A new study shows what has been obvious to anyone paying attention for a long time, that anti-gay violence has become epidemic in Russia as religious and political authorities make gay people the scapegoat du jour with lurid tales of the need to “protect the children.”
Ever since virulently homophobic Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed through a law effectively outlawing openly gay people, the country’s LGBTQ community has, predictably, been plagued by violence. Now a study published in Harvard University’s Health and Human Rights journal confirms what myriad horrific anecdotes suggest: Gay people in Russia are being beaten, raped, and murdered at record rates—and the government is doing little to stop it.
The issue of violence against gays in Russia is, of course, nothing new. Before the passage of the new federal measure, several regional governments passed identical laws, stripping gay citizens of legal rights and human dignity. More than one-half of Russian gays reported psychological abuse, while 16 percent experienced physical assault, and 7 percent were raped. Yet 77 percent also reported complete distrust of the police, leaving most anti-gay crimes unreported.Putin’s law has only darkened this already bleak picture. By putting the government’s stamp of approval on rampant Russian homophobia, Putin effectively declared open season on gay people. As the Harvard study notes, violence against gays in Russia isn’t considered violence at all; rather, it’s thought of as a way for young males to prove their own heterosexuality—while simultaneously cleansing society of an aberrant, pedophilic community.
Putin didn’t introduce homophobia to Russia. But his crusade against the gay community has direly exacerbated the country’s already suffocating haze of anti-gay bigotry and ignorance. A strong and confident leader could have helped the country move beyond its antediluvian conceptions of sexuality and gender. Instead, the paranoid Putin has used gays as a common enemy and a scapegoat. He might have scored political points with this stunt, both in his own country and in the West. But the toll of his intolerance is currently being paid in human lives.
But bigots like Putin don’t see gay people as human, nor do the many American defenders of his brutal, totalitarian assault on human rights and equality. The primal scream of “we must protect the children” is almost always a cover for the fascist impulse.