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Gay Russia

Russia is generally seen as seriously lagging in terms of gay rights, but in the nearly 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union the history of attitudes toward Russia's gay community has been a roller coaster. From pushing boundaries with provocative musical exports to a grim U-turn under Vladimir Putin, the path of Russia's LGBT community has been a challenging one.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Nikolai Podgrony, the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, are locked into a "socialist fraternal kiss" inside the Kremlin in 1975. Homosexuality was made illegal by Stalin in 1933. The law could punish gay men with up to five years hard labor. Lesbianism was never criminalized but thorazine, an early antipsychotic medication, was recommended to "cure" gay women.
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Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Nikolai Podgrony, the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, are locked into a "socialist fraternal kiss" inside the Kremlin in 1975. Homosexuality was made illegal by Stalin in 1933. The law could punish gay men with up to five years hard labor. Lesbianism was never criminalized but thorazine, an early antipsychotic medication, was recommended to "cure" gay women.

A portrait from Moscow in 1992 captioned "lovers Sergei and Gennady." After President Boris Yeltsin decriminalized "male love" in 1993, homosexuality remained a whispered secret, but with society beginning to look outwards, things looked set to change.
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A portrait from Moscow in 1992 captioned "lovers Sergei and Gennady." After President Boris Yeltsin decriminalized "male love" in 1993, homosexuality remained a whispered secret, but with society beginning to look outwards, things looked set to change.

Gay and Lesbian Union activist Yelena Moroz photographed in 1993. In the early '90s, activists were gradually making gay voices heard. In 1992, the Los Angeles Times reported "Russian society already has grown more tolerant of homosexuality. Vendors sell gay newspapers openly in subway stations and along underground walkways. A floating gay disco in Moscow attracts scores of young men and women every weekend."  
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Gay and Lesbian Union activist Yelena Moroz photographed in 1993. In the early '90s, activists were gradually making gay voices heard. In 1992, the Los Angeles Times reported "Russian society already has grown more tolerant of homosexuality. Vendors sell gay newspapers openly in subway stations and along underground walkways. A floating gay disco in Moscow attracts scores of young men and women every weekend."

 

In 2002, Russian pop duo t.A.T.u exploded onto the international music scene with a video featuring a rain-soaked same-sex kiss. They were soon dubbed "the hottest pop stars in the world right now."  
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In 2002, Russian pop duo t.A.T.u exploded onto the international music scene with a video featuring a rain-soaked same-sex kiss. They were soon dubbed "the hottest pop stars in the world right now."

 

American DJ Tasty Tim hosting a gay dance party at a Moscow club in 2003. Journalist Masha Gessen, who lived in Russia at the time, recalled, "I spent the '90s being pretty much the only publicly out person in the country, and by the 2000s it started getting a little bit better, and by the late 2000s there would be several openly gay people more or less anyplace I worked or went to. So it was a slow process, but it was moving in the right direction."
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American DJ Tasty Tim hosting a gay dance party at a Moscow club in 2003. Journalist Masha Gessen, who lived in Russia at the time, recalled, "I spent the '90s being pretty much the only publicly out person in the country, and by the 2000s it started getting a little bit better, and by the late 2000s there would be several openly gay people more or less anyplace I worked or went to. So it was a slow process, but it was moving in the right direction."

Gay women on a cruise in Moscow in 2005
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Gay women on a cruise in Moscow in 2005

Then things changed. In 2006, under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, the small city of Ryazan imposed a ban on "homosexual propaganda." Gessen says it was "the first law in Russia that actually enshrined second-class citizenship [for LGBT people]." This picture shows skinheads in Moscow preparing to confront a planned gay-rights parade in 2007. 
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Then things changed. In 2006, under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, the small city of Ryazan imposed a ban on "homosexual propaganda." Gessen says it was "the first law in Russia that actually enshrined second-class citizenship [for LGBT people]." This picture shows skinheads in Moscow preparing to confront a planned gay-rights parade in 2007. 

