Russia: The country that hates gay people

A homosexual man tortured to death. A TV star sacked after coming out on air. How did Russia end up like this?

Moscow

All of Anton Krasovsky’s friends and colleagues knew he was gay. But when he announced it on live television, it caused a sensation. The presenter, who had made a successful career on state television channels before being appointed editor-in-chief of a new Kremlin-funded internet broadcaster, was no marginalised liberal; he was very much part of the system. But with his words, he had crossed a red line.

“I am gay, and I am a human being just like Putin and Medvedev,” he said to the cameras, referring to Russia’s President and Prime Minister. In the context of Russian public life, it was a revolutionary statement. He was fired immediately, and all references to him were removed from the channel’s website.

“I have made a lot of money in television and I understood that I’d lose everything,” he recalls over coffee, months later. He is currently unemployed. “But I also understood that I couldn’t do anything else. I didn’t do it so that I would get hundreds of likes on my Facebook page. I did it because I wanted them to hear it in the Kremlin. And they heard it, and were surprised.”

The Russian parliament is preparing to pass a bill that would outlaw “homosexual propaganda”, which has prompted fears of a rise in homophobic violence, in a society that already has little tolerance of gay people.

Last week, a 23-year-old man was found dead in Volgograd, apparently attacked by two men he had told he was gay. He had been beaten up, sodomised with bottles, and had his genitals mutilated.

In this climate, the lack of gay people in public life is becoming more acutely felt. There are almost no openly gay figures in the worlds of entertainment, sport and politics.

Many popular singers and entertainers make little effort to hide their sexuality from friends and colleagues  but “coming out” to the broader Russian population  would be unthinkable. Surveys show that 80 per cent of Russians believe homosexuals should hide their true sexual orientation, and many Russian gays are used to living a double life, sometimes for decades.

But according to some activists, the controversial “homosexual propaganda” law – which has already been passed in 10 Russian regions and looks likely to be implemented nationwide by Russia’s parliament this spring – may not have the effect intended by its conservative backers.

“The law has had an interesting effect on the gay community,” says Igor Kochetkov, one of the country’s leading gay-rights activists. “On the one hand it has made a lot of people scared, and more inclined to hide. But on the other hand, it is so absurd it has forced a lot of people to become more active in defending their rights.”

According to Mr Kochetkov, there is a chance the law could prompt a whole wave of well-known Russians to come out and declare their sexuality.

Mr Krasovsky claims there is very little “real homophobia” in Russia, and suggests his dismissal was as much to do with his words about Vladimir Putin as it was about coming out. He says the reason more gay public figures are not open about their sexuality is that they are “idiots” and “cowards”, though he does admit that many are scared.

“Look at most Jews in the Soviet Union, they entered in the ethnicity field on their passports that they were Russians,” he says. “But in the field of entertainment, would singers really lose popularity if they came out and said they were gay? They would only gain more respect.”

Surveys do not necessarily back his argument. While Mr Krasovsky’s world of television in Moscow is fairly tolerant, Russia at large remains extremely homophobic, as attacks such as the recent case in Volgograd illustrate all too gruesomely. A recent poll found that only 16 per cent of Russians thought homosexuality was “natural”. More than half think gays need “treatment”.

Peter Tatchell, a veteran British rights campaigner, suffered brain and eye damage when he was beaten up at a banned Moscow Gay Pride march in 2007. He says current levels of homophobia in Russia make life a living nightmare for many gay people, who are terrified of coming out for fear of losing their jobs or being attacked.

“For people in Britain it is difficult to imagine how homophobic Russian society really is,” says Mr Tatchell. “It’s even worse than Britain in the 1950s.”

However, Mr Tatchell agrees that if well-known Russians begin to come out, there could be a serious change in attitudes. “Experience all over the world is that coming out has a huge positive impact on public perceptions of homosexuality,” he says. “People who know a gay person are much more likely to support gay equality.”

Mr Kochetkov’s theory that the law could trigger a more mature public discussion appears to have been borne out by recent features in Russian magazines focusing on the issue.

The Moscow weekly Afisha devoted an issue to 27 people in different walks of life, all of whom are gay, and many of whom were coming out for the first time. Perhaps the most striking story was that of Alexander Smirnov, an official in the Moscow city government.

He said he had been hiding his sexuality for years, but had decided enough was enough. “If someone at work makes jokes about faggots, I smile like an idiot,” he told the magazine. “I even make an effort not to look at good-looking men for too long. I’m used to this self-control since my childhood, but it means a permanent internal stress, and a double life that can send you crazy.”

His story contained details of a horrific encounter. A man who posed as an interested suitor on a dating website brutally beat up Mr Smirnov in his home and robbed him.

The man, apparently, was taking revenge for the fact his brother was gay. Mr Smirnov was too ashamed to call the police. He said he was aware his public “coming out” in a magazine could mean losing friends or being fired, but he was willing to do it anyway.

“I’m 39 and society is still telling me my place. I don’t like it when people tell me how to live, or accuse me of being guilty of something,” he says. “I want to stand up and say this won’t happen anymore.”

For a public official, Mr Smirnov’s public declaration of his homosexuality is unprecedented. Gossip is rife about gay intrigue even at the top levels of Mr Putin’s government, but no official has ever come out.

Russia, by the law of averages, is likely to have  more than 10 million gays and lesbians, and yet almost no public figures have come out.

Mr Kochetkov admits that the way Mr Putin’s government is run, and in the current ideological climate, the chances of a minister coming out are almost zero. But, he says, if even a few celebrities came out, it could have a huge effect on Russian society.

“For the majority of Russians, ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ are abstract concepts that have been imbued with a number of negative connotations through media and public rhetoric,” he says.

“If people associate them with real people, then attitudes change quickly. People who actually know gay  people are much less likely to be homophobic.”

Voices
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond delivers his speech at the Scottish National Party (SNP) Spring Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland April 12, 2014.
voices
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
News
David Beckham is planning to build a stadium in Miami’s port for a new football team he will own
news... in his fight for a football stadium in Miami's port area
VIDEO
News
weird newsMan live-photographs cracking of mysterious locked box on Reddit
Sport
Oliver Giroud kisses the Arsenal badge after giving the Gunners the lead
sportArsenal 3 West Ham 1: Two goals from the German striker and one piece of brilliance from Giroud puts the Gunners back above Everton
News
Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
people
News
weird news
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
filmAs 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star James Dean perfected his moody act
News
Obesity surgery in rats has been found to change the way the body processes alcohol
news
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
artThe Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
Life & Style
US Airways has been at the centre of a Twitter storm after it responded to customer complaints with a graphic sexual image
techUS Airways takes an interesting approach to customer service
Arts & Entertainment
Philip Arditti as Yossarian and Christopher Price as Milo Minderbinder in Northern Stage's 'Catch-22'
theatre
Arts & Entertainment
The Purple Wedding: Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell tie the knot
TV The second episode of the hit series featured a surprise for viewers
Life & Style
Back to nature: women with body issues have found naked yoga sessions therapeutic
lifeDoing poses in the altogether is already big in the US, and now it’s landed here – in mixed classes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Move from Audit to Advisory

£45000 per annum + benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Move from Audit to Advisor...

Management Consultancy - Operational Research Analysts

£35000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: You must ...

Secondary Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This outstanding Secondary School...

Application Support Analyst (MS SQL, java based webserver, batch scripting)

£36000 - £40000 Per Annum On call allowance.: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?