Making new friends in Moscow

Aaron Chown/PA | r

As you may have heard on the news, Peter Tatchell was detained briefly for making an anti-homophobia protest in Moscow yesterday. ITV reports:

Mr Tatchell was detained near a statue of Marshal Zhukov in a public square busy with football fans ahead of the first match of the World Cup.

He had been holding a poster critical of Russian president Vladimir Putin, which read: “Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people”.

Several police officers stepped in to detain Mr Tatchell and told him he had broken the law in Russia.

He was released on bail an hour later. The Peter Tatchell Foundation said he had been “treated well”.


Tchaikovsky’s gay letters



Tchaikovsky | 1873 | UIG/Getty Images | 18316

A new book, The Tchaikovsky Papers, includes for the first time excerpts from his thousands of preserved letters which have been hidden, because they were about his gay life, which Russian authorities censored.

The composer wrote: “Petashenka used to drop by with the criminal intention of observing the Cadet Corps, which is right opposite our windows, but I’ve been trying to discourage these compromising visits – and with some success.” In a letter, Tchaikovsky wrote of a young servant “with whom I am more in love than ever”, adding: “My God, what an angelic creature and how I long to be his slave, his plaything, his property!”

Out walking one day, he met a “youth of stunning beauty … After our walk, I offered him some money, which was refused. He does it for the love of art and adores men with beards.”

The book’s introduction notes: “The central taboo concerning Tchaikovsky’s life has been his homosexuality – the topic that has been barred from public discussion for almost a century … In the eye of the authorities, it would have been unthinkable to accept [that] … Russia’s national treasure was a homosexual.”

Faking it!

The authorities in Belarus were not pleased when the British Embassy recently flew a rainbow flag. They accused the embassy in Minsk of “creating problems” when it flew a rainbow flag on the International Day Against Homophobia.

The interior ministry retorted angrily that the majority of Belarusians

“support traditional family values” and that “such statements are a challenge to these values … Supporters of single-sex relationships furiously argue their position, despite the principles and traditions that have formed in society. But however you spin it, single-sex relationships are fake. And the essence of a fake is always the same, to devalue the truth. The LGBT community and the whole struggle for its rights and this community’s day itself are all just fake!”

There is an old British proverb: it takes one to know one.

Russia’s “Section 28” strikes again

Human Rights Watch report that Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal agency responsible for overseeing online and media content, took steps against ParniPlus, a website raising awareness about Russia’s HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men.

There have now been at least eight cases of censorship under Russia’s 2013 federal “gay propaganda” law. It effectively stops any public discussion of positive information about “non-traditional sexual relations”.

Russia has banned “gay propaganda” to supposedly protect the intellectual, moral, and mental well-being of children.

Mikhail Kuzmin remembered



Copyright control | 18309

A play about Mikhail Kuzmin, a gay poet from early 1900s Russia, “The Trout Breaks the Ice” is based on the life of Kuzmin, who disappeared into the official obscurity imposed by the Soviets on artists considered deviant or who were out of favour. The play’s success comes amid fears that the relative freedom enjoyed by Russian theatre is under threat.

Kuzmin was celebrated in his day for his poems on love and loss but from 1929 until the end of the Soviet Union his work was not published.

Ilya Romashko, who plays an older Kuzmin remembering his youth, said he believed Trout was not meant as a direct commentary on modern Russia. “It is really about pure emotions and a heart that loves and wants to be loved. I think that we managed to jump over that simple question, what it means to be gay in Russia, which is good. Although at the very beginning there were concerns of how it would be received.”

Mikhail Alekseevich Kuzmin was born on October 18 [O.S. October 6] 1872, and died on March 1, 1936.


Россия: гей-брак не является чем-то новым


Heading translation by Google: Russia: Gay Marriage is nothing new


Olga Khoroshilova | 17165gh

At the time of writing, western media are noting the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which, for gay men and lesbians in Russia, heralded a short period of relative freedom of expression and liberty.

The photo above is dated January 1921. Russian Baltic Fleet sailor Afanasy Shaur organised a gay wedding in Petrograd, with guests including 95 former army officers along with members of the lower ranks of both the army and navy, and one woman, who was dressed in a man’s suit.

The guests did not know that Shaur was a member of the secret police, and at the end of the festivities, the guests were all arrested. Shaur had arranged the event to curry favour with his bosses, claiming those attending were counter-revolutionaries who wanted to destroy the young Red Army from the inside.

The case was eventually closed and the “counter-revolutionaries” let off.

After the October Revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks scrapped and rewrote the country’s laws. They produced two Criminal Codes, in 1922 and 1926, neither of which contained an article prohibiting homosexuality.

In the 1920s gay men in Russia lived quite openly. The BBC notes that:

In St Petersburg, some wore red ties, or red shawls, onto which they would sew the back pockets of trousers. Others powdered their faces and wore a lot of mascara. After the revolution, the heavily made-up “silent film star look” became more mainstream and no longer just a fashion for young gay men.

There may not have been an article relating to gay sex in the criminal codes of the 1920s, but the gay community was regularly persecuted. Gay men were often beaten, blackmailed or sacked from their jobs.

The gay community was also organised on class lines, with little mixing between the “aristocrats” and “simple” lower class gay men who held mundane or clerical jobs.

In July 1933, 175 gay men from different walks of life were arrested in what came to be known as the Case of the Leningrad Homosexuals. The documents of the case have never been released, but it is known that all detained were given prison sentences on a range of charges from working for British intelligence to “malicious counter-revolutionism” and “moral corruption of the Red Army”.

The Case of the Leningrad Homosexuals led to the re-inclusion of the article outlawing homosexuality in the Criminal Code of 1934.


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?””