Gays aren’t in any danger in Russia… if no one knows they’re gay

An odd story in the St. Petersburg Times that reads like a piece from the Onion.  It tells the story of several gay foreigners living in Russia, and who scoff at the “crazy” notion of Russia being unsafe for gays.

Of course it’s safe, they tell the Russian paper.  So long as no one knows you’re gay.

You see, in the same way that Nazi Germany was tolerant of Jews they couldn’t identify, Russians are tolerant of gays they think straight.


“I find it funny when people say it’s not safe to be a gay person in Russia,” said John, who has lived in Russia for four years.

It’s perfectly safe, because no one would ever assume you could be gay. Especially your friends, people who like you — they would never think that about you,” he said, adding that even his flatmate of several years did not know about his sexual orientation and would likely be genuinely surprised if he found out.

Interesting definition of “safe.”

“Russia is palpably a more conservative country, and I was very conscious that being gay was not something I wished my colleagues, especially my Russian colleagues, to discover,” said Tom, 32, a British journalist who lived in Russia for almost six years before returning to Britain in December.

“It was not something I had bothered hiding in Britain, where I can discuss boyfriends and related issues in the office,” Tom said by email.

Tom said it was difficult to tell Russian friends about being gay and that he had to be very cautious about whom to tell, but that most people surprised him with their tolerance.

Here’s my favorite part of the story about the expats who try to say that Russia isn’t as bad as non-Russians are imagining:

All the expats interviewed for this story asked that their last names not be used because they could encounter problems with their employers for speaking with the press.

Smells like, freedom.

Oh and you might get the bejeesus beaten out of you if you go dancing:

Reports of attacks at gay clubs are not uncommon in Russia. Tom said the greatest risk he ever exposed himself to was going to his favorite gay club, where a group of thugs could break in and beat people up at any moment, despite strict security.

At least the article ends on an honest note, noting that Russia is pretty backwards when it comes to gay (and human) rights, and that eventually most of the ex-pats will move home in order to have a “normal” life.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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41 Responses to “Gays aren’t in any danger in Russia… if no one knows they’re gay”

  1. Being an intelligent human being with 20 years of experience in national civil rights advocacy, yes, I actually think quite carefully about the analogies I make rather than simply pulling them out of my ass because they’re easy. Thanks for the vote of confidence :)

  2. grayzip says:

    Just be sure, on a case-by-case basis, that that is what you are actually doing. Even then, crying wolf too often carries risks of its own.

  3. And we’re working with nearly 3 dozen Russian LGBT activists in order to do just that :)

  4. EndlessRepetition says:

    One or two more economic turn-downs here in America and we’ll be doing the same thing. Gays make easy scapegoats and I don’t take our current progress for granted. Russian gays are in quite a spot now and I believe we need to keep an open mind about how to help them deal with their situations.

  5. And my well-worn argument is that if nothing can ever compare to the Nazis, then there’s no need to be ever-vigilant about it never happening again, because it won’t. And I’m pretty sure that’s not the message anyone wants to take from the Holocaust.

  6. grayzip says:

    That is true, though mainly because the Nazis killed Jewish children along with their parents — killed them particularly, in fact — by the millions. Just like the Russia is doing to its LGBT population and their kids! Oh, wait. That sounds kind of silly, actually, doesn’t it?

    But therein lies another problem with appropriating Nazi atrocities, whether it be for “art” or to score political points, or Oscars: It feels *great.* Let’s face it, wildly-unfair pure-evil-against-absolute-good clusterfucks like the Holocaust are few and far between and may well turn out to be a once-in-forever occurrence. Which can really rankle people who believe passionately in causes that are inconveniently smaller-scale than their egos would prefer. What are we really fighting against in Russia? That relatively fewer people get urine thrown on them? That a handful fewer people get beaten to death? Or, who are we kidding, we’re really talking about even smaller stuff than that. Maybe, because of us, LGBT people in Russia will be able to hold hands in public or get better apartments or higher-paying jobs. Worthy goals all, but not exactly on the scale of saving six million people from gas chambers. Dammit!

    So people allow themselves the luxury of deluding themselves into believing their cause is — or crossyourfingers could be — as significant as the Holocaust, and that the evil they are fighting is as pure as the Nazis. They even have “proof!” Look how my thing’s component X is just-like the Holocaust’s component Y! Gosh, if only I were alive in the thirties the Holocaust might never have happened!

    Well here are some other things that are “just like” the Holocaust, or at least are potential future Holocausts that I, uniquely because I am so awesome, am not to timid to ignore: My lunch today, my dog, and this internet comment.

    I will forgive you for not taking me remotely seriously when I put forward such drivel. In fact, you taking me seriously was never the point.

