Gay Expats Share Insight Into Life in Russia
Published: August 30, 2013 (Issue # 1775)
John, a 31-year-old American lawyer, said that when his family and friends first found out he was coming to live in Russia, they immediately assumed that it would be scary as a gay man in such a conservative country.
With the recent passage of the law banning so-called "propaganda" of gay relations among minors — legislation criticized by many as a tool to prohibit gay pride parades or any other public advocacy of LGBT rights — concern for his well-being has become more acute.
"With this aspect attracting so much hostility, I think people [back home] are genuinely worried about my safety," John said.
The reality, John and other current and former gay expatriates said, is not as bad as many of their families perceive it to be, though there are real dangers.
The outcry in the West over the new law puts gay expats in a unique position, being forced to experience firsthand the sometimes harsh treatment of gays in Russia while their families fret about them back home and remind them that they can always return to a friendlier environment.
Coming from countries where members of the LGBT community are gradually gaining more rights and social acceptance, Western expats living in Russia can feel particularly uncomfortable by comparison. But most said Russian friends and acquaintances have embraced them, and none of the five expats interviewed by The St. Petersburg Times had experienced violence themselves.
That safety has come in part from anonymity.
"I find it funny when people say it's not safe to be a gay person in Russia," said John, who has lived in Russia for four years.
"It's perfectly safe, because no one would ever assume you could be gay. Especially your friends, people who like you — they would never think that about you," he said, adding that even his flatmate of several years did not know about his sexual orientation and would likely be genuinely surprised if he found out.
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