Aggressive homophobia, harassment and public incomprehension – these are the conditions under which members of Samara’s LGBT community live. In this city of 1.5m, homosexual, bisexual and transgender people are trying to unite to confront the problems they face in today’s Russia.
Pederasts and paedophiles
For the general public, the words ‘pederast’ and ‘paedophile’ mean exactly the same thing.
The main issue mentioned by representatives of Samara’s LGBT community is a complete lack of tolerance towards homosexuals – typical for provincial towns in Russia ‘Many Samaran residents are ignorant of what it means to be homosexual, bisexual and transgender, believing that members of the LGBT community are all paedophiles. Official propaganda is much to blame for that – state television channels often show documentary films in which it is said that homosexuality is a perversion alien to Russians, which was invented by the West. Homosexuals in these films are called ‘pederasts.’ For the general public, the words ‘pederast’ and ‘paedophile’ mean exactly the same thing,’ says 22-year-old Vladimir Solovyov. He has been in a stable relationship with his partner – whom he calls his boyfriend – for five years. Now that Vladimir has finished his university studies it is easier for him to demonstrate his right to love a man.
When I was a student, my parents supported me financially. I couldn’t afford to rent an apartment and live together with my boyfriend as a family. Now I am independent. I took a job working as a programmer in one of the major IT firms. My colleagues know of my sexual orientation but do not judge me for it; and my heterosexual friends also respect my choice. At the start of my relationship with Igor, several people tried to judge and criticise me, and I broke off my relations with them, as I do not want anything to do with intolerant people. Age makes no difference, 20 year olds and 60 year olds can be intolerant towards LGBT people; the issue is a lack of education. People perceive gays and lesbians as perverts, just as they did 30 years ago under Soviet rule. Many say that LGBT people need to be treated in psychiatric hospitals. That’s awful. That is a violation of the human right to a free choice of sexual orientation. But what can be done, if Russia returns to a Stalinist model of society? Igor and I are now trying to improve our knowledge of English so that we can emigrate,’ says Solovyov.
My other interviewee is Viktor. He is the same age as Vladimir and is also gay. His parents, like so many, did not approve of his sexual orientation. ‘When I was 19, I opened up to my mother. I told her that I was gay and that I was seeing a guy. My mother and I used to get along well, but after she found out that I was gay she raised a scandal. She told my father everything. My parents began to follow my every move. I was forbidden from going to nightclubs. My older brother is 25 and married, though they live separately and he brings up his daughter. A month after my coming out, he ceased all contact with me. I suspect that my parents had told him about my orientation. Several times there were noisy rows with my parents at home. They tried to break my computer. They wouldn’t even let me walk in the courtyard. In their opinion, I became gay because I spend a lot of time behind a computer, on the internet. My parents are people with a Soviet upbringing. For them, gays may as well be aliens. I tried to show my parents the film Prayers for Bobby. I had hoped that they would understand that I cannot become a homosexual. I suggested to them that we visit a psychologist together. My parents said that they did not need a psychologist, and that they would take me to a psychiatrist. According to them, gays are mentally ill people who need treatment. My father provoked me into conflict several times and tried to beat me so that I would stop thinking about guys. My disgust towards my parents increased, and when I finished my studies at university, I left them to stay with my boyfriend. I left for my parents my university diploma and a note explaining that I have no obligations to them, and that it is my right to live my life how I want. I cannot go home – my parents do not allow me – and have also told my relatives not to communicate with me. I studied to be an economist, but do not work in my field. However I live with the man I love, and I am happy.’
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