Sharlet on Russia’s Anti-Gay Violence

The brilliant Jeff Sharlet went to Russia to investigate how their totalitarian anti-gay law and virulently anti-gay culture is affecting the LGBT community there. Unfortunately, the results are not surprising. Things are bad there. Really bad.

I went to Moscow and St. Petersburg for two weeks in November because the Olympics were coming to Russia, and for a brief moment it seemed possible that the outside world was interested in the unraveling of civil society in one of the most powerful countries on the globe. Books are being banned—Burroughs and Baudelaire and Huxley’s Brave New World—immigrants hunted, journalists killed, a riot-grrrl band, Pussy Riot, imprisoned for almost two years for playing a “Punk Prayer” in a Moscow cathedral; blasphemy is now illegal. Civil society isn’t just coming undone; it’s imploding. I wanted to visit the bottom of the heap. The golubye. The blues, which in Russia is another word for queer—any way of being other than “Russian,” which, under President Vladimir Putin, has become a kind of sexual orientation. I wanted to see what ordinary LGBT life was like in a nation whose leaders have decided that “homosexualism” is a threat to its “sexual sovereignty,” that “genderless tolerance,” in Putin’s words, is a disease of the West that Russia will cure. The medicine is that of “traditional values,” a phrase, ironically, imported from the West, grafted onto a deeply conformist strain of nationalism. In Russia, that means silence and violence, censorship, and in its shadow, much worse.

One of the first men I met was Alex, a gay police officer who’d recently quit his job rather than enforce Russia’s new anti-gay law. He wasn’t always so principled: One of Alex’s early assignments on the force was snooping through a fellow officer’s computer for evidence of homosexuality. “I was just lucky it wasn’t my computer,” Alex said one night at a café on Arbat Street, Moscow’s main thoroughfare of consumer hipsterism.

His boyfriend wasn’t as glib: “It’s Germany in the ’30s,” he declared. “Hush, hush,” Alex said. “Not so loud.” It’s not Germany in the ’30s, he said; it’s Russia now. And that’s a subtler problem.

Yes, there are killings. In May, a 23-year-old man in Volgograd allegedly came out to a group of friends, who raped him with beer bottles and smashed his skull in with a stone; and in June a group of friends in Kamchatka kicked and stabbed to death a 39-year-old gay man, then burned the body. There’s a national network called Occupy Pedophilia, whose members torture gay men and post hugely popular videos of their “interrogations” online. There are countless smaller, bristling movements, with names presumptuous (God’s Will) or absurd (Homophobic Wolf). There are babushkas who throw stones, and priests who bless the stones, and police who arrest their victims.

But such people exist everywhere, said Alex. The difference in Russia now is who’s standing behind them.

The Russian closet has always been deep, but since last June, when the Duma began passing laws designed to shove Russia’s tiny out population back into it, the closet has been getting darker. The first law banned gay “propaganda,” but it was written so as to leave the definition vague. It’s a mechanism of thought control, its target not so much gays as anybody the state declares gay; a virtual resurrection of Article 70 from the old Soviet system, forbidding “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.” Then, as now, nobody knew exactly what “propaganda” was. The new law explicitly forbids any suggestion that queer love is equal to that of heterosexuals, but what constitutes such a suggestion? One man was charged for holding up a sign that said being gay is ok. Pride parades are out of the question, a pink triangle enough to get you arrested, if not beaten. A couple holding hands could be accused of propaganda if they do so where a minor might see them; the law, as framed, is all about protecting the children. Yelena Mizulina, chair of the Duma Committee on Family, Women, and Children’s Affairs and the author of the bill, says that it’s too late to save adult “homosexualists,” as they’re called, but Russia still has a chance to raise a pure generation.

There’s much more in the article, I strongly suggest reading it all.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • colnago80

    Gays in Russia are being made scapegoats for the population implosion there. Actually, the real reason is the low birthrate, particularly amongst the Great Russian population and the widespread alcoholism which has greatly reduced longevity, particularly among the male population. This is in addition to malnutrition.

    A while ago, there was a photograph showing 18 year old boys lining up for their draft physicals. The caption said they were 18 but they looked more like 14 or 15.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    … I strongly suggest reading it all.

    Why do you want to raise my blood pressure and ruin my day?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 Michael Brew

    This is one of those things that strongly suggests to me that putting the blame for a lot of communist countries’ failure on communism is far too simplistic. Seems like Russia, at least, was a fairly terrible place to live for most people immediately before, during, and after communism.

