On October 29th, members of the communist party brought a bill to the Federal State Duma prohibiting coming-out. The party members came up with an initiative of administrative punishment for “pubic expression of non-traditional sexual relations”. The fines for violating this likely-to-be-enacted-soon law are to vary from 4 to 5 thousand rubles, also presenting potential law-breakers with the opportunity to be held in a 15 day detention. The reason behind bringing about this new law is due to the inefficiency of the previous law against propaganda of homosexuality among minors, informed the bill authors.
How will this prohibitive state policy influence the development of LGBT activism? Why do homosexual couples need to register a marriage? Who are the queer? How should discrimination against women be handled both inside and outside the LGBT community?
Moskvaer has discussed all this and much more with the founder of the Center of Socio-Psychological and Cultural projects “Resource LGBTQIA Moscow” Julie Malygina and the Center psychologist Anna Golubeva.
M: Julie, Anna, thank you for accepting our invitation to attend this face-to-face conversation. It´s a common fact that the members of the LGBT community are more likely to reach out to the society via parades and actions designed for mostly unilateral communication. The reasons for this seem to be clear, but do you personally think that refusing to have a dialogue is an appropriate and consistent means of social activity here?
JULIE: We admit that a lot more work in the area of communicating with the media is required, so the topic is rather relevant for our agenda. Of course we prepare thoroughly for each interview, investigate the interviewers and their background. Unfortunately, not all activists do this, which often results in bad experiences, which later shape their attitude towards the media in general. It’s pretty obvious that our press is non-democratic and tends to willfully mislead readers. We’ve all heard how some journalists manipulate speakers who’re ready to discuss controversial topics and force them to say things they would never say in a different environment. Once words are spoken you can never recall them – thus they become the speakers’ unwanted tag making their first press experience also the last one. Personally, I do understand the gravity of the situation, that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.
M: The LGBT topic is extremely popular in Russia in recent years. Is it LGBT activism that provokes new initiatives from authorities repeatedly, or the opposite – who currently knows? But how do you personally see the situation, and what is your role in it?
JULIE: Currently, the LGBT topic is really one of the most burning issues of the day. All these Milonovs and Mizulinas made for homopropaganda even more than any LGBT activist did.
But talking about activism, I’d like to emphasize that the LGBT-community is non-uniform itself, and a controversial attitude to publicity formed inside it. Some participants of the community are not satisfied with all this LGBT activity. Like ‘everything is already bad with tolerance, why would you attract even more attention to that?’ They think that actions provokes violence, tightening of laws and such.
Actions cause an irritation of authorities and they, in turn, react in their own way, and that is how the conflict escalates.
To me personally that opposition is destructive, which is why I choose to work in the psychology field, to support the community by strengthening its internal resources.
Our main tasks are to provide psychological help to everyone who needs it, forming a strong community, and to communicate with psychologists and other professionals, who share our idea.
ANNA: I would like to add that declaring yourself, as activists do, is overall a quite important part. Those who do this part of shared work deserve all the respect. And even though some people of the community think we don’t need publicity, I believe that most of us do support activists. I also believe that those who organize actions and who declare themselves publically can be considered to be true heroes.
I personally find myself more useful in non-political, supporting work with the community, in providing psychological help. But in ordinary life I do some activism as well. For example, coming out is a strong power, which is able to change social consciousness. So when you state to your friends or colleagues, that you are lesbian, that can be considered activism.
M: For the LGBT, does the issue of communication with the outside world prevail over internal issues, such as identity conflict?
ANNA: These things are tied together. Internal homophobia is a big problem. Especially in Russia, where humans have to live in a society that rejects their sexual orientation on the government level. It is difficult to go through, and has an influence on self-awareness. One who lives in an intolerant society for a long time and who at the at the same time feels a belonging to a minority, starts to doubt that he is normal or that everything is alright with him.
JULIE: I can add that every newcomer in our supporting groups are firstly talking about the issue of coming out to family and friends.
M: The public opposition of the LGBT by authorities has given a strongly intolerant and even puritan label to the country in general, and Moscow particularly. Many foreigners, for instance, are sure that it’s a life danger to be openly gay in Moscow. At the same time, very often I meet gays and lesbians in the city who don’t hide their sexual preferences. So ultimately, is the city that dangerous for the LGBT or is there some exaggeration?
JULIE: As a megalopolis, Moscow gives you a sort of freedom. Here it feels like you don’t know anyone, and even when you meet a person, you never know if you will meet each other ever again or not. This atmosphere of foreignness neither threatens you, nor supports you.
It is much worse in regions, worse, and dangerous indeed.
M: Is it true that lesbians in Russia face less discrimination than gays?
JULIE: Yes, it is more dangerous to be openly gay than a lesbian in Russia. The public is more tolerant to women. It has happened, because the so-called ‘ponyatia’–prisoners’ values–were highly popular in our culture during Soviet times. Eventually these norms have been integrated into Russia’s official ideology or discourse. Applying the prisoners’ values, a gay is a human being without any rights who is constantly humiliated or physically abused by his cellmates. So it is safer to be a lesbian, because the public considers that ‘a real Russian man’–mujik–can change her mind and sexual orientation. But we should definitely understand that such kind of expressions and opinions are categorized as discrimination as well.
M: Are there any conflicts or problems inside the LGBT community?
JULIE: I can definitely say that the Russian gay community is much stronger than the lesbian one, because the men are richer, so they have more resources to protect themselves and create socializing places for gays: night-clubs, bars, and saunas. Of course, all these things are illegal.
