Russia's LGBT Community One Year Later: Q&A with Arkady Gyngazov
On June 30th, 2013 the Russian discriminatory anti-"propaganda" law went into effect, amidst widespread international condemnation. In the year since the Russian government enacted the vaguely worded law, Russian human rights activists and members of the LGBT community have faced harassment from government officials, threats of violence, and imprisonment for peaceful public demonstrations. Some have even chosen to leave Russia in search of safety and freedom. This week, Human Rights First will share the stories of some of the brave individual whost lives have been and continue to be affected by Russia's crackdown on civil society.
Arkady Gyngazov was the manager of Moscow’s largest gay club, Central Station. He was forced to flee Russia when the club started facing regular attacks and is now seeking asylum in the United States.
How has the federal propaganda bill impacted your personal life in the year since it has gone into effect?/ What is life like for you since Putin signed the law?
Arkady: The changes in Russian society started too fast after Putin signed the law. There were very massive and negative discussions in Russian media that made all people spies. Everyone tried to find out who is gay around them. It made it difficult to rent an apartment or find a new job if you’re not married and have no children. Multiple attacks against the gay club I worked at and against me personally left me no choice but to leave my country for good.
Have you experienced harassment or persecution from government authorities or on the street since the law was passed? Please briefly describe what you have seen and experienced
Arkady: The connection between Russian authorities and attacks against the club I worked at has been proven. Those violent attacks and the steps taken against LGBT personalities are numerous. I was beaten and Russian police didn’t help me. The same happened to many other guys. Almost all friends of mine have experienced physical attacks and in every case the police gave no help.
How has the international community supported you? In what ways can the international community do more?
Arkady: After the law was passed, in many countries of the world a lot of actions were held to support the Russian LGBT community. But President Putin claimed that the government is not going to listen to other countries' opinions. And they really don't. So, at this point I have no idea how the international community could help those who have decided to stay in the country to continue the fight. In my opinion, no one from outside can change something in the country where the civil rights aren't respected by authorities and most of the population, including gays, support government.
One year later, are you seeing people’s attitudes toward LGBT people changing for better or worse? Have there been any positive steps toward fighting back against discrimination?
Arkady: What I saw before my departure from Russia and what I've heard from people who remained hasn’t allowed me to believe in the possibility of change for the better. On the contrary, day by day more and more gays leave Russia and many of those who are still there want to do the same in the near future.
At what point did you know you had to leave Russia?
Arkady: The decision to leave Russian wasn't easy for me. In the past few years I traveled to many countries, so I knew how life for gays could be, but I always went back to my country. For years I was waiting for Russian authorities to start supporting LGBT, but the opposite things happened. During my last vacation in December new attacks happened in Moscow and I decided to stay in the USA.
How has the law impacted the LGBT rights movement and civil society as a whole? Although there have been few prosecutions under the law, has it made it more difficult to do your work?
Arkady: I would say the law made it more dangerous. The bill itself might not seem so awful, as it doesn’t call for gays to be killed or put in prison, but the Russian media and people interpret it the wrong way, portraying all LGBT representatives as perverts and that is really dangerous.
After one year, what are your greatest fears for the LGBT community in Russia?
Arkady: Now some government authorities propose to change the punishment under the propaganda law, they want to make it criminal. I suppose, such a bill would easily pass. And further bills against gays would be signed just as easily. Politics in Russia is returning back to the USSR and I’m afraid no good changes will ever happen.
What do you think/feel when you see surrounding countries trying to adopt similar propaganda bills?
Arkady: I think that countries who are trying to adopt similar laws, are connected or even dependent on Russia. Russian authorities like to compare its politics to other countries. So they needed countries with whose laws they could relate, as they had claimed that no western countries (the USA and Europe) were exemplars for them. So, they began to create an impact on certain countries to make the same laws.