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The Courage Required To Come Out In Putin's Russia

As France becomes the 14th country to allow same-sex marriage, Le Monde looks at one of the bleaker corners for gay rights in 2013.

Article illustrative image Partner logo Anton Krasovky has broken a taboo amongst Russia's media elite.

MOSCOW - Journalist Anton Krasovsky has committed a significant act in the small world of Moscow’s elite – he revealed he was gay.

It was January 25, on Kontr TV – a Kremlin-backed Internet and cable television network he helped to launch. The debate focused on the latest initiative of the Kremlin: the adoption by Parliament of a law prohibiting “propaganda” of homosexuality among minors, punishable by fines of up to 12,000 euros. Such measures already exist in rural cities. But ever since its decriminalization in 1993, the Russian government hadn’t organized such an attack on homosexuality – considered by many Russians as a deviancy. A sad legacy of Soviet times.

Aged 37, Krasovsky has frequented the corridors of power for long enough to be immune to sentimentality. That evening, during a show, he dropped a bombshell. He announced that not only was he gay, he was also as human as President Putin, Prime Minister Medvedev and the members of Parliament. He was fired on the spot. Videos of him were deleted from the Kontr TV website and YouTube.

A June 2012 demonstration in support of LGBT rights in Moscow (Somiz)

"Russia is a philosophical black hole, nothing is important – and neither is my action," he says. But then why come out so publicly? Because, he says, of the worrying turn the country is taking since the return of Putin to the Kremlin in May 2012.

The multiplication of repressive laws and the development of a populist state, based on the promotion of patriotism, the Orthodox Church and anti-Americanism ended up dissolving the layer of cynicism that was protecting the journalist. This has a name: it is conscience.

"Everything is leading us to a pit where I do not want to fall,” says Krasovsky. “Maybe I'll end up there like the rest of the country. But I do not want my name associated with the process. I fight for human rights, not for gays. The time has come to take risks for our rights without waiting for someone to serve them on a fucking platter. Martin Luther King, he was killed!”

Krasovsky was the editor of a popular show for the NTV channel, the Kremlin's favorite weapon to discredit the opposition. In autumn 2011, the man who swears like a sailor when his thoughts are racing, became the pilot of a funny project: the entry into politics, at the request of the Kremlin, of billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. "An excellent manager for peacetime, but not a new Yeltsin emerging from all this mud," says Krasovsky.

Today, Krasovsky believes that his career prospects are shot in Russia. He is planning to go abroad for a few months, "in Italy or the United States," to write a book. "It will be about life in the 1990s, the fears, a hero who lies to himself, gays, business and politics.”

Oddly enough, Krasovsky is a mix of courage and denial. He believes that "there is no real homophobia in Russia" and that for a gay Russian to be in the closet has deep-rooted “psychological reasons.”

“Homosexuals should be liquidated”

In reality, the situation is much starker. Being gay in Moscow and St. Petersburg often forces concealment strategies. No physical contact whatsoever in public. Meeting places are discreet. In October, 20 masked gunmen stormed into a club in Moscow, the 7FreeDays. Several people were injured, including three seriously. No politician, or famous singer or actor has ever come out as a homosexual.

According to a survey published in March, Russian pollster Levada, 50% of Russians said they felt “irritated and disgusted” by gays and lesbians and 18% said they felt “a sense of alertness.” For more than one out of three Russians, 34%, homosexuality is “an illness that should be treated,” 23% believe it is “the result of a bad education,” while 5% say homosexuals should be “liquidated.”

In rural regions, the situation is much worse, and homophobia is rampant. According to Igor Kotchetkov, president of the Vykhod (Coming Out) organization in St. Petersburg, the law against homosexual propaganda, passed in January, is part of a broader framework, a repressive road that the Kremlin has embarked on for a year now. "The government panders to its less-educated, most conservative constituents, those who grew up during the Soviet era, lost a lot after the Perestroika and is looking for someone to blame – immigrants or gays.”

According to Kotchetkov, it is unimaginable in rural Russia for homosexuals to live together as a couple. You have to register at your parents address. "If you're gay, it is impossible to get a job in education or public services." In addition, there is violence. "Each year we do an Internet survey. Up to 3000 people participate, of which 30% say they have been the victims of a physical assault."

One of the veterans of the gay cause is at an unknown address – for security reasons – in an apartment north of Moscow. These are the offices of Kvir, Russia’s first magazine for the gay community, founded in 2003. Vladimir Voloshin, 46, is the editor in chief and only full-time employee.

Frontpage of Kvir - Photo: Facebook page

Kvir recently decided to stop its printed version to focus on the Internet. In Kazan, the newsstands selling the magazine were told they would be being burnt down. In St. Petersburg, the distribution agreement was broken. Fortunately, Internet browsing happens in the privacy of one’s home, so the readership is much higher than with the printed version. "Many people were afraid to buy the magazine at their newsstand, admits Voloshin. “Homophobia – that existed in everyday life – is now state-sponsored. The new laws are immoral and discriminating," he adds.

Voloshin’s parents still live in Uzbekistan, where he was born. He never told them where he worked. "Most gays refuse to come out, because it’s dangerous. We risk losing those close to us," he says.

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