With the Sochi Winter Olympics now underway, the situation of anti-gay violence and gay “propaganda” laws in Russia has once more drawn widespread public attention in the media. However, these attacks and others like them have had a longstanding history.
In the following PinkNews catalogue of anti-gay stories in Russia, we take yet another look at some of the most shocking events to date, from the newspaper editor fined for printing “being gay is normal” this year, to the earliest incidents covered by this site, such as when the gay rights activist Peter Tatchell was punched in the face at a 2007 pride parade.
The stories come in no particular order however, neither chronological nor hierarchical. This is to reflect that the Russian narrative of anti-gay oppression and violence has followed no straightforward passage either, and cannot be thought of in terms of recent history alone.
A Moscow gay club was the subject of a gas attack by unknown assailants in November.
The perpetrators of the attack on the club Central Station on 23 November, remained unknown, but the club’s director was clearly convinced that extremist anti-gay views were to blame.
Andrey Leschinsky, the director of Central Station said: “Today is the fourth provocation against the club arranged by unknown persons. We believe that they are connected with the building owner.
“They are spaying the gas inside the club premises, thereby trying to express their extremist views against LGBT community, which likes to visit our club”.
Recently, a Russian gay dating app was blocked, with users threatened with arrest and imprisonment under the anti-gay propaganda law.
According to Dmitry T, the founder and CEO of the product, all members of the Grindr-like app were sent a message warning them that they will be arrested.
It read: “You will be arrested and jailed for gay propaganda in Sochi according to Russian Federal Law #135 Sektion 6.″
The app has been completely blocked in Adler and Sochi, where the Winter Olympic Games are due to open on Friday.
Three men in Russia were sentenced this month for the brutal murder of a man they stabbed and set on fire because they suspected he was gay.
According to AFP, the men, who all came from the same village in the eastern Russian region of Kamchatka, committed the murder because they were “convinced of the non-traditional sexual orientation of their fellow villager,” regional prosecutors said in a statement.
The men “lured the man in his car to a deserted part of the forest. There, the eldest man stabbed the victim multiple times in the chest, face and neck, and two others kicked him.”
Lastly, prosecutors said the perpetrators placed the 29-year-old victim in his car and the set the vehicle alight with petrol.
Although the main motive for the crime was homophobia, the three men were prosecuted for murder, not hate crime.
A Russian newspaper editor was fined 50,000 roubles (£860) last month under the ‘gay propaganda’ law for printing that “being gay is normal”.
Alexander Suturin, the editor-in-chief of newspaper Molodoi Dalnevostochnik, was found guilty of breaking the law, as the article propagated “homosexual relations”.
In being found guilty, his newspaper became the first media outlet to have been found in breach of the law.
Last September the newspaper printed an interview with Alexander Yermoshkin, a teacher fired for being gay, in which he talked about his dismissal, his attack by a neo-Nazi group, and involvement in LGBT demonstrations.
The prosecution said the piece had broken “traditional family values” to promote “genderless and fruitless so-called tolerance”
In May last year, a gay man from the southern Russian city of Volgograd who was tortured to death in an apparent hate crime, was sexually assaulted with beer bottles, and had his skull “smashed with a stone.”
The naked and beaten body of the 23-year-old man was found in the courtyard of an apartment building in the city.
“He was raped with beer bottles and had his skull smashed with a stone,” said Natalia Kunitskaya, a spokeswoman for the Volgograd region branch of the Investigative Committee.
She went on to admit that the attack was believed to have been a hate crime, which was noted as a rare admission from Russian law enforcement agencies on the issue of homophobia in the country.
A later statement from the Moscow-based Investigative Committee confirmed that two men aged 22 and 27 had been detained in connection with the attack. One of the suspects has a criminal history, the statement said.
It went on to say that they thought the victim had been drinking with two men, apparently while celebrating Victory Day, a national holiday in Russia held on 9 May.
Regional Investigator Andrei Gapchenko, said the men started beating the victim when he told them he was gay.
Recently, Channel 4′s harrowing documentary, Hunted, followed the Russian gangs that hunt gay men for sport.
