NPR Story
2:58 pm
Mon September 2, 2013

Russian Activists: Anti-Gay Violence On The Rise

Originally published on Mon September 2, 2013 2:55 pm

In Russia, gay rights groups say that a new law restricting the spread of information about homosexuality has sparked a wave of violence against the gay and lesbian community.

The Russian authorities deny persecuting sexual minorities. They say the law is designed to protect children from what they say is harmful information.

The issue has some calling for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.

The BBC’s Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg reports.

Reporter

  • Steve Rosenberg, Moscow correspondent for BBC News. He tweets @BBCSteveR.
Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW. The Russian government is denying it, but gay rights groups in Russia say that new law restricting any spread of information about homosexuality hasn't just sparked violence against gays and lesbians, it's led to vigilante groups, and of course it's led to calls from some quarters for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Russia. The BBC's Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE ROSENBERG: At the Lighthouse Cabaret Club in Sochi, the city that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics, the music is loud, the tobacco smoke thick in the air, and the dance floor packed with gay couples enjoying an evening out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSENBERG: It's a relaxed atmosphere and(ph) from the smiles and the open displays of affection here, you may think that being gay in Russia is problem-free. But the club's co-owner, Andrei, tells a different story.

ANDREI TANICHEV: (Through translator) In Russia there's growing hostility towards homosexuals. It's becoming more dangerous on the streets. So many gays here have changed how they dress. They removed earrings, changed their hairstyles, to avoid problems. Even back in the USSR, where homosexuality was criminalized, gays were treated better than they are now in Russia. Ordinary people consider us criminals. They hate us.

ROSENBERG: There's evidence of that in a series of shocking videos which have been posted online. In this one, a Russian vigilante group is forcing a man to drink urine, to cure him, they say, of being a homosexual and a pedophile.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUSSIAN CROSSTALK)

ROSENBERG: Another person in the video says if I found out a friend of mine was gay, I'd slit his throat.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLANGING)

ROSENBERG: Then they put a metal bucket over the victim's head and hit it with a baseball bat and a police truncheon. Attacks like this are being carried out across Russia by an ultra-nationalist group. It claims it's punishing pedophiles. But from the tone of the videos, these encounters come across as homophobic attacks.

In another clip, a woman armed with a gun, dressed in camouflage, jokes that she's out on safari hunting for pedophiles and gays. Then she starts shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

ROSENBERG: The woman's name is Yekaterina. We track her down in St. Petersburg, where she's the local vigilante chief.

YEKATERINA: (Through translator) Our priority is uncovering cases of pedophilia, but we're also against the promotion of homosexuality. And if along the way we encounter people of nontraditional sexual orientation, we can kill two birds with one stone.

ROSENBERG: Gay rights activists believe that in Russia the aggression being shown towards the gay community is a direct result of a controversial new law signed by President Putin, one that portrays homosexuality as a danger to children. It's now illegal here to spread information about nontraditional sexual relations to anyone under 18. Anastasiya Smirnova is with the human rights group the Russian LGBT Network.

ANASTASIYA SMIRNOVA: The law, it's a great danger in terms of what kind of opinions it shapes. It entitles people to mob rule, to organized violence against those who they perceive to be dangerous to the society, dangerous to families, dangerous to children. It creates this very hostile climate for LGBT people.

ROSENBERG: Moscow has come in for huge international criticism over the law on gay propaganda. There have even been calls in the West for a boycott of next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, but the Russian authorities are unrepentant.

VITALY MILONOV: For traditional Russian population, homosexuality is a sin. It's a sin.

ROSENBERG: Politician Vitaly Milonov is one of the architects of the legislation. He believes that societies which permit the promotion of homosexuality are sick.

MILONOV: We do not attack any sexual minorities, but they should not try to change the Russian traditions that is supported by 90 percent of population. We would like to have a healthy society, and a health society can be based only on healthy values.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSENBERG: Back at the gay cabaret in Sochi, it's time for the live show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Funny how a lonely day can make a person say what good is my life.

ROSENBERG: The club owner, Andrei, says that as worried as he is, he doesn't back a boycott of the Olympics. What's more, he's worried that support from the West may be making things worse.

TANICHEV: (Through Translator) The more the West support gays in Russia, the more Russian people hate us. That's because the accepted wisdom here is that the West is evil.

ROSENBERG: Still, Andre is hoping that the Winter Olympics will change Russia and make it a more tolerant place, and by doing so, make him feel safer in his own country.

YOUNG: The BBC's Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Well, we have been getting a lot of feedback on our conversation today about unions and how young people, in particular, view them. On our Facebook page, Kathy Godbout(ph) points out the historical contributions of unions. Do you have the weekend off with pay, she writes. For that matter, did you have a paid vacation this summer? Do you get paid overtime? Do you get a coffee break? Are you covered by a pension? If the answer is yes to any of those questions, thank a union.

YOUNG: A lot of sentiment like that. Susan Julian Gates says, I'm pretty sure my adult children have little understanding of how the course of their lives would have been very different if their maternal grandparents hadn't had to Steel Workers' Union. But there are also, Jeremy, voices of dissent. Mary Wilmire(ph) writes, I'm 70 years old. One of my children is a union member, but even he does not experience paid holidays. The other two have no pension benefits. Time for change, she says.

HOBSON: Well, Tara Lynne Wall(ph) writes, I'm my retail career, I had a chance to join a union and I didn't. Ultimately, I wanted to make my own decisions about what candidates I gave donations to and how I would vote on local political issues and policies in my area, to which Todd Hellmann(ph) replied, rich people belong to unions. They're just called lobbyists. Working people need to belong to a group that has their interest in mind. For people like Tara who say they choose not to belong to a union because they want to make their own decisions, I say, nonsense. When you work for a non-union shop, you get absolutely no say.

YOUNG: And one last one from Frank Rue(ph). He used to teach. He says he's amazed at how anti-union young people are. Are we failing to help them understand a decent days pay for a decent days work, health care, other issues? What happened? You can join the conversation at facebook.com/hereandnowradio or go to hereandnow.org (unintelligible). Back in a minute, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.