    It was all about me feeling righteous.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Russia Today did the same thing. To their credit, they at least showed an opposing testimony. But not without cutting that person off and interrupting like hyperactive squirrels.

  8. grayzip says:

    My argument, well worn, is as follows:

    What Russia is doing to its LGBT population is indefensible… until you bring Nazis into the equation. Then the other side, whomever they may be, simply has to point out all the ways that it isn’t anything remotely like what the Nazis did, in scale or intent or you-name-it. For good measure they can point out how regularly Nazi parallels are trotted out by unserious drama queen-y internet idealogues, and… congratulations, you have given them two good points! Yay?

  9. grayzip says:

    Oh honestly karma you are just as big a troll as I am. We’re alike, ha!

  10. karmanot says:

    Some snark is perfection!

  11. Michael Smith says:

    In a related story, the Ku Klux Klan won’t burn a cross on your lawn if they don’t know you’re black.

  12. BeccaM says:

    I think I can guess where it came from. *shrugs* More likely they’re the sort who, in 1934 said the German Jews had nothing to worry about and any concerns were drastically overblown.

    There were plenty of naysayers back then, too.

  13. karmanot says:

    Actually, I come back to this comment because it is such a common trope regarding Godwin’s Law. Most folks here use the Nazi analogies to refer to the late twenties and early thirties—–the early stages of fascist coalescent social and political policies. What is your view on this since you have referred to it in several posts? Try reading Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle.’ I think that Godwin’s Law is nothing more than a faux propaganda tool to discredit dissent.

  14. karmanot says:

    Lil’ down arrow will be the first cappo to paint the “Work Makes You Free” sign.

  15. Bill_Perdue says:

    I’ve used the analogy of the danger of fascism being apparent in any laws, like Bill Clinton’s DOMA, that make us legally less than citizens and less than human, undeserving of being treated as human.

    These laws and ones that scum like Scott Lively and Obama BBF’s Rick Warren and Donnie McClurkin are pushing in a number of African nations are a real danger and put our lives at stake, and not just in Russian, Iraq and Uganda.

    Whether or not they lead to a strengthening of the police state in Russia is up in the air because of the existence of large and combative left and radicalized workers. Just as Obama’s efforts to expand his wars of aggression and create a police state here are meeting with increasing opposition here.

  16. karmanot says:

    Excellent comment. Points out why present, pogrom loving Russian is once again the pariah of civilized nations.

  17. Bill_Perdue says:

    I suspect that’s largely true for GLBT youth, less so for adults in metropolitan centers and probably universally true for everyone in rural areas and small towns. It’s very much like the period that ended here with Stonewall. Hopefully they can turn Sochi into an enabling and empowering event as powerful as Stonewall, but without the causalities we suffered in that era.

  18. Matt Leary says:

    No, they just killed the children along with them.

  19. Thom Allen says:

    There is a difference between the Russian persecution of LGBTs and the Nazi persecution of Jews. One interesting point made by a gay Russian man on his blog (taken from a discussion he did with a Russian psychologist) is that persecuted Jews had family and community. The psychologist mentioned that when Jews were publicly reviled, beaten, intimidated or harassed, or when they were robbed or had property destroyed, they had families and friends to turn to for help and support. If you got beaten up at school, there was some comfort at home.

    That can’t be said of the situation in Russia. Gays may live in fear of coming out, even to their own families. Dimitry Isakov, a gay activist, was arrested with the help of his family. His father reportedly helped escort him to the police car. With the repressive anti-gay laws in Russia, it may be very difficult for gays to make contact with each other, get together and talk, be supportive. Worse yet, is the case of a gay teen who isn’t out to anyone. Who does he talk to (without getting entrapped, beaten and arrested) if his family is anti-gay and he has no gay peer group to help him? Does he take a chance and meet with someone he contacted online who just might be a neo-Nazi thug who will trap and beat him? Does he try coming out to a parent or family member knowing that he might be denounced and thrown out of the house or be arrested? This situation makes things even more difficult for LGBTQs in Russia now.

  20. BeccaM says:

    Y’know, you’re totally right in one respect.

    The Nazi government never proposed passing laws to take away the children of Jewish parents.

  21. Bill_Perdue says:

    The problem our communities face in Russia is the growing repressive apparatus of the government combined with large numbers of those influenced by the right and the cults. That was the same problem faced by GLBT communities here until relatively recently, and that we still face in much of the country with one crucial exception, police raids on cruising areas seem to be down. It was not an exception though, in the case of Chelsea Manning who was tortured by the Obama Administration. Attacks by thugs are as bad here as they are in Russia, including murders and bashings, with this crucial exception, in Russian bashings happen at our rallies and demonstrations and the police take part in them and never arrest or prosecute the skinheads and orthodox thugs.

