Russian Lesbians Fight to Retain Freedom
Navhind Times, September 24, 2004
Moscow, September 23 (AFP)—Since
emerging from the shadow of the prudish Soviet Union a decade ago, sexual
minorities have fought to gain a foothold in Russian society. But Russian
lesbians now say they are facing growing pressure from authorities to return
to the closet. “In the past year, I have felt increasing pressure in my
work. My website is controlled, I am asked all sorts of questions when I
travel to a conference,” says Ms Olga Suvorova, who runs the Moscow-based
lesbian group Pinkstar.”Under (former president Boris) Yeltsin, it was much
easier to organise lesbian events and to meet politicians,” laments Ms
Suvorova, who, like many Russian homosexuals, brands the President Mr Vladimir
Putin a “total homophobe”.
But Ms Suvorova says not only the government but also the
Orthodox Church, which underwent a spectacular revival after Russia cast off
its Soviet secularism, has launched a campaign to crack down on homosexuality.
“Lately I have been receiving threatening letters from
the Orthodox Church. At first they just asked us to close our centre, but now
they are threatening to resort to other means if we don’t cease our
activities,” she says.
Male homosexuality in Russia was punishable by up to five
years in prison while lesbians could be locked up in psychiatric institutions
until May 1993, when then-president Mr Boris Yeltsin repealed Article 121 of
the Criminal Code.
But Russian homosexuals are now voicing fears that
homosexuality could be banned again under the current government.
In April, a group of deputies in the State Duma lower
chamber of Parliament tabled an amendment reintroducing prison sentences for
homosexuals as part of what they called a move to “strengthen social morals
and the health of citizens.”
A similar draft law had been proposed at the Duma in 2002
but also voted down. Although it was viewed by many as a publicity stunt, Ms
Suvorova says the amendment sparked jitters of fear across the lesbian
community and does not exclude herself seeing homosexuals becoming outlaws
“Unfortunately everything is possible in our
country,” she says with a sigh.
“It is unpleasant and frankly ridiculous at a time when
European countries are allowing homosexual couples to marry, that we are
returning to the stone ages.”
Moscow’s lesbians say they have no hope in the near
future of gaining any of the legal rights their western counterparts are being
granted such as the right to marry, adopt children or have parental rights
over their partner’s child.
“Under the current regime, all human rights are being
stifled. And there cannot be any talk about sexual minorities’ rights in an
authoritarian regime,” says Ms Rita, a 21-year-old lesbian studying
political science in Moscow.
The authorities’ reluctance to address homosexual
issues has discouraged Russian homosexuals to follow in their western
counterparts’ footsteps and try to sway the government into granting them
“If we want to have a family, have children, we will do
it, we don’t need the state to give us authorisation,” says Ms Natasha, a
19-year-old advertising agent at a big Moscow publishing house.
Many lesbians are also still scared of coming out, Ms
Suvorova comments, speculating that brandishing banners and flaunting one’s
homosexuality in the long run would most likely result in getting beaten up.
Lesbians in Moscow are unanimous in saying that public
opinion has significantly softened its stance on homosexuality over the past
decade. But many say life as a homosexual woman in Russia is still fraught
with fear and discrimination, forcing them to hide their sexual orientation
from their families, friends and colleagues.
“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 centre offers legal
assistance,” Ms Suvorova says.
Ms Inna, a 42-year-old space technology engineer, says
she has yet to muster the courage to tell her colleagues that she is a
lesbian, although her family has known for almost 20 years.
“The most difficult situations arise at work, where I
am constantly asked when I’m finally going to marry and have children,”
“But some of my colleagues talk of homosexuals as
though they were some kind of perverts, and I just cannot bring myself to tell
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