A brief history of homophobia in Russia



“Thanks to Dear Stalin for our happy childhoods” | Etsy | 14413

Dan Healy of the Moscow Times has given us a history of homophobia in Russia.

“Orthodox clerics condemned sex between men and youths. They also condemned men who shaved, used make-up, or wore gaudy clothing as devotees of the “sodomitical sin.””

Peter the Great outlawed sex between men in his Military Code of 1716, to be punished by flogging, and male rape, by penal servitude. In 1835, motivated by reports of vice in the Empire’s boarding schools, Tsar Nicholas I formally extended the ban on male same-sex relations to wider society in a new criminal code. Men who engaged in voluntary “sodomy” (muzhelozhstvo) were exiled to Siberia; sodomy with minors or the use of force netted exile with hard labor. This law remained in force until 1917. There was no law against lesbian relations.

Tsarist Russia avoided enforcing the law against upper-class homosexuals. There was no Russian equivalent to Oscar Wilde, Colonel Alfred Redl of Hungary, or Prince Eulenberg of Germany. Many supporters of the Romanov dynasty, and members of the tsar’s family, were flagrantly gay but when the government drafted a new criminal code — never to be adopted — in 1903, it continued to criminalize male homosexuality.

When revolution came in 1917, the Provisional Government wanted to enact the 1903 criminal code, but lost power to the Bolsheviks, who abrogated all tsarist law in November 1917. Until 1922 there was no written criminal law.

Police raids had been conducted on circles of “pederasts” in Moscow and Leningrad who were accused of spying; they had also “politically demoralized various social layers of young men, including young workers, and even attempted to penetrate the army and navy.”

Stalin forwarded Yagoda’s letter to Lazar Kaganovich, noting “these scoundrels must receive exemplary punishment” and directing that a law against “pederasty” be adopted. The new law was adopted for all the Soviet republics in March 1934, with a minimum sentence of three to five years for consenting male homosexuality.

Healy continues:

“Harry Whyte, a British Communist working for the English-language Moscow Daily News wrote to Stalin in May 1934, asking him to justify the new law. He boldly explained why it violated Marxist principles. He asked Stalin, “Can a homosexual be considered a person fit to become a member of the Communist Party?” Stalin scrawled across the letter, “An idiot and a degenerate. To the archives.”

The anti-homosexual law remained in place until 1993 in Russia. Without access to FSB and presidential archives we have only a rough idea of how many men were prosecuted under it; at minimum, tens of thousands suffered.

De-Stalinization under Nikita Khrushchev actually cemented the law in place. In 1958 the Interior Ministry issued a secret decree “on the strengthening of the struggle against sodomy,” telling police to enforce the law with renewed vigor. From this date about 1,000 men were imprisoned annually in the Soviet Union for their homosexuality. Soviet authorities worried that the millions of men released from the single-sex Gulag camps were a source of “sexual perversion” dangerous to Soviet society.

Discussions during the Perestroika years seemed to point toward reform, but the Interior Ministry fought vigorously against any relaxation. In April 1993, as part of a package to bring Russian legislation in line with Council of Europe standards, the Yeltsin administration decriminalized male homosexuality, but there was no amnesty for the hundreds of men still in prison under the law at that time.

In 2002, during a Duma debate about changes to sex-crime legislation, nationalist-conservative deputies called for the re-criminalization of voluntary sodomy and for the first time in a millennium of Russian legal history, the criminalization of lesbian acts. The Kremlin ignored these calls, but the status of Russia’s lesbians and gays remains an open question. Like Harry Whyte in 1934, we might well ask, “Can a homosexual be considered a person fit to be a citizen of the Russian Federation?””



40 years of gay sport



UK Gay Aquatics Club Out to Swim, Cologne, Germany, 2010 | Unknown photographer | Gay Star News | 14414

Gay Star News have been speaking to Chris Morgan, Gay Games Ambassador who recently produced a timeline tracing the history of LGBT sport in the UK.