    The Russian GLBT communities have their work cut out for them. I hope they can muster a good response at Sochi, given the successful attempts (at least in the West) by the FSB (former KGB) to mount a misinformation campaign against Alekseyev. The only good news is that Putin and the right are facing a growing opposition which will undoubtedly create a climate of radicalization that will ecnourage their fight and help them form alliances.

    The problem of being closeted because of organized government repression is common. In it worst form in islamist Iran and US dominated Iraq it leads to state sponsored mass murder and that’s also what’s in store for us in Uganda, Mali and elsewhere in Africa where cult and state, encouraged by scum like Scott Lively and Obama BBF’s, Rick Warren and Donnie McClurkin.

  22. BeccaM says:

    Step 2 down this all-too-familiar path: A law that will require gay people to wear some kind of identifying symbol as a pocket-patch or armband. Perhaps a pink triangle.

    Step 3: Perhaps a set of dedicated communities, or camps where gay people can be concentrated, surrounded by sturdy fencing and patrolled by guards…for their own safety, of course.

    Step 4: Well… we all know where this always ends.

  23. Monoceros Forth says:

    Yeah. Only evil people have agendas, same as how only evil people are “partisan”. Good conservative people don’t have agendas or belong to political parties I guess!

  24. Naja pallida says:

    That’s why I always laugh when someone brings up the ‘homosexual agenda’. What… wanting to live a life without being harassed, insulted, abused, and tormented is an agenda? Being able to make an honest living, have a family, go to school, and otherwise live in peace is an agenda? Well, hell, then everybody has an “agenda”.

    It was really summed up best by The Onion though.

  25. AndyinChicago says:

    I thought I deleted this post. Apparently it just changed it to guest.

  26. Indigo says:

    It sounds like a good place to get the heck out of.

  27. karmanot says:

    Is like ——a day without grayzip’s facetiousness.

  28. emjayay says:

    More like 1850.

  29. …is the day Russia stops oppressing its minorities :)

  30. woodroad34 says:

    sounds like Anytown, USA in the 1950’s or Los Angeles in the 1970s where police would beat you, harass, or imprison you for being gay or walking the streets after 10:00pm. But what of those softer straight males or those tougher straight females? They could very easily be mistaken for gay (and I’m sure they have) and be beaten, robbed, murdered. This kind of hatred is being fanned red-hot and no matter what the mild-mannered interpretation the Facist Commissars spin on it, the “populace” will take it a step further and more than anything it will start to encompass other “undesirable” minorities. It has to burn out eventually, one way or another, just because this hatred just can’t sustain itself or Putin will start to reap what he sowed with a civil war..

  31. Bose says:

    This is all about privilege, right? As long as one can live reasonably privately and well, separate one’s career from family, and the ability to exit if need be, being gay is no problem!

  32. Marco Luxe says:

    Did any Russian language media pick up this story? The SPT is an English language paper for expats and tourists, according to Wikip. I doubt that this limited press exposure means that Russians are hearing about the controversy.

  33. AndyinChicago says:

    One of these guys is an ex of mine (I know there’s no last name, but how many gay 31 year old lawyers from the UP of Michigan live in Russia right now?), and a really nice guy. I’m kinda worried about him.

  34. AndyinChicago says:

    Oh my god, that’s my ex. We broke up when he moved to Russia and this is really, really weird.

  35. Monoceros Forth says:

    This is all very familiar stuff for anyone who’s heard the following sort of argument from right-wing types in America: “I don’t care if you’re gay or lesbian or whatever; I just don’t want you to be in my face about it.” Or, “I don’t want you to shove it down my throat.” (The throat-shoving metaphor comes up rather too often in this context.) The difficulty is that being “in your face” can be as simple as mentioning that you exist in the first place.

  36. chris10858 says:

    Great analogy used about the Jews and Germany.

  37. StraightGrandmother says:

    I have to agree, this IS the cherry on the Sundae, “All the expats interviewed for this story asked that their last names not be used because they could encounter problems with their
    employers for speaking with the press.”

    What is interesting though is to see the Russians trying to do damage control. This SHOWS that #DumpRussian Vodka was a success. We pushed #DumpRussianVodka into a greater movement/conversation. The Russians are trying to do damage control which means that our message has gotten their attention. Nothing changes unless you have people’s attention.

  38. grayzip says:

    A day without a Nazi parallel is like… well who the hell knows?

  39. jomicur says:

    Yeah, sure. And all gays in the US have the right to marry–as long as they marry someone of the opposite sex. It’s just incredible that anti-gay conservatives think these lines of argument fool anyone (except their own kind, of course). It’s a clear statement of the kind of contempt they hold for anyone who doesn’t see the world the way they do.

  40. rudolf schnaubelt says:

    it’s not a closet it’s a safety spider hole

  41. Lthomas320 says:

    Wow. The mind boggles.

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