'O' & 'D'
Lesbian couple ‘O’ (27, right) and ‘D’ (23, left).
One night they were on their way home after a jazz concert, it was late by the time they got off at their subway stop and as they as they exited the exited the station via an escalator were alone apart from two men in front of them. As they travelled up to street level, they took each other’s hand and kissed.
They came out of the subway and starting walking home. Suddenly ‘O’ felt a blow to the back of her neck: “Fucking lesbians” the stranger yelled. He then turned and punched ‘D’ in the face. ‘O’ tried to defend her but was punched in the face too. ‘O’ screamed at the attackers: “what are you doing? We are just sisters.” He replied, “Don’t lie, I saw you kissing and you are spreading LGBT propaganda”. The remark was in reference to the ‘Anti LGBT Propaganda Towards Minors’ law recently adopted in Russia.
He continued to kick and punch ‘O’ and ‘D’ screaming “No LGBT” and finally “If I see you again I will kill you” and then left. All this time the other man was filming the attack with his phone.
Talking about the attack ‘O’ says: “The real fear I experienced was not for myself, it was for the one I love. The fear struck me when I realised I couldn’t do anything to protect her.” ‘O’ continues: “Now, in Russia, holding hands is dangerous for us. But if the goal of these attackers was to separate us, they failed. They only made our relationship stronger.”
32 year old Grisha Zaritovsky until 2011 worked as an after school theatre teacher. Away from work he was involved in LGBT activism although few people at his work knew of his sexuality or activism.
In October 2011 he was involved in a protest against the proposed law banning ‘propaganda’ for ‘non-traditional sexual relationships’. He was arrested with one other activist. The police leaked his arrest to the media which was then reported on Russian news websites and was seen by his boss and three weeks later his boss asked him to come into the office to discuss the arrest.
He was asked to leave the school. He agreed, he says, as some of his colleagues there were gay and he thought if he fought the decision they could also get dragged into the issue.
Grisha regrets now not fighting harder to keep his job. He is frustrated that as an activist he puts himself at risk, gets arrested, and everything remains the same. Grisha now works as a drag queen dancing, singing, and performing stand up in two different gay clubs in St Petersburg.
25 year old bisexual Olga Bakhaeva.
Olga resigned from her position as a high school history teacher in Magnitogorsk when the director of the school discovered her sexuality. The director, under pressure from the Education Board, told her not to support LGBT and other groups in opposition to the government.
The environment at the school became hostile when Olga continued to be active on social media. She says she felt humiliated by the director of the school when she outed her in front of other teachers. Privately, afterwards, she was told by the director of the school “It would be better if you found another job”.
Olga says that the director was not actually concerned with her sexuality but was worried about the reputation of the school should she not act. In Russia, laws have been made, purportedly, to protect children from LGBT ‘propaganda’.
According to several LGBT teachers, even if there is no law stating LGBT teachers cannot be employed, it is, in reality, not possible to be openly LGBT and a teacher in Russian Government schools or Universities which are generally very pro-government. After Olga resigned her activism increased. Now she is a strong supporter of the LGBT non-governmental organisation ComingOut SPB and bi-sexual non-governmental organisation LuBi.
25 year old Ruslan Savolaynen is a survivor of multiple homophobic attacks.
These assaults include being knocked unconscious by skinheads using a baseball bat while out walking his dog, this resulted in a brain injury and short-term memory loss. On another occasion he had a bottle smashed over his head by intoxicated youths after a night at a gay club resulting in severe concussion.
He was also attacked in a straight bar once by a group of youths angered that he and another gay friend had danced with one of their female friends “Faggots shouldn’t dance with our woman!” they said and two of the men beat Ruslan. The attack resulted in concussion, memory loss, and retinal detachment. They went to the police, but the police did nothing.
In yet another attack his leg was broken when he was pushed in front of a moving car. Ruslan has survived other multiple attacks. He is left with frequent head-aches, nose bleeds and doctors fear he has had a cerebral haemorrhage.
23 year old Darya Volkova.
Late one night in the first week of March 2011, Darya was attacked on her way home from a driving lesson. For two months before that she had received threats on social media. She would receive messages like ‘death to lesbians’, ‘burn in hell’, ‘if you won’t shut up we will find you’, ‘we know where you live, we will find you and you will pay for it’, ‘we will kill you’.
These were in response to her coming out as a lesbian and her street activism. As she walked through a park on the way home heard the foot steps of several people behind her, they shouted for her to stop, she started walking faster until she came across two men blocking her path wearing balaclavas. She was surrounded.
They started to push her and shout ‘death to lesbians’, ‘burn in hell’. One of them threw a punch which she was able to block, and then she felt a powerful blow on her back as one of the men struck her with a baseball bat. She fell to the ground. She was kicked and beaten with baseball bats until she was knocked unconscious. One of them men then stabbed her in the stomach.
She lay bleeding for what must have been around four hours before she was found. By that time she had lost a lot of blood. She was rushed to the hospital. Several times her heart stopped after surgery. After being discharged from hospital and spending a week resting she went to the police: “they just laughed at me,” she said “you got what you deserve… we don’t serve lesbians here”.
She was scared to go back to the area so moved away. She still receives threats on social media. No investigation into the attack has ever been made. “I really hope that destiny will judge them,” she says.
21 year old Artyom says he always knew he was different but didn’t accept he was gay until his second year of university.
From the age of 12 he was teased and beaten by other students because he acted and spoke effeminately. The bullying was ignored by teachers. Artyom had no friends. By 16, the name calling and physical violence, the intense feeling of isolation, and the break up of his parents drove him to consider suicide “I just wanted to disappear”.
He contemplated overdosing himself with medication but the thought of leaving his mother alone stopped him. He denied his sexuality to himself until his second year in university when he finally ‘came out’ to himself. He feels much freer now that he knows he is not alone and has discovered he can be liked by others. He is currently training to be a model.