With Russian parliamentary elections just around the corner, why not discuss a sensitive topic? Life for the LGBTQ+ community in Russia, for example.
While Russia is generally more conservative than the West, and I think life here could be better, the situation isn't un-livable. Hopefully this post will clear up some common misconceptions.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
From a Legal Perspective
To put it bluntly — it’s bad.
Unlike in the United States or countries from the European Union, gay and trans people have virtually no rights in Russia. They can't get married and their non-marital relationships are not recognized by the government. Even if a gay couple were to choose to stay together, anyway, despite everything, they wouldn't be allowed to adopt children. The list goes on and on, but I think you get the picture.
There are also a number of restrictive laws. One such example is what has been dubbed the "Russian Gay Propaganda Law," which forbids all LGBTQ+-related topics from appearing in the official media. Any sort of community-related events, such as pride parades, are also prohibited by this law.
A final nail in the coffin: according to amendments made to the Russian Constitution in 2020, marriage has been explicitly defined as being “a union between a man and a woman.” This amendment makes any attempts to legalize same-sex marriage nearly impossible, at least for the time being.
From a Cultural Perspective
Generally speaking, Russian society remains extremely homophobic.
Moscow and Saint Petersburg are relatively open places, but if a gay person isn't from either of those two cities, it might not be safe for them to come out (announce that they're gay). Any public signs of affection between same-sex couples are perceived as extremely inappropriate — to the point where the couple in question might receive physical threats. In the event that the couple does find themselves in a dangerous situation, they can't depend on the police, either. While police are officially obliged by law to protect and serve, the chances are that an officer would simply refuse to provide aid to a gay person. They likely share the oppressor's discriminatory views.
Things are even worse in our national minority areas, such as Dagestan and Chechnya. These are basically independent countries within the borders of Russia: they each have their own culture, values, president, laws, and agenda. One thing they have in common is that they place incredible importance on close family ties. Each person is seen as being responsible for the actions of their family members.
As you might imagine, this is bad news for the local LGBTQ+ population.
Homosexuality is perceived as being disgraceful over there, and this animosity isn't directed only at the gay person in question. If a child comes out as being gay, their whole family will become a pariah for generations to come. As such, brothers, uncles, and fathers may resort to torture — or even murder — in an attempt to “purge” their family of shame. Perhaps you've heard such stories in the news.
From a Real-Life Perspective
For better or worse, there’s this little thing about Russia. It's not something that people outside our borders would notice, but if you spend a year here, you'll pick up on it. In a nutshell: in the event that they can be broken without consequence, nobody cares about the laws. You can get away with a lot, so long as you're confident enough and know the system.
This applies not only to our actual laws, but also to all of the unwritten rules that make up everyday Russian life. This includes homosexuality. While heavily frowned upon and officially discriminated against, the LGBTQ+ community nevertheless continues to exist in Russia.
I can tell you this with confidence because I myself am Russian, gay, and have been living openly for the last few years. Not without fear and being discriminated, of course.
That in mind, here are a few practical things to be aware of:
1. Homosexuality is, technically speaking, legal
While we do have discriminatory laws baked right into our constitution, it isn't actually illegal to be gay. No one can be imprisoned or arrested because they're attracted to their own gender (or any other gender, for the matter). We don't have the right to get married, but we do have the right to exist. It has been this way since 1993, and nothing is going to change about that in the foreseeable future.
2. Big cities are relatively safe
The bigger the city, the better.
In Moscow, where I live, gay people have almost the same quality of life as their Western European and North American counterparts. Being open with your sexuality is not considered wrong here, and most people are understanding and accepting. Things are even better in Saint-Petersburg.
Smaller cities, however, are less safe. Gays there have to keep their sexuality a secret for their entire lives. For this reason, many LGBTQ+ people from small towns desire to move to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, or some other large city. That was the case for the author of this article, as well.
3.There are places we can go
Gay clubs, bars, saunas, gyms, and even gay-friendly taxi services are legal and operate freely in Russia. Upon entering such a “dedicated” establishment, a bouncer will ask you if you realize what sort of a place you're about to enter. Entrance is, however, restricted to those younger than 18.
4. Dating apps work as expected
Dating apps, such as Her, Grindr, and Tinder, work perfectly fine in Russia. No VPNs or proxies are needed to utilize them. However, users from smaller cities typically don't use their real names or upload real pictures, for safety reasons.
More so than in the West, you have to be careful when using these sort of apps as a gay person. Each encounter might lead to a potential threat. Some people pretend to be gay in order to lure out, then shame or even physically harm LGBTQ+ people.
5. Many celebrities are gay — nobody cares
There are rumors about virtually every Russian male popstar being gay. Most of these rumors have been around for so long that they are most likely true. Showbiz tries to be discreet about such things, but in reality, everybody knows that everybody knows. There are also jokes about particular celebrities, but nobody really cares about who is (supposedly) dating whom.
In my opinion, that situation is particularly telling.
- If things were better, all of these supposedly gay celebrities would have officially come out of the closet a long time ago
- If things were worse, no rumors would exist at all
Take that for what you will.
In my opinion
All in all, things could and should be better. The situation has been slowly improving over the years. However, it is still nowhere close to being good.
As always: stay safe, have a nice day, and пока!