Russian lesbians have fewer opportunities for creating socializing places than gays, just because they are women. Unfortunately, gender matters in Russia, so females are considered to be an inferior class in relation to men. Therefore, a lesbian as well as an ordinary Russia woman is less protected and respected than man.
Unfortunately, even gays and transgenders discriminate against lesbians, so feminist issues are acute not only in general society, but inside the LGBT community as well.
M: All over the world, the LGBT actively fight for homosexual marriages. Can you explain this desire to get into the System? I always thought that freedom starts somewhere outside it…
JULIE: Inside the community the same voices sound: “We are fighting for freedom, we don’t need no law, no approvals and no official marriages. Let the sexual revolution begin!” And such… This opinion is actually understandable.
ANNA: …but the thing is that the biggest part of the community doesn’t consist of hippies. Most people want to have a family, approved by the government. To me it’s not a freedom when other people can choose–to marry or to not marry–and I can’t. If no one had that choice, then fine, no one will get married, but that’s not how it is, right?
What is important in marriage is that it establishes a kinship. If I lived together with someone for ten or twenty years and this person is no one to me by law, that’s lawlessness. A couple might have common property or children, whom they, for example, in some cases, would prefer to leave with their life partner instead of official relatives, as law requires in the absence of an official registration of marriage.
JULIE: The recognition of marriages is a direct duty of the government to the citizens who pay taxes and work honestly for that government.
M: Please, tell more about “Resource LGBTQIA Moscow”.
JULIE: The center has existed in its current format for about three years already. Its history began in 2011 when I started to hold a regular psychological assistance group for LGBT in Moscow.
Today, the Center provides social and psychological support to members of the LGBTQIA community, LGBTQIA families as well as the loved ones of LGBTQIAs, supports social and cultural initiatives, enlightening and building tolerance towards the LGBTQIA community and specialists of the helping professions. The abbreviation expansion is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual.
M: Please tell more about “Q”. As I understand, queers are against being a part of any union. How hard is it to build relationships with those people? Do they personally want to be included in that abbreviation?
JULIE: The abbreviation can be modified, it’s changeable. And the unity of the community is not given once and forever, it can change too. Letters can be changed or added… There are a lot of positions by which people can be combined–not only sexual orientation or gender identity.
That is a big question for the LGBT community all over the world–how to keep the diversity and unity at the same time. This problem is not solved yet.
For the Center, it is very important to be accessible for everyone which is why we put QIA in the abbreviation. Despite the fact that queers manifest their severalty, we say: our doors are open to everybody, and we are ready to support anyone, any time. Maybe we know only a little about them, but we are open-minded and ready for changes and for new knowledge. We want to meet the needs of the people who come to get some help.
M: So queer people do come to the groups?
АNNA: Yes, of course.
M: Apart from psychological help, the “Resource LGBTQIA Moscow” organizes cultural projects. What kind of projects are they? And, most importantly, who funds them?
JULIE: The center itself is not funded by anyone, it is self-sustaining. We charge a nominal fee for visiting groups–from 200 to 300 rubles, it allows us to cover the rent. All professionals who work in the Center are volunteers. Talking about cultural projects, in 2014 we won the grant for the photo-therapeutic art project “Display of Intimacy” with LGBTQIA-families, which ended up with a photo exhibition.
The literary club “Rainbow Lamp” is actively functioning in the framework of the Centre. A collection of prose and poetry of LGBT writers will be published soon on the means of club members.
Apart from that, I’d like to tell about one important project of the Center—a LGBTQIA marriage and partnerships conference called “Challenging family values in modern society”. It will take place on November 14-15 in Moscow.
We plan to address the theme of family relationships and values in modern society and the LGBTQIA community particularly, the theme of partnerships and marriage in their psychological, social, legal and human rights aspects.
*The photos below are by Julie Malygina for the “Display of Intimacy” exhibition.
M: Vladimir Putin once said in an interview, that “the problem of sexual minorities in Russia is deliberately inflated from the outside for political reasons. We don’t have a problem.” and “Homosexual people safely live in Russia, work, seek promotions and receive state awards for their achievements in science, art or in some other areas. They are given awards, I personally handed some out”, – the president claimed. What would you say to that?
JULIE: I would say, our president has a very good speechwriter. No reproach… He does hand the awards, indeed. But the thing is that no one he handed an award to, would ever say a word of truth about their sexual orientation.
Well, the president says there’s no discrimination, we answer–there is! And it first of all touches vulnerable groups, not the people, who are honored with the president’s awards. We generally live in a discriminative and lawless country. Not only does the LGBT have no rights in Russia, but no one does. We are terribly intolerant of each other, even in everyday life. And to me personally, the fight for rights goes not only for the LGBT but also for all vulnerable groups of society.
By the way, one of the vectors of LGBT activism today is a vector of association with other discriminated communities in defending rights together. For example, now in St. Petersburg LGBT activists collaborate with LGBT people with disabilities.
We would gladly cooperate with all groups, whose interests are somehow prejudiced, but there is a problem of distorted perceptions of the LGBT community. The LGBT is associated with something shameful, which is why other discriminated groups have shied away from us.
M: What has changed?
АNNА: The struggle for LGBT rights became the agenda, and, moreover, a symbol of the general fight for human rights. And human rights activists realized that in this field we are fighting on the same side. And, interestingly, the popularization of LGBT issues pushes practically every Russian citizen to make some internal elections. You can be arbitrarily far from the topic of LGBT, but internally, thanks to all the hype, you feel the need to decide which side you choose to support…
M: I cannot disagree. Anna, Julie, thank you for the interview and good luck!