British rights activist Peter Tatchell in Moscow a moment away from being cracked in his right eye in 2007. Requests to hold gay-pride marches in the city in 2006 and 2007 were rejected by the authorities. When activists went ahead, they were attacked. 
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British rights activist Peter Tatchell in Moscow a moment away from being cracked in his right eye in 2007. Requests to hold gay-pride marches in the city in 2006 and 2007 were rejected by the authorities. When activists went ahead, they were attacked. 

Tatchell, moments after the punch, being detained by Russian police. The images of nonviolent protesters being attacked with near impunity ushered in a new era in Russia. Far right groups and Orthodox Christian extremists seemed to have been given carte blanche for violence against gay activists.
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Tatchell, moments after the punch, being detained by Russian police. The images of nonviolent protesters being attacked with near impunity ushered in a new era in Russia. Far right groups and Orthodox Christian extremists seemed to have been given carte blanche for violence against gay activists.

An egg splatters over young gay-rights activists after an attempted "kiss-in" in front of the Russian parliament in Moscow in 2013. Vladimir Putin himself has maintained a publicly benign attitude to Russia's LGBT community and has repeatedly claimed Russia does not discriminate against gays. 
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An egg splatters over young gay-rights activists after an attempted "kiss-in" in front of the Russian parliament in Moscow in 2013. Vladimir Putin himself has maintained a publicly benign attitude to Russia's LGBT community and has repeatedly claimed Russia does not discriminate against gays. 

In 2015, the Russian president said, “I believe there should not be any... prosecution or infringement of people’s rights on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religious or sexual orientation.”
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In 2015, the Russian president said, “I believe there should not be any... prosecution or infringement of people’s rights on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religious or sexual orientation.”

Another participant in the protest against the "gay propaganda" ban being attacked by youths in Moscow. Despite Putin's public statements, activists say the law he signed prohibiting the spread of gay "propaganda" among minors has encouraged discrimination and violence. Putin has also been criticized for bolstering the careers of homophobic public figures. 
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Another participant in the protest against the "gay propaganda" ban being attacked by youths in Moscow. Despite Putin's public statements, activists say the law he signed prohibiting the spread of gay "propaganda" among minors has encouraged discrimination and violence. Putin has also been criticized for bolstering the careers of homophobic public figures. 

Rights activists run a gauntlet of riot police as debris rains down during a gay pride event in St. Petersburg in 2013.   
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Rights activists run a gauntlet of riot police as debris rains down during a gay pride event in St. Petersburg in 2013. 

 

A protest against Russian laws relating to gay "propaganda" in the Netherlands. The international outcry at the treatment of Russia's gays appears to have had little effect. There is widespread sentiment within Russia that Western values are a threat to Russian culture.
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A protest against Russian laws relating to gay "propaganda" in the Netherlands. The international outcry at the treatment of Russia's gays appears to have had little effect. There is widespread sentiment within Russia that Western values are a threat to Russian culture.

Women at a private gay club in St. Petersburg in 2013. A survey taken in 2013 showed 74 percent of Russians thought homosexuality was unacceptable in society, with a further 5 percent saying gays should be "liquidated."
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Women at a private gay club in St. Petersburg in 2013. A survey taken in 2013 showed 74 percent of Russians thought homosexuality was unacceptable in society, with a further 5 percent saying gays should be "liquidated."

By 2015, attitudes had hardened further, with polls revealing that antigay feelings were worse than they had been a decade earlier. In a 2014 interview, former t.A.T.u singer Yulia Volkova, once a poster girl for LGBT people around the world, said she would condemn her son if he came out as gay and that "a man has no right to be a fag."
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By 2015, attitudes had hardened further, with polls revealing that antigay feelings were worse than they had been a decade earlier. In a 2014 interview, former t.A.T.u singer Yulia Volkova, once a poster girl for LGBT people around the world, said she would condemn her son if he came out as gay and that "a man has no right to be a fag."

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