From Russia with LGBT Love

This past summer, President Vladimir V. Putin passed a law that banned “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships” officially meant to protect children but known to be an anti-LGBT law. The New York Times asked Russians to send in their stories of being LGBT in Russia and several of those stories were published yesterday. The New York Times received over 400 stories from Russians and Russian-Americans and published 9 accounts from LGBT Russians of different ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of the accounts said that the psychological affects on their lives the law has caused has led many to strongly consider leaving the country. Many of the younger Russians spoke of the importance of the Internet in finding other LGBT individuals in Russia and feeling less isolated.

A few of the accounts spoke of coming out to friends and family and the mixed reactions; some positive and supportive, others homophobic. One account from a gay man in a relationship spoke of a false marriage with a lesbian friend in order to hide their true relationships with other people of the same sex. One woman said she and her partner had decided to wait to have children given the political climate. One account spoke of St. Petersburg becoming less tolerant.

Given all this negative press about the new law and the upcoming Sochi Olympics, is it likely more LGBT Russians will have no alternative but to leave their country if the political climate doesn’t improve? What can the US and other countries do to show their support of LGBT individuals around the world?


Russia and Religion

Today in class, we had a very interesting discussion about Russia and religion.  Basically, throughout its entire history, Russia’s relationship to religion has been extreme, almost bipolar.  In tsarist Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church was the only acceptable religion, due to its strong link with the tsar. During this time, Jewish people were heavily persecuted in the pogroms.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Communist Party made atheism the official belief system of the Soviet Union.  This was based off Marxism, which taught that religion was “the opiate of the masses.”  At this time, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) was forced to go underground.  Churches could only be open if a KGB officer was present at Mass. People of all faiths were persecuted during the USSR.

Then, in the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church made a comeback, this time in an even more conservative form.  Only religions with official historical significance to Russia were considered legitimate:  Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, and Islam.  Protestant Christianity has one of the worst receptions in Russia, as the ROC believes Protestants are seeking to convert their parishioners.  It is common for Protestant churches to be shut down.  According to the Forum 18 News Service, a Norwegian organization that reports nation’s violations of religion freedoms, Jehovah’s Witnesses are frequently targeted in Russia.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are often denied freedom of worship, and there is a movement to ban their texts.   Another symptom of Russia’s religious extremism is the rights of LBGT Russians being taken away.

Basically, Russia has existed in a pattern of a religion dominating and then persecuting the other religions. This can be seen as a symptom of the religious trauma Russia has faced.  To suddenly turn from a Russian Orthodox, to an atheist, back to an Orthodox state again in less than 100 years must be traumatic for Russian citizens.  The government needs to realize religious freedom should be extended to all.  Once religious freedom is given, gay rights will hopefully follow. Sadly, ideas such as tolerance and equality cannot be taught.

LGBT Rights Activists Protest Metropolitan Opera Opening Night

On September 23rd, The Metropolitan Opera held its Russian-themed opening gala. The opening was for a piece by Tchaikovsky entitled, “Eugene Onegin”. The activists who protested the opening night gala deplored the recent antigay laws in Russia signed by President Vladimir Putin. The protest against the Met begin when a openly gay composer, Andrew Rudin started an online petition for the Met to dedicate it’s Russian-themed performance to gay rights and the LGBT community in Russia. The petition has been signed by over 9,000 people and spoke of the irony that the work of Tchaikovsky, who was also a gay composer, was being performed by artists who supported a government that had passed anti- LGBT laws.

More interviews with the principal artists and the general manager of the Met can be found in this article:

Does the Metropolitan have the right to perform a Russian piece without any political undertones? Is it ethical to perform the works of a gay Russian composer without acknowledging the suffering of the Russian LGBT community? Russia is not only denying the evidence that one of its greatest artists was a homosexual but also denying human rights to Russian citizens who identify as homosexual or transgender. Should the Met use its cultural significance to denounce antigay legislation? Can culture and politics be truly separate when human rights are at stake?