“Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”
John F. Kennedy
Although gay marriage was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 and homosexuality ceased to be classified as a mental illness in Russia in 1999, the change in legal status hasn’t changed what most Russians think of the LGBTQ community, nor have greater protections for the LGBTQ community followed. Same-sex marriage is still outlawed in Russia, and the country has no laws on the books prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ Russians. The anti-LGBTQ attitude of Russians may stem from the country’s affiliation with the Orthodox Christian faith, a strict, conservative branch of Christianity. Orthodox Christians believe homosexuality to be a sin, an attack on family and marriage constitute a plurality of Russia’s religious population.
Ironically, many LGBTQ refugees flock to Russia seeking respite from persecution in other countries. Many enter Russia fleeing countries in Russia’s vicinity – Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, for example – where many LGBT people live openly on pain of death. In many other countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, homosexuality remains criminalized. Treatment of these refugees isn’t positive. In July 2018, a gay man from Uzbekistan sought asylum in Russia and was instead greeted with discriminatory taunts. His is just one story of hundreds that tell the truth of how people in the LGBTQ community are treated in Russia.
The situation has gotten worse since Vladimir Putin’s ascendance as Russia’s president. Ten years ago, many more Russians supported their fellow LGBTQ citizens than do today. This is a direct result of a policy Putin signed into law in 2013 that makes it an offense to promote LGBTQ rights in public, itself the product of many state-level laws promulgating the same sort of policies. Many people have stayed closeted, withholding their true sexual identity, for fear of discrimination, violence, and disapproval from their families. Russian enforcement of the law has been zealous. One Russian gay couple attempted to circumvent the law and associated stigma by getting married in Denmark, but upon returning to Russia, the government confiscated the couple’s passports, and the couple was forced to flee from possible danger, seeking asylum in Amsterdam.
The discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ community seemed to reach an unfortunate peak in 2017 when gay men were detained and tortured in Chechnya, a southwestern region of the Russian Federation known for its conservative Muslim population. These men experienced electrocution, solitary confinement, beatings, dunks into ice-cold water, and starvation. All of these inhumane acts were being done under the radar – Chechen officials denied all allegations and even denied the presence of gay people in their republic. Although only men were targeted in the 2017 crackdown, it is likely more dangerous to be a homosexual woman than a homosexual man in Chechnya. Men are free to leave the country on their own, but women are controlled by their families. LGBTQ women either must leave their families and flee their communities or live a closeted lifestyle.
President Putin, along with several other world leaders, has had little to say about these anti-gay campaigns. LGBTQ activists had to take it upon themselves to help the victims of persecution in Chechnya seek asylum and free other prisoners. The acts that have been carried out in Chechnya and ignored by the Russian government prove the very apparent discrimination of the LGBTQ community. The Russian government and the Russian citizens frown upon, torment, and persecute these people because of their sexuality. The new laws passed by the government have only worsened the situation. The lack of knowledge and the significant hate has resulted in thousands of citizens fleeing the country, or worse, cost them their lives.