  • Thumper: Token Breeder

    Jesus. I’m actually shaking. That is fucking heartbreaking.

  • sh3baproject

    @4 same here. its scary shit man.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/amilliongods/ Avicenna

    Check out the Stephen Fry documentary too for something similar.

  • busterggi

    Thank you Saint Ronald for enabling the Russian Church and KGB to restore freedom to the godless commies.

  • Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    The only thing about The Handmaid’s Tale that didn’t ring true to me is that there were still gay men about to protect them when the Republic of Gilead started cracking down on the women. Of course, two years later gay men were being hung as ‘gender traitors’, so there’s that.

    I wonder if there’s powerful people in Russia who read it and said “I wonder if we can make this work…”

  • grumpyoldfart

    Russia is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and last year it was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Fat lot of good that did.

  • Michael Heath

    Michael Brew writes:

    This is one of those things that strongly suggests to me that putting the blame for a lot of communist countries’ failure on communism is far too simplistic.

    Well, the answer is simplistic where attributing it to communism is simply wrong. The actual reason for such advocacy and laws is due to an epidemic of authoritarian thinking. The source of authoritarianism comes from the religious and/or political indoctrination of children. In the U.S. it comes only from conservative religious indoctrination; but in Russia of course it came from political indoctrination as well. The maintenance of authoritarian thinking in adulthood is fueled by groups that authoritarians identify with: their churches, favored media outlets, political groups, and others.

    It became popular to wrongly conclude communism was the source because Christians frequently and dishonestly claim that atheism is the root cause for genocide and other horrible results. The actual factor is the very same source that afflicts so many conservative Christians – authoritarian thinking.

    It also seems pretty obvious to me that Mr. Putin is a classic example of a social dominator, i.e. someone who knows better and doesn’t give a fuck about others when it conflicts with his own selfish agenda. A trait I think is also shared by Mitt Romney.

  • Michael Heath

    busterggi writes:

    Thank you Saint Ronald for enabling the Russian Church and KGB to restore freedom to the godless commies.

    That’s the same style of argumentation Michele Bachmann uses.

  • colnago80

    Re busterggi @ #7

    And once again, MH leaps to the defense of his hero, Ronnie the rat. As predictable as the Sun rising in the East tomorrow.

  • dingojack

    Or SLC knee-jerk defence of Israel?

    Say it ain’t so….

    😀 Dingo

    ————

    PS: No need to reply SLC, you won’t say anything substantive. Your tedious ad homs are at ten to the cent.

  • dingojack

    (and I happen to agree with you in this case)

    Dingo

  • colnago80

    Re Dachshund @ #14

    I’m going to surprise the dachshund by criticizing some folks in Israel. IMHO, I agree with Susan Rice, the attacks by Naftali Bennett and others in the Israeli Government on Secretary of State Kerry are over the top and totally unacceptable. And these attacks are defamations. It’s about time that the president takes Bibi to the woodshed for some needed discipline.

  • smrnda

    I know some ex pat Russians. One of them remarked about how Solzhenitsyn commented that the horrors of the USSR were because the Russians ‘forgot god.’ My ex pat Russian friend commented “well, I wish he were around to see how shitty things are now that they REMEMBER god.”

  • Michael Heath

    colnago80 writes:

    And once again, MH leaps to the defense of his hero, Ronnie the rat.

    As always you misrepresent what I wrote.

    I was coming to the defense of cogent honest arguments. The fact some liberals act in the same manner that made Michelle Bachmann infamous says nothing about Ronald Reagan and instead is revelatory in regards to that particular liberal and other liberals who behave similarly.

  • laurentweppe

    It also seems pretty obvious to me that Mr. Putin is a classic example of a social dominator, i.e. someone who knows better and doesn’t give a fuck about others when it conflicts with his own selfish agenda

    Have you read Lenin’s “masterpiece“? He was a big fan of the notion that Humankind was mostly composed of apathetic morons who needed to be guided by a benevolent intellectual aristocracy. It’s not like Putin’s political worldview appeared in a vacuum

    ***

    That’s the same style of argumentation Michele Bachmann uses.

    And once again, MH leaps to the defense of his hero, Ronnie the rat. As predictable as the Sun rising in the East tomorrow.

    Is it me or did commenters missed an obvious sarcasm? Because I’ve never heard of read the Russiand Church And the KGB being candidly praised together in the same sentence