Voices for Equality: Russia
Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Russians have to depart the country to achieve their dreams. Leaving homes, jobs, friends, and family members behind simply to be who they are, openly and without fear.
Oleg Tomilin knows this all too well. He left in the country in 2014, shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the notorious anti-LGBT propaganda law. Although technically banning public displays of information concerning nontraditional sexual relationship to minors, the law in effect strips away fundamental human rights from LGBT Russians and encourages an ever-worsening environment of discrimination and violence.
Like many, Oleg saw the effects of the law immediately. Homophobia was more open, bias-motivated crime more commonplace, and these were not things he simply read about, but something he and his partner experienced firsthand. After multiple homophobic incidents, including vandalism of their apartment by their neighbors, they headed for Washington, D.C., hoping to build a new life together.
Since Oleg left, the situation has not improved for the country's LGBT community. Earlier this year lawmakers sought to criminalize the act of publicly coming out. Fortunately, it was soundly defeated, but as one LGBT activist noted, the fact that it was even considered gave "more of a green light to people who are willing to discriminate [and] to beat people up."
Or worse. This January alone, a transgender woman was murdered in Ufa, a city 700 miles to Moscow's east, and two LGBT Russians were murdered in Oleg's hometown of Voronezh. If the murders are treated like much of the crime against the LGBT community, the perpetrators will never be brought to justice.
Thankfully, Oleg is now happily married to his partner, building that new life they so richly deserve.