The 20 most shocking anti-gay news stories from Russia so far
In recent weeks, the situation of anti-gay violence and ‘gay propaganda’ laws in russia has 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 a look at some of the most shocking events to date, from the father who imprisoned his son in a rehab centre last 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 history of anti-gay oppression and violence has followed no straightforward passage either, and cannot be thought of as a something that has only just happened.
In May, 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.
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, 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, 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.
5: Father imprisoned gay teen son in rehab clinic after a witch failed to exorcise his homosexuality
Last year in April, 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, 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
— 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
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, 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, 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”.
A Russian lawmaker took aim at Madonna and Lady Gaga in April, claiming that they violated their visa conditions when they performed shows in Russia, and that collecting money from their shows was therefore illegal.
The St Petersburg lawmaker, one of the sponsors of the city’s law which prohibits gay “propaganda”, requested an assessment of whether either singer violated immigration or tax laws while in Russia, back in August 2012.
He believes that the visa issued to Madonna exempted her from collecting money from her shows while performing there, and said that for her show in St Petersburg she received $1.1 million (£720,000).
The Prosecutor General’s office issued a response pertaining to both stars, saying: ”The visas issued were of the basic cultural exchange sort, which does not grant their bearers the right to engage in any commercial activity.”
“Why didn’t you arrest me when you had the chance, Russia? Because you didn’t want answer to the world?”
The singer also tweeted: “Sending bravery to LGBTs in Russia. The rise in government abuse is archaic. Hosing teenagers with pepper spray? Beatings? Mother Russia?”
Charges that Madonna broke a homophobic censorship ban in the Russian city of St Petersburg were dropped in November. Homophobic activists had tried to prosecute the US singer over accusations that she violated the city’s policy on the “promotion of homosexuality” among minors.
In August 2012, Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot were jailed for two years for staging an anti-Vladimir Putin protest, with a song that mentioned the country’s persecuted LGBT citizens in a Moscow cathedral on 21 February 2012.
Judge Marina Syrova said the actions of the women had “crudely undermined social order”. She added that the crime was a conspiracy driven by hatred of religion and that the court did “not trust” the testimony of the band members because it would be used as an attempt to “evade justice”.
Judge Syrova added that the posting of the video was proof of the band trying to gain publicity by their “hooligan actions”. She also said the women had “deliberately placed themselves against Orthodox believers” and that the “jerking of limbs” during their protest performance was further proof of their hatred towards Christians.
In July, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, condemned the advance of marriage equality in the West, calling it a symptom of the apocalypse.
While giving a sermon in Red Square’s Kazan Cathedral, Patriarch Kirill said of the growing number of countries accepting same-sex marriage around the globe: “This is a very dangerous and apocalyptic symptom… It means that people are on the path of self-destruction.”
The Russian Orthodox Church had been a key supporter of the law, and Patriarch Kirill maintained the Church’s view that homosexuality is a sin – although he cautioned against punishing people for their sexuality.
In 2009 he told an interviewer: “We respect the person’s free choice, including in sex relations.”
Although he reiterated again that the majority of religions saw homosexuality as a sin and gay marriage could not be allowed, he added: “Those who commit a sin must not be punished… And we have repeatedly spoken out against discriminating people for their nontraditional sexual orientation.”
In July, a group of Russian Orthodox activists in the southern city of Saratov said Facebook is involved in “gay propaganda”.
The social network had updated the icons users can put on their profile timelines to indicate key personal events.
Gay married users had previously had to use an icon of a bride and groom to mark the date of their wedding.
The head of the Orthodox group said his campaign amassed 34,000 signatures in three days on a petition demanding Facebook to stop what he termed “flirting with sodomites”, believing the network is breaking regional laws on ‘gay propaganda’.
Vladimir Roslyakovsky said: “We demand only one thing: Facebook should be blocked in the entire country because it openly popularizes homosexuality among minors.”
Ahead of Sir Elton John’s July performance in Russia this year, it was suggested that the famed entertainer’s outfits constituted “homosexual propaganda”.
The singer was due to play in the Russian city of Krasnodar on 14 July, but it was suggested by the leader of a local communist group that, through the way he dresses, Sir Elton is “promoting” homosexuality.
Mikhail Abramyan, leader of told RIA Novosti that Sir Elton’s outfits are “homosexual propaganda”, and that he should wear the traditional Russian dress of ”knee-length kaftan, a fur hat and leather boots,” instead.
Abramyan also threatened that the group will protest the concert if it were to go ahead as planned.
Organisers of the concert rejected the new proposed outfit.
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.
In the wake of a scandal caused by Pussy Riot, a law was passed in June by the State Duma to criminalise insulting people’s religious feelings.
The bill was passed by the State Duma with 308 votes to 2. The bill gathered the 226 votes necessary to be approved.
According to the bill, insulting the feelings of religious believers, including vandalism, or desecration of holy sites, would be punishable by compulsory labour, up to three years in prison, and/or fines of up to 500,000 rubles (£10,000).
In addition, obstructing the activities of a religious group, or the holding of a religious ceremony, would also be a criminal offence, punishable by a 300,000 (£6,000) ruble fine, and/or prison for up to three months, reported RIA Novosti.
If the law were to pass, and is broken by a state official, they would be sent to prison for up to one year, and would be banned from government posts for up to two years.
A Russian citizen publicly desecrating or destroying a religious object on purpose would face a fine of up to 200,000 rubles (£4,000)
The bill has seen strong support from conservative activist groups, as well as the Russian Orthodox Church.
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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.”
Late June and early July this year saw President Vladmir 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.
More from PinkNews
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.
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