Inside the Iron Closet: What It's Like to Be Gay in Putin's Russia
February 4, 2014 11:40 AM   Subscribe

"Putin needs external enemies and internal enemies. The external enemies are the U.S. and Europe. Internal enemies, they had to think about. The ethnic topic is dangerous. Two wars in the Caucasus, a third one, nobody knows how it would end. Jews? After Hitler, it's not kosher. We—" she waves a hand at herself and Zhenya—"are the ideal. We are everywhere. We don't look different, but we are. It's our turn. Just our turn." A GQ reporter visited Russia to speak to gay rights activists, and also to their enemies (some of whom, warning, describe committing acts of violence). Previously.
posted by showbiz_liz (22 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

Today, Human Rights Watch published horrifying videos of Russian-sponsored violence against gays and lesbians (warning: graphic).

It seems unbelievable to me that our media turns a mostly blind eye to these atrocities while pushing coverage of Putin's Olympic spectacle, but I imagine the press did more or less same during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Sports make powerful people too much money.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:04 PM on February 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Ah, thanks for this. I was reading it earlier today and contemplating a post on it.

Masha Gesse, a Russian journalist who now lives in New York because she was rightly afraid that her children would be taken away from her and her female partner, wrote this punch-in-the-gut piece for the NYT.

And if anyone is wondering if anti-gay American evangelicals have had anything to do with Russia's proudly regressive stance, the answer is yes.
posted by rtha at 12:17 PM on February 4, 2014 [16 favorites]

That was heartbreaking. Really heartbreaking.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:54 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Burning gays alive in ovens, burying or burning hearts of gay people because they're "unsuitable" for use as organ donations: this isn't just regressive, it's circa 11th-century regressive, and it's hand in hand with official, systematic, state-sanctioned ideology as well.

It makes me sick that there's so little attention paid to all of this, especially in the feverish gung-ho drive by NBC to whitewash and boost ratings for the Winter Olympics telecasts.
posted by blucevalo at 1:09 PM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, Scott Lively and his partners-in-evil here in the US have blood on their hands for what they've been encouraging elsewhere in the world.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:10 PM on February 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Well, that made me upset.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:37 PM on February 4, 2014

i'm really on he fence about ever talking to any one of my friends again if they watch Putin's winter Olympics. i'm definitely not ever eating at McDonald's again (not like i ever do anyway) or buying any Coca Cola products. same goes for NBC. especially NBC. canceling Hulu will save precious dollars that i can spend in gay bars across the world in protest.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 2:24 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

The most terrifying thing about the escalating violence in Russia is the participation of the police and government. I'm sure hoping that LGBT rights issues are visible during the Olympics. There's a chance for some good attention paid to the dangerous injustice in Russia. But then the games will be over and the TV cameras will leave and we'll be back to brownshirts beating up queers. Nothing is going to make Russia safer for LGBT people any time soon.

Tangentially related: Brian Boitano comes out. Yeah, not exactly a surprise, but he'd never formally said anything. But now he's part of the US Olympic delegation and felt it was time to make a public statement.
posted by Nelson at 2:35 PM on February 4, 2014

As ever overlooked even (perhaps especially) in more extreme situations like this, trans people are uniquely affected by Russia's escalating homophobia also. One woman committed suicide after being fired for her gender. A rather long and in-depth report on transgender activism in Russia by Yana Sitnikova offers considerably more detail on the full situation.

And, because it couldn't hurt: 10 Actions You Can Take Against Russia['s Anti-LGBT Legislation and Vigilantism]
posted by byanyothername at 3:37 PM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Tomorrow at 10pm GMT UK's Channel 4 will show "Hunted: the terror facing gay people in Russia", a documentary which portrays vigilante gangs that target gay men.

In the believe that homosexuality is somehow linked to pedophilia, they refer to themselves as "Occupy Paedophilia". That believe seems to run deep in the Russian society as recently even Putin himself was reported to link the two, saying: "gay people have nothing to fear in Russia as long as they leave children alone".

Reporter Liz Mackean, who filmed the documentary disagrees: “We filmed these groups with their knowledge, and what I found shocking afterwards was that only a few asked to have their faces disguised. They all believe they are doing the right thing.

The documentary should be available on the Channel 4 website for 7 days after it airs.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:20 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll be honest — I like to think I pay pretty close attention to gay rights issues in the news, but I had absolutely no idea until I read this that things had gotten that bad.

I guess without even really thinking about it, I was assuming that the anti-gay backlash there looked more or less like anti-gay backlash looked here in the 70s and 80s: Anita Bryant being a fuckwad, people getting fired, legal protections getting yanked away, a rise in isolated and more or less spur-of-the-moment hate crimes. When people talked about the anti-"propaganda" law, I figured it was basically like the shit we'd had here with U.S. school districts taking homosexuality off of their sex ed curriculum.

I was not expecting to read about well-organized paramilitary groups lynching people with tacit government support. I am astonished that the press here has been (as far as I've seen) treating this shit like a free speech issue and downplaying the extent of the organized violence. What the holy everloving fuck.
posted by this is a thing at 5:37 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

One might also consider whether our President's response of "Well, we're not totally happy with it, but Americans should go anyway, and BTW we're going to win all the medals!" is satisfactory.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:37 PM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

This might be a good place to expand a little, too, since LGBT rights globally are very, very patchy, with recent advances in (parts of) Mexico, Brazil, the US and Scotland, and many, many steps backwards in other parts of the world; Russia's vigilantism and homophobic legislation, India's re-criminalization of homosexuality and Uganda's "Kill Jail the Gays" bill (which has been vetoed by the president, who still wants a "cure" for homosexuality, just a more humane one; and if you're wondering if American evangelical Christians had anything to do with it: yup) being some of the more visible events, and violence against LGB and transgender people in Jamaica and the ongoing struggle for transgender rights in Pakistan being among the less visible. The attitude of some US progressives that LGB (not T) rights are essentially won and inevitable bothers me a bit, because no, many people are still struggling, both without and within the US (many links worth following in that one).
posted by byanyothername at 10:10 AM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

To me, the state of LGBT rights in a country is a canary in a coalmine. We all know the history. When there is a sudden crackdown on gay rights, when there is persecution, it's just a harbinger of much worse to come. I don't think I need to remind anyone what happened in the 30's in Germany. Frankly, this development, is very, very bad news - not just for the obvious, the LGBT targets, but for the whole country. When civil rights are restricted and eroded, it rarely stops with the first targets.

I think Russia is heading in a very bad direction - bad for everybody, including them. The country - all citizens - will pay dearly for this. They'll pay not just in the obvious loss of freedoms, but they'll pay economically, academically, educationally, artistically and developmentally. The same is true of Kenya and the other places mentioned. Notice, how places which are particularly vicious toward gay people, tend to be hellholes - whether Afghanistan or Iraq or Iran or Saudi Arabia.

How you treat gay people is how your country will develop. Looking at the LGBT situation in Russia, it looks like the country is careening off the cliff. I'm not optimistic.
posted by VikingSword at 3:42 PM on February 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Google's Olympics doodle is a fairly clever implicit gay rights reference, using both a rainbow flag color scheme and an invocation of a statement of human rights in the Olympic charter.
posted by Nelson at 4:11 PM on February 6, 2014

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