Investigative journalist Liz MacKean got inside the St Petersburg branch of Occupy Paedophilia, an anti-gay organisation with at least 37 chapters across Russia. The group tracks down and abducts gay men, torturing and humiliating them, before posting the footage on the internet.
In the film, showing off for the camera, the group find a man looking for a hookup, and lure him back to the flat. He is caught and held down, as the group set about extracting a confession from him. “We will ruin his life, as usual”, one quips.
Cameraman and director Ben Steele carried on filming despite the man’s discomfort, and recalled the horror of being unable to help him. He said on Monday: “It was deeply uncomfortable not knowing what was going to happen. The only way I could cope with being in that situation was to document it.”
The group humiliate the man, coercing him into an ‘interview’ about his sexuality, and forcing him to dance. Compared to some of the other victims of the vigilante groups, he is lucky; being beaten and drenched in urine is the standard humiliation, but some of the assaults have been much, much worse.
In 2011, Moscow police arrested and detained a number of prominent gay rights activists including the openly gay US soldier Dan Choi as homophobic violence from Russian neo nazis broke out during the banned Moscow Pride march near the Kremlin.
A large group of gay rights activists including the British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell waved rainbow flags and carried signs reading “Russia is not Iran.” They were attacked by ultra-Orthodox campaigners who gathered to disturb the march, banned for the sixth year by the Moscow authorities.
Peter Tatchell reported: “We witnessed a high level of fraternisation and collusion between neo-Nazis and the Moscow police. I saw neo-Nazis leave and re-enter police buses parked on Tverskaya Street by City Hall.
“Our suspicion is that many of the neo-Nazis were actually plainclothes police officers, who did to us what their uniformed colleagues dared not do in front of the world’s media.
“Either that, or the police were actively facilitating the right-wing extremists with transport to the protest”.
In June last year, deputy of the Legislative Assembly of the Trans-Baikal Parliament Alexander Mikhailov said he planned to put forward a law allowing marines to whip gay people in public.
Speaking to the Chita news agency Mr Mikhailov said they should be whipped in public squares by “marines”.
He described homosexuality as a “common shame”.
Referencing a doctor, who criticised the decision of several European countries to legalise marriage rights for same-sex couples, Mr Mikhailov praised the doctor and reportedly said: “We have to deal with such things”. He added that his province should adopt a law in which the marines have the right to flog the “asses” of gay people.
“In Russia for many centuries the ass was used for educational purposes and not for love entertainment. So we should use it according to its intended purpose,” the MP said.
In July, a Russian human rights group asked prosecutors to look into the homophobic comments.
Vitaly Cherkasov, head of the Zabaikalsky Human Rights Centre, said he believed that Mr Mikhailov’s remarks could help incite hatred toward the gay community among locals. The regional prosecutor’s office said it would respond to the group’s request to evaluate the legality of the comment.
In August last year, a lone gay rights activist, Krill Kalugin, was assaulted by a violent group of Russian paratroopers in the city that was the birth place of the country’s anti-gay legislation.
10: Father imprisoned gay teen son in rehab clinic after a witch failed to exorcise his homosexuality
April 2012, a 16-year-old was forced to escape from a rehab clinic after his traditionalist father locked him up for being gay.
Ivan Kharchenko, a Moscow teenager, spent 12 days in the Marshak rehab facility, supposedly used to treat drug addictions. He was released after 12 days of forced detention following a siege staged by his friends and supporters including by the Russian human rights campaigner Dmitry Aleshkovsky and State Duma Deputy (MP) Ilya Ponomaryov.
He was placed in the facility against his will after his paternal grandmother had tricked him into seeing a witch who attempted to exorcise the ‘spirit of homosexuality’ from him. When this route failed, his father turned to doctors and medication for help.
“I’d rather have you disabled or a vegetable than gay,” the father told the son according to local Ekho Moskvy radio.
The BBC Russian Service reported that Mr Kharchenko did manage to place a banner reading “I love you” addressed to his boyfriend out of his window at the facility.
In January last year, homophobic Russians attacked gay activists in the city of Voronezh following a protest against anti-gay laws.
Videos seen by PinkNews showed bottles, snowballs and other objects being thrown at the pro-gay protesters as well as fascists performing Nazi salutes outside an Adidas store. The videos later showed police officers separating the protesters.
