Last edited: November 21, 2004

Russian Gays See Return to Repressive Era, September 24, 2004

By Malcolm Thornberry, Newscenter, European Bureau Chief

Moscow—Russian gays say a dark cloud is descending on the country bringing with it a return to the repressions of the Soviet era.

Homosexuality was illegal under the old Soviet regime. Gay men were sentenced up to five years in prison, while lesbians were often locked up in psychiatric hospitals—often for the remainder of their lives. In 1993 under then-president Boris Yeltsin the Duma or parliament, repealed the law.

“It was like a cloud was lifted from over our heads,” said Dmitri, a 43 year old Moscow man who is still reluctanct to give his last name.

Gay clubs that had been underground suddenly emerged and a gay political sense began to develop.

But, many gays and lesbians fear it is all about to end.

Led by extreme conservatives and even many moderates in the Duma and with the support of the Russian Orthodox Church pressure is mounting to drive gays back under ground.

“In the past year, I have felt increasing pressure,” said Olga Suvorova, who runs the Moscow-based lesbian group Pinkstar.

Lately I have been receiving threatening letters from the Orthodox Church,” she said. “At first they just asked us to close our center, but now they are threatening to resort to other means if we don’t cease our activities.”

In April legislation was introduced in the Duma to re-impose the ban on gay sex. The bill has been tabled, and could come up at any time. In June another bill that equated homosexuality with pedophilia and alcoholism and which would have barred people in all three groups from holding seats in the Duma, was narrowly defeated.

While gays in many parts of the world are living open lives, gay couples in Russia still live as “roommates”. There are no domestic partner rights, let alone gay marriage, there is no chance of adopting children, and many couples lead isolated lives.

“People are scared. Women come to tell me they were fired from their job and openly told it was because of their sexual orientation. But they are scared to sue, although our center offers legal assistance,” Suvorova said.

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