By Masha Penkova
Russia is currently in the spotlight as the host country for the Olympics. But this is not the only reason why we should be paying attention. Rising repression and violations of civil rights have greatly worsened in Russia over the past few years.
In 2011 and 2012, people united to express discontent toward the government and to demand fair elections. The protests were the biggest since the early 90s. To oppress and intimidate people, the government arrested about a thousand protestors.
To distract people from dishonesty and the poor job of the Putin administration, the government used an old trick: they fabricated an “enemy.” This time the so-called enemy is the LGBTQ community. A homophobic law, initiated by politician Vitaliy Milonov and Elena Mizulina, came out in 2013. The law prohibits any “propaganda of homosexuality.” Those who “propagandize non-traditional relations” are subject to persecution. The law has given permission to chase after sexual minorities and their supporters.
Discontent toward the government hasn’t gone away, but people are now being turned against each other. For example, teenagers organized a movement called “okkupay-gerontufilay,” the purpose of which is to find and bully a gay kid. After the Milonov-initated law had been signed, videos showing bullying of gay youths have appeared on the Internet.
One group that claims it is fighting for high “moral” standards reported on biology teacher Ilya Kolmanovsky for supporting the LGBTQ community. Kolmanovsky, as a result, was fired from his job for protesting the homophobic law. Same sex couples with children live in fear that their kids could be taken away if someone decides the couple has broken a law just because the couple has chosen to raise a child together.
An online project called Deti-404 (Children-404) is one of the few helps in Russia that LGBTQ kids have. Youths send in letters describing their heartbreaking struggles of being gay in Russia. Deti-404 publishes those letters online and, through reading them and commenting on them, participants support each other.
The organizer of the project, Elena Klimova, recently was persecuted. She was charged with spreading propaganda concerning homosexuality among teens. Milonov has asked that the project be shut down. If Deti-404 is deemed to be illegal, the LGBTQ teens in Russia will lose a rare safe place to freely express who they are. Many, many kids mention in their letters that they can’t wait to get old enough to leave Russia, to leave homophobia, to leave violence.
The oppression of sexual minorities that is occurring due to the homophobic law is not the only LGBTQ-related problem that Russia faces. The extremely backward understanding of homosexuality among doctors and psychologists is making homophobia worse.
Even though, officially, homosexuality is not considered to be a disease according to ICD-10 (a medical classification listed by the World Health Organization), it is viewed by many in Russia as such. The Minister of Health of the Russian Federation, Veronika Skvortsova, likens homosexuality to a bad habit such as smoking. She also asserts that children need to be protected from interacting with homosexuals. Skvotsova doesn’t see it as oppression, as she also says that she is against discrimination towards sexual minorities.
The president of the league of patients’ advocates, Alexander Saversky, wrote a letter to Putin, asking him to make it official that homosexuality is a disease. Saversky believes that the “disease” can be cured. Yes, that old-fashioned perception of homosexuality still exists.
Despite increasing discrimination in Russia, it was decided that this country would hold the Olympic Games this year. Partly because of the Olympics, serious problems that exist in Russia have been discussed more often on an international level. People from all over the world have sent messages of support to the oppressed in Russia.
San Francisco is not an exception. People who have serious concerns about the situation in Russia have organized a rally to protest the increasing fascism under Putin’s administration, as well as to demonstrate solidarity with those who have been unfairly treated due to the Russian government’s inhumane policies. The rally will be on February 8, 11:00 am-1:00 pm at United Nations Plaza, 7th & Market Streets, San Francisco. All are welcome!
Student and civil rights advocate Masha Penkova is co-organizer of the Rally for LGBTQ Russian Rights in San Francisco.