At least one pro-gay protester needed medical assistance according to sources.
As part of a documentary on gay rights Stephen Fry travelled to Russia in March to interview the author of St Petersburg’s notorious anti-gay propaganda bill, who told him gay teenagers do not face bullying for their sexuality.
Fry interviewed Vitaly Milonov, and reported that the two of them had been “going at it hammer and tongs”.
He also said their debate had included topics such as the bullying of LGBT youth.
Mr Milonov did not believe LGBT teens were tormented for their identity and claimed that teens pretended to be bullied in order to “indoctrinate” other youth.
He also claimed that liberalism had “destroyed” Britain by promoting gay rights.
Milonov doesn’t seem to believe there are teenagers bullied and tormented for being gay, he thinks they make it up & indoctrinate to minors
— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) March 14, 2013
All very sad. He regards liberals as the destroyers of Europe “look at Britain, destroyed by liberalism” – his main obsession Kosovo tho
— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) March 14, 2013
Upon leaving Russia, Fry commented: “I shall always love Russia and hope that its youth will not allow the toxic mix of nationalism and religious zealotry to destroy her.”
In May 2013, around 30 activists from both pro and anti-LGBT factions were arrested at Moscow Pride, following antipathy to the perceived “gay propaganda” across Russia.
Police moved in as soon as the Pride-goers began unfurling rainbow flags and banners. They told the marchers, through megaphones, “Your rally is not sanctioned, you’re disrupting passers-by,” before pulling them into waiting police trucks.
Galina Kovtun, one of a few dozen Pride marchers present, said the detention of attendees was “disgusting and unjust … There is such a thing as freedom of speech, after all.”
Alexander Asman told Al Jazeera he was an observer who sympathised with the Pride marchers, adding: “It’s an outrage that they didn’t allow a gay parade … but I’m glad there weren’t fights as in Georgia.” Al Jazeera reported that he was arrested shortly after.
In July last year, four Dutch filmmakers were questioned by police for allegedly coming into conflict with the country’s newly-established “gay propaganda” laws.
Maria Kozlovskaya, a lawyer from a St Petersburg-based LGBT network, said the Dutch four were fined 3,000 roubles each (£61; $93) for violating visa rules
One of them, Kris van der Veen, a left-wing councillor from Groningen, the Netherlands, said they were not facing a court case.
He tweeted to say “after weird day, riding in car away from court. I believe indeed that there won’t be a case.”
“Instead of sitting on the plane, we’re still in Murmansk,” Mr Van der Veen wrote on Facebook.
“It’s about the documentary, homosexual propaganda. It’s going alright, but it’s not clear what to do next. There has been lots of support and help from activists and the consulate.”
In 2007, Peter Tatchell spoke to PinkNews after he was punched in the face by a suspected neo-Nazi and then arrested by Russian riot police in Moscow.
Nationalists and religious groups threw eggs and shouted slogans such as “Death to homosexuals.”
Mr Tatchell told PinkNews: “I urge people to protest to the Russian Ambassador and to ask their local MP to send a letter of protest to the Russian embassy.”
He added: “We also need a strong statement of condemnation from the Foreign Office, who have so far been silent. I am a British citizen violently attacked when mounting a lawful protests whilst the Russian police allowed violence to be perpetrated against me.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We condemn violence in any form, but in this particular case we need to ascertain the full facts before making any further comment.”
Mr Tatchell told PinkNews: “There is no rule of law in Moscow. The right to protest does not exist. This is not a democracy.
“Today’s protest was about much more than gay rights. We were defending the right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest for all Russians, gay and straight.
“The ban on Moscow Gay Pride is one aspect of a much wider attack on civil society and human rights. It is evidence of a failed transition from communism to democracy and of a rising trend towards autocracy and authoritarianism”.
16: Survey reveals 51% of population would not ‘under any circumstances’ want a gay neighbour or work colleague
Last year, according to an opinion survey researching national identity in Russia, it was revealed that just over half the Russian population would not “under any circumstances” want to see a gay person as a neighbour or as a work colleague.
The state-run Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VCIOM) attempted to examine which ideas and values united Russians, and which kept them apart.