It was not until the 1970s that the first LGBT sports clubs began to form, with running, swimming and tennis among the first to establish dedicated gay and lesbian teams. The first Gay Games were held in San Francisco in 1982. Since the 1980s new clubs have continued to be established in every conceivable sport. Establishing an LGBT sports club is hard work, takes an enormous amount of energy and requires a number of passionate people to give the club focus and momentum. Making a club sustainable beyond that initial core group of people is equally challenging and it’s not uncommon for clubs to have a short lifespan if they have been unable to build a strong membership base or the infrastructure required for future growth.


Castration of minors to eradicate homosexuality in 1950s Holland



Where the abuse took place: Harreveld, a former boarding school | Unknown photographer | 14416

Dutch MPs called for an investigation into the case of young men under the age of 21 allegedly castrated in the 1950s by the Roman Catholic Church ‘to get rid of homosexuality.’

MPs will raise the issue after a Dutch newspaper revealed details of the punishments – which had not been exposed by an official investigation into sexual abuse within the Church published last year. The NRC Handelsblad, a daily evening paper in the Netherlands, identified a man called Henk Heithuis, as one of the young men who were castrated as well as nine other minors. After reporting two monks to the police for abusing him in a Catholic boarding home, he was surgically castrated in 1956, when he was still a minor.


Mr Heithuis | NRC Handelsblad | 14415

Cornelius Rogge, 79, a well-known Dutch sculptor who knew Mr Heithuis witnessed the phyiscal evidence of the castration. ‘We once asked Henk to drop his pants when the women were gone. He did that. He was maimed totally. It was a huge shock,’ he said.

The surgical removal of testicles was regarded as a treatment for homosexuality and also as a punishment for those who accused clergy of sexual abuse. Mr Heithuis was castrated at the age of 20 – in 1956 he had accused Catholic clergy of sexually abusing him in his Church run care home. Mr Heithuis died two years after the castration, in a car crash.

The investigation received 1,800 reports of sexual abuse by clergy or volunteers within Dutch Catholic dioceses in the period since 1945.


Norman St John Stevas – later Lord St John of Fawsley, dies



Norman St John Stevas | 1980 | Press Association | 14417

Gay Activist notes the passing of Lord St John of Fawsley, the former Norman St John Stevas, age 82 after a short illness. He had served several Government ministerial positions and is especially remembered for his work for Education and Arts at a time when the Conservatives were anti gay people.

The Guardian notes: “A law lecturer and amateur constitutional authority who was in demand as a royal crisis commentator on TV well into old age, it was his way of handling a flamboyant and witty personality at a time when homosexuality was not formally acknowledged in public life and actively deplored by the Tories.

St John was merely assumed to be gay by most of those who knew him: “The thinking man’s Larry Grayson”, as the Guardian’s Simon Hoggart once wrote.

An enthusiastic high Catholic, he threw himself into the part. Independently wealthy, he had a collection of papal memorabilia in his home in Knightsbridge, London, along with items of Queen Victoria’s clothing. Outside were parked a white Jaguar and a white Rolls Royce which he would drive to Westminster, occasionally dropping off flowers for the Queen Mother at Clarence House en route. Yet beneath it all he was a serious man who chaired the Royal Fine Arts Commission, judged the Booker prize and edited the writings of Walter Bagehot.

Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, told the BBC: “He was very flamboyant and had a style all of his own, which was very theatrical, but actually he was an intelligent, sensitive man. He was a very, very good minister and he had very, very clear political opinions.”

As Norman St John-Stevas, he was MP for Chelmsford from 1964 to 1987, a junior education minister under Thatcher in Edward Heath’s government of 1970-74, and later briefly arts minister where he delivered a bigger budget. As party leader and prime minister Thatcher stayed loyal to him despite his incorrigible frivolities which often included calling her “Tina”, “the blessed Margaret”, “the leaderene” and “she who must be obeyed” when talking to colleagues and political reporters. Word got back.”

What items of Queen Victoria’s clothing were in the Lords’ posession are not recorded.