DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

Star­ing down the bar­rel of a gun but mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in Uganda with LGBTIQ mu­sic.

Rus­sian lan­guage un­til 1895.

By the end of the 18th Cen­tury, a clash be­tween the old or­der and the new had bro­ken out on the other side of Europe: The French Revo­lu­tion. One of the re­sults was that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was de­crim­i­nalised in France in 1791. Napoleon Bon­a­parte’s armies ex­tended that pol­icy every­where they con­quered – ex­cept Rus­sia. Napoleon in­vaded Rus­sia in 1812 with his Grande Armee of 650,000 men. They took Moscow, but re­treated as the weather turned.

The le­gacy of per­sonal free­doms in the coun­tries that re­tained the Napoleonic Code af­ter the wars cre­ated the op­por­tu­nity for the world’s first gay ac­tivist: Karl Hein­rich Ul­richs. He be­gan a cam­paign of pam­phlet writ­ing from Ger­many in the 1860s that planted a seed that grew to be­come a panEuro­pean move­ment for sex­ual law re­form by the early 20th Cen­tury.

Ul­richs’ rad­i­cal pam­phlets were read across Europe. In Ger­many, they were no­ticed by the au­thors of a book that be­came in­flu­en­tial in Rus­sia’s own revo­lu­tion – The Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo. In 1869, Friedrich En­gels wrote to Karl Marx about one of Ul­richs’ pam­phlets, call­ing it “a very cu­ri­ous thing”.

“The ped­erasts are be­gin­ning to count them­selves, and dis­cover that they are a power in the state. Only or­gan­i­sa­tion was lack­ing, but ac­cord­ing to this source it ap­par­ently al­ready ex­ists in se­cret. And since they have such im­por­tant men in all the old par­ties and even in the new ones… they can­not fail to tri­umph.”


When the Bol­she­viks that Marx and En­gels in­spired took power in Rus­sia in 1917, one of the first things they did was le­galise ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity along with pros­ti­tu­tion and abor­tion.

Some Rus­sian so­cial­ists were also in­volved in the World League For Sex­ual Re­form that was ac­tive across Europe, at­tend­ing its con­gresses in Ber­lin in 1921, Copen­hagen in

1928 and Vi­enna in 1930. Their del­e­gate to the World League, Dr Grig­orii Bakkis, wrote in

1923 that, “[Soviet law] de­clares the ab­so­lute non-in­ter­fer­ence of the state and so­ci­ety into sex­ual mat­ters, so long as no­body is in­jured and no-one’s in­ter­ests are en­croached upon – con­cern­ing ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, sodomy and var­i­ous other forms of sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion, which are set down in Euro­pean leg­is­la­tion as of­fences against moral­ity.” He con­tin­ued, “Soviet leg­is­la­tion treats th­ese ex­actly as so-called ‘nat­u­ral’ in­ter­course.”

Dan Healey, Ox­ford pro­fes­sor of Modern Rus­sian His­tory and au­thor of Rus­sian Ho­mo­pho­bia From Stalin To Sochi, tells DNA that de­crim­i­nal­is­ing ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was not a pri­or­ity in it­self for the early com­mu­nists, but was part of show­cas­ing rad­i­cal re­forms.

“There were many such ‘pro­gres­sive’ mea­sures, some quite utopian, adopted by the new com­mu­nist regime,” Healey says. “This was the world’s first so­cial­ist state and

Gay men were sent to labour camps. Male ho­mo­sex­ual so­cial groups were as­so­ci­ated with po­lit­i­cal con­spir­acy and trea­son.

it be­lieved it had to show the world the full range of po­lit­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism that so­cial­ism could of­fer.”

How gay men in Rus­sia viewed the revo­lu­tion, though, is un­clear. “Early in­di­ca­tions from the re­search of my doc­toral stu­dent Ira Roldug­ina are that many ur­ban male ho­mo­sex­u­als be­lieved in the Soviet sex­ual revo­lu­tion and thought it was a lib­er­at­ing part of the so­cial­ist project,” says Healey. “They were still cau­tious about the au­thor­i­ties, who could be ar­bi­trary and vi­o­lent against the pop­u­lace.”

Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was not, gen­er­ally, seen as a sick­ness at the start of the revo­lu­tion, but Soviet sci­en­tists in­creas­ingly came to view it as a men­tal ill­ness to­wards the close of the 1920s.

De­spite that, the of­fi­cial line in the Great Soviet En­cy­clo­pe­dia as late as 1930 was still, “Soviet leg­is­la­tion does not recog­nise so-called crimes against moral­ity… Our laws pro­ceed from the prin­ci­ple of pro­tec­tion of so­ci­ety and there­fore coun­te­nance pun­ish­ment only in those in­stances when ju­ve­niles and mi­nors are the ob­jects of ho­mo­sex­ual in­ter­est.”

How­ever, as Stalin cracked down on re­sis­tance to his regime, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was re­crim­i­nalised in 1933 and gay men in­side the

Sex­ol­o­gist Kurt Fre­und spent the 1950s try­ing to ‘cure’ gay men be­fore de­cid­ing it was fu­tile and point­less to pun­ish them.

USSR sud­denly faced be­ing sent to a labour camp for as long as five years.

“They were de­port­ing fe­male pros­ti­tutes, who cruised in the same ur­ban streets and parks where gay men met, to labour camps by this time al­ready,” says Healey. “They seem to have as­so­ci­ated male ho­mo­sex­ual so­cial groups with po­lit­i­cal con­spir­acy and trea­son. Stalin also seems to have per­son­ally felt dis­gust at ho­mo­sex­ual ac­tiv­ity as he amended the se­cret po­lice draft law to make it harsher, ex­tend­ing the min­i­mum penalty to three years for con­sen­sual sodomy, which meant im­pris­on­ment in the very worst parts of the

Gu­lag sys­tem.”

Given the bru­tal con­di­tions, that could be a death sen­tence for some. It’s es­ti­mated that some­where be­tween 800 and 1,000 gay men were im­pris­oned each year un­der Stalin’s Ar­ti­cle 121, which ef­fec­tively si­lenced LGBT peo­ple and made them in­vis­i­ble in Soviet so­ci­ety for the next half cen­tury.


In the sec­ond half of the 20th Cen­tury some of the so­cial­ist coun­tries in Europe be­gan to re­form their laws. Most of the East­ern Bloc coun­tries out