Representing 45 regions across the country, 1,600 Russians took part in the poll.
One of the major divisions highlighted in the survey were attitudes towards gay people, in which just over half the population answered they would not want to live nearby or work with a gay person “under any circumstances.”
Anna Grigoryeva said that the main effect of the legislation so far in Russia had been the sanctioning by the state of “public organised homophobia and transphobia.”
Last year, an anti-gay Russian video claimed that 50 per cent of pedophiles are gay and that gay couples only adopt children because they want to rape them.
The video, translated into English bases its ‘facts’ on a controversial and much criticised study by anti-gay American researcher Mark Regnerus.
A version of the video with English subtitles was uploaded to YouTube by US blogger John Aravosis, who wrote: “This video has been posted by me, a civil rights advocate, to expose the level of hatred that gay and trans people face in Russia. One thing we have learned, repeatedly, in the overall LGBT civil rights effort, but also specifically in our work against Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, is that the best way to neutralize anit-gay hate is by ‘exposing’ their hate.”
In February, a middle school girl in the Bryansk region of Russia became the first ever minor to be accused of breaking the country’s notorious anti-gay “propaganda” law.
According to a report by Znak.com, a ninth grade girl, aged 14-15, last November “openly declared herself to be a person of nontraditional sexual orientation,” the local minors’ commission said.
During this time, the commission said the girl “disseminated information aimed at forming a distorted picture among juveniles of the social equality of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations.”
However, authorities decided not to place criminal charges against her as she had not sexually assaulted anyone. Instead, she was put under the supervision of the local juvenile commission.
In February, prosecutors investigated whether a children’s library book about tolerance and cultural diversity contained alleged gay “propaganda,” it has been reported.
‘Families. Ours and Theirs’ by Vera Timenchik was a book donated to the Ulyanovsk Regional Scientific Library under the ‘Other, Others, Otherwise’ charity project in Russia.
However, according to RIANovosti, a spokesperson for the local prosecutor’s office in the Volga area of Ulyanovsk had said: “There is a problem with the contents of this book, because the promotion of such [homosexual] relations is prohibited by the Russian law.”
Ms Timenchik’s book is dedicated to family-related traditions and cultures from countries around the globe, and was alleged to contain information about same-sex marriages.
Following the investigation, a spokesman for the library said the book had already been removed from open bookshelves.
A man in Moscow was arrested and hospitalised in November after he stripped naked and stapled his testicles to a cobblestone pavement, in protest of what he called Russia’s recent descent into a “police state” which follows the passage of anti-gay laws.
The Huffington Post reported Pyotr Pavlensky, a performance artist, carried out the act near Lenin’s mausoleum in the centre of Moscow’s Red Square.
According to Agence France-Presse, the 29-year-old, arrested shortly after the incident, had carried out similar acts in the past, including sewing his lips together against the jailing of two members of Pussy Riot, and wrapping his body in barbed wire outside a government building.
Between 20 and 40 activists were arrested at Slavic Pride in Moscow by anti-riot police in the 2009 Moscow parade, which was held on the same day as the Eurovision song contest final also hosted in the country.
He told NOS radio: “If people of my kind are being discriminated against in such a way, I have nothing to expect from this Russia, and I will be on the first plane home.”
Among those arrested were British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, and Chicago campaigner Andy Thayer.
Nikolai Alekseev was allegedly held down by five armed riot officers and arrested.
In a statement, Alekseev called on artists due to perform at the Eurovision final to boycott the event to “send a message that Russia’s state oppression of human rights is not acceptable.”
He continued: “The Russian Government is using this years Eurovision in Moscow as a gala showpiece to show the world how far the country has improved since the early 1990′s.
“However, what was witnessed this afternoon on the streets of Moscow shows the world just how little Russia has travelled when it comes to supporting fundamental human rights.”
In August, a Russian orthodox priest who spoke out in support of jailed punk band Pussy Riot was killed.
Pavel Adelgeim, 75, was stabbed to death in his home near the Estonia border, in the city of Pskov.
A 27-year-old man, who police say was acquainted with the priest, was arrested in relation to the killing. He reportedly stabbed Adelgeim in the stomach, and then stabbed himself after being arrested.
He was then taken to hospital, where authorities waited to question him. Regional lawmaker Lev Shlosberg, the suspect is mentally ill, and had been staying with the priest over the time of his murder.
Speaking to the Dozhd TV channel, Shlosberg said: ”[He was] welcomed by Father Pavel and his wife Vera at their home upon a request from a Moscow woman they were familiar with,
“He is a mentally ill person, and maybe his acquaintances hoped Father Pavel’s word would cure his illness.”
The motive for the murder remains unclear.
Adelgeim spoke out in favour of Pussy Riot, the punk band who performed a controversial anti-Putin music performance at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral, back in 2012.
He was also jailed during the Soviet rule, and was a well-known critic of the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Last month, a woman was charged under Russia’s anti-gay laws for setting up a pro-LGBT page on social networking site Vkontakte.
According to ria.ru, Lena Klimova set up the page ‘Children-404: We Exist’, which publishes posts by gay teenagers talking about their struggle against homophobia and oppression in the country.
Police claimed the group violated the anti-gay law as they “promote unconventional sexual relations among minors, resulting in information aimed at developing juveniles to explore unconventional sexualities”.
Ms Klimova, 25, could face a fine of up to 100,000 roubles (£1,720) under the law, which for her is several months’ salary in the country.
She told Rosbalt.ru: ”On the one hand, I was surprised. On the other hand, I wasn’t, since people are fined under this law for lesser faults. But this is an extreme level of madness. We publish letters from underage gay men and lesbians and this is considered propaganda among minors.”
In May this year, the event organiser of a pride parade was violently beaten after the city the Komi Republic announced its ban on a planned event.
Authorities of the Syktyvkar city administration said they banned the event in response to “requests from the city’s religious and public organisations not to allow public events promoting homosexual values.”
They added that Syktyvkar’s Mayor Ivan Pozdeyev had requested that city lawmakers prepare a draft law banning any similar events from taking place in the future.
Organisers of the pride march say they intend to go ahead with the event despite having received death threats from right-wing and religious anti-gay groups. Although not allowed to take place in city centre, the march would be held in a park in the outskirts away from the public.
On the same day as the cancellation, the gay pride organiser and chair of the local LGBT group, Artem Kalinin, was physically attacked by the leader of a neo-Nazi group in Syktyvkar.
In front of journalists – who caught the attack on camera – Alex Kolegov beat Mr Kalinin. This worsened when gay activist Kalinin called Kolegov a ‘Nazi.’
However, Mr Kalinin is not deterred by the attack.
“This incident will not change my decision” said Mr Kalinin. “We are going to hold pride in spite of everything.”
He and several witnesses reported the attack and death threats, but the police made no arrest.
Nikolai Alekseev, co-founder of Moscow Pride and GayRussia, has condemned the attack: “This is another proof of full disregard of Russian authorities of the European Court verdict in the case of Moscow Prides by Russian authorities.”
June and July last year saw President Vladimir Putin sign two anti-gay bills into law.
Not long after in July, another bill banning same-sex couples from adopting was also signed into law by the President.
Commenting on the passage of anti-gay laws in Russia, Mr Putin said it was all about “protecting children”.
On the anti-propaganda law, he said: “It’s not about imposing some sort of sanctions on homosexuality…It’s about protecting children from such information,” Mr Putin said.
“Certain countries…think that there is no need to protect [children] from this…But we are going to provide such protection the way that State Duma lawmakers have decided. We ask you not to interfere in our governance,” he added.
Nikolai Alekseev was the first gay rights campaigner to be convicted under St Petersburg’s law. He was said to have been fined 5,000 roubles, just over £100, by a court in Russia’s second city for the promotion of homosexuality among minors
An issued statement on the same-sex adoption law said: “This measure is aimed at guaranteeing that children are brought up by their adoptive families in a balanced and complete environment and that their mental wellbeing is not affected by any unwelcome influences, such as the imposition of unconventional sexual behaviour, and also that children are protected from developing complexes and mental distress which psychological research has shown children often experience when brought up by same-gender parents.”
Critics believe that the passage of these anti-gay laws is to provoke many more instances of anti-gay violence to come.