in our own free society. Of course, we are restricted as artists because the LGBTQ+ theme has become political, and projects related to it result in lower grades.

We can’t score higher than 7 (out of 10) for such projects to prevent them from appearing on the university’s website. Nevertheless, we still create our art pieces, and there’s hardly anything that can stop us.

Q3: How has your openness (or lack thereof) affected your relationship with family, friends and society as a whole?

When I came out, I naturally wanted to hear words of support from my mom, but I didn’t get them at that time. However, a few years later, I practically forced my mom to accept me. She works in the fashion industry and has queer friends.

Once, when they visited us, I dramatically came out and said that my mom incredibly supported me. She stood before them while they loudly admired and praised her, and she had to keep up the legend. After that, my mom personally told me that she accepts me and wishes me happiness.

So, I can say that it made me much stronger; I learned to achieve my goals.

Q4: How has your life changed over the past decade in terms of your level of openness and feeling of safety within the LGBTQ+ community in Russia?

It’s hard to speak of the last 10 years because time used to pass differently, and over the past 4 years, it feels like everyone has gone mad. It seems like the government has still not recovered from COVID, and that’s why they come up with such nonsense. I really want to start a family, live with my wife, possibly have a child in a few years, but I have never envisioned this for myself in Russia.

In Russia, we are viewed as perverts. They try to cure or drive us away, and I see that some queer individuals are starting to give up the resistance. We choose not to stand out, to sit quietly, and to gather in the dark corners of the remaining gay clubs. Now is a time when everyday people behave more quietly on the outside while screaming louder inside.

Q5: What was your personal experience with the impact of government’s influence and the overall societal atmosphere?

Political discussions have moved to the kitchen. Like in Soviet times, you’re afraid to say an extra word, so you wait for the night and go to the kitchen to talk about what ails you… And everything hurts. Before, I used to attend protests. Once, my friend and I were taken to the police station for standing up for a girl who the police were dragging by her hands and feet to the police van.

It all felt natural. The “New Greatness” trial – we stood up for. Protests in support of Navalny – we participated. The poisoning of Navalny – we expressed our anger again through peaceful protests. Now, that’s gone. People have been intimidated so much that we simply can’t express anger, so the aggression eats us up from within.

I did a performance about people buried under the rubble in Ukraine and lied to everyone that the theme was “the pressure of the city”. I only told the truth on our Cheers Queers chat, and then I received a message where a girl projected her experience onto my art performance of “what is happening to the LGBTQ+ community in Russia”.

She said – “No, this is inspiring”, “Amazingly targeted minimalism hitting the bulls eye.”

I couldn’t help but share it with my acting teacher, and she was so moved by it.

I think everyone can see something personal in my project. Without reading the context, I saw how LGBTQ+ individuals are being pushed into the closet, every brick represents a sanction, closing the mouths and not letting them breathe or speak about themselves. I especially liked the gaze into the camera, a simple gesture, but a statement of fact: “I exist, I am, and you won’t take that away from me. I am here.”

Q6: From your perspective, how are LGBTQ+ individuals portrayed in the Russian Kremlin media? What percentage of the population do you think believes this representation? If this portrayal were to shift positively, do you think the society would be receptive to it?

It’s getting absurd, because initially, it was all about pre-election ads claiming that kids in orphanages are better off than those with two fathers. Now, they’re cutting out queer scenes from movies and TV shows altogether.

There are constant reports about how much they’re fining film distributors, but nobody thinks about teenagers. What happens to the underage LGBTQ+ individuals after human rights organisations are prohibited from supporting them?

Before then, you could go to a legal centre, attend certain groups, and now it’s all illegal. I’m scared to think about what will happen to all the kids whose parents, teachers, and classmates don’t listen to them. And I think the scariest part is not when Vasya from Saratov believes that gays are sick people – it’s scarier when he believes that about himself.

It’s evident that the societal aggression is on the rise, but due to the complete absence of LGBTQ+ representation in the media, the most vulnerable — children, are going through very tough times.

Q7: Describe your initial feelings when you first learned about the possibility of the new law “banning the international LGBTQ+ movement” on November 30th. Now, compare those emotions to how you feel today. Has anything changed?

I dreaded this question, even though I knew it was coming. I have a fairly strong psyche, but after the acceptance of this law, I felt morally devastated.

At first, I treated it as a joke. Seriously, how can LGBTQ+ individuals be declared extremists? What have we done? But as the hearing date approached, the fears became more serious. On November 29th, I spent the day with my girlfriend, trying to shield ourselves from everything that was happening, but on the 30th, I monitored all channels where any news on this topic were published.

When I saw that dreadful announcement, I quickly packed and went to my parents. For the next three days, we were deciding on where I could go and how to make it happen. I couldn’t sleep at all; I was contacting various human rights organisations.

Then came the despair, which still hasn’t completely faded. I decided to stay because I realised that I wouldn’t be able to start anew abroad. However, since November 29th, I haven’t been able to attend university classes – I won’t be able to catch up on my studies, so I’m taking an academic leave.

I’m shattered, and I feel like I don’t want to live in this country to the point that breathing is unbearable. Unfortunately, now, this is our reality.

Q8: What does the word “extremist” mean to you? Have you ever been accused of “LGBTQ+ propaganda” before?

For me, the word “extremist” has always referred to some killer terrorists. It’s so strange that now extremists make up a tenth of the country. And these aren’t some maniacs – these are people who just want their rights respected.

I haven’t been accused of LGBTQ+ propaganda because, according to the new law, everyone can be accused now. Like that news about heterosexual guys who wore summer clothes in the cold and ate ice cream — where’s the propaganda in that?

Q9: Have you personally experienced occurrences of discrimination based on your sexuality? Has your family (or you personally) received threats, perhaps related to your posts on social media?

I have been discriminated against. In my teenage years, I ended up in a rehabilitation centre because of self-harm. I fell in love with a girl there, so they tied our hands to each other and made us clean the house to make us hate each other. After I got out, I volunteered at an HIV centre, and they wrote an interview about it.

They positioned themselves as following the 12-step program which used a bunch of other brutal methods and even admitted those who were only skipping school.

I didn’t receive threats. Of course, there’s no escaping teasing from guys about threesomes, but specifically, there were no threats. I’ve never been a public figure, so fortunately, I’ve avoided that.

Q10: If you had the opportunity to change something in the country, what would be your priority? Perhaps there have been positive changes in Russia before, or even now, despite the new law?

That is too dangerous of a question. If I had the power, I would make sure it was safe enough to answer that question.

Conclusion

For years, the Russian government has tightened its grip on the country, metaphorically and literally imprisoning its citizens with each passing year of totalitarian rule. The people are not free – they are bound by the Kremlin propaganda that marginalises anyone disagreeing with the government’s ideologies, unfortunately including the queer community.

By delving into interviews and absorbing each participant’s story, I aimed to create a genuine, heartfelt conversation, listening to the voices on the other side of the wall, humanising those who struggle, amplifying their voices, and acknowledging their existence.

The recent law categorising the “LGBTQ+ international public movement”, regardless of the absence of such an organisation beyond Russian borders, as “extremist” introduces a new layer of fear and uncertainty, compelling some to contemplate leaving the country in pursuit of safety and acceptance.

Despite these challenges, the fight for representation and fundamental human rights persists, as shown by the resilience of individuals who continue to express their identities despite societal pressures. The interviewees, along with the silenced citizens they represent, demonstrate a remarkable strength and courage in navigating a restrictive environment where discrimination, stigma, and identity erasure persist.

The stories of the LGBTQ+ individuals of Russia serve as a reminder of the critical need to advocate for inclusivity, equality, and respect for diverse identities, even in seemingly unlikely places. International awareness and solidarity are instrumental in shedding light on the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in Russia, fostering conversations that may one day contribute to positive change.

I want Russian people to be able to express their thoughts and actions freely and be perceived as equals to the rest of the world. I want the Russian queer community to be able to freely identify with their country, without the fear of prejudice. I dream of returning home one day to embrace the liberating freedom my fellow citizens will finally experience.

A day will come when the people of Russia will be free.

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