“Children-404”: A Refuge for Russia’s At-Risk LGBT Youth is Under Attack
By Trevor Allen, LGBT Program Intern
The latest victim of Russia’s anti-LGBT “propaganda” law, Elena Klimova is the creator of “Children-404,” an online forum for Russian-speaking LGBT teens to write openly and anonymously about their daily lives and hardships. Vitaly Milonov, the St. Petersburg legislative assemblyman who filed a complaint against Klimova, told Russian News Channel 4 that the site is “against the law, provocative and amoral.” Klimova awaits trial in her hometown of Nizhny Tagil.
Klimova created Children-404 in March 2013 out of concern for the effects that the law would have on young people. In addition to providing a refuge for teens, the site has information for adults about discrimination LGBT teens face.
Between Russian social media site Vkontakte and Facebook, Children-404 has more than 6,000 subscribers. On its pages, teens recount daily episodes of bullying and violence at school, and they relate stories about unsupportive family environments. According to their testimonies, Russian parents tend to react negatively to their children’s coming out. They say their children are mentally ill and a disgrace to their family, or they claim their children are going through a phase. Subscribers to the blog are able to respond and provide support.
The site is a literal lifeline. Just last year, Russia ranked number one in teen suicides in Europe. Klimova regularly receives messages from teenagers thanking her for saving their lives. She has assembled a team of psychologists who provide pro-bono counseling to teen users. One of them, Anna “Gizullina,” argues that the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly must not shut down the blog under any circumstances: “Children-404 is the only resource that LGBT youth can go to for psychological help and support.”
Milonov’s case against the blog and its creator elucidates the underlying purpose of the “anti-gay propaganda” law: repression of free speech. Klimova supposedly violated the “anti-gay propaganda” law by promoting the social equivalence of “traditional” and “nontraditional” orientations. Other educators and activists are at risk of being charged under the homophobic legislation, such as Aleksandr Ermoshkin, a geography teacher from Khabarovsk, Russia who was fired this past year for being gay.
Meeting with LGBT activists in St. Petersburg last week, Human Rights First was told of the alarming increase in prosecutions under the anti-“propaganda” laws, which extend beyond activists and the gay community to journalists, social media sites, and the news media. President Putin and other Russian officials surely hope that the world will look away from its crackdown on civil society once the Olympics ends; we’ll be working to make sure the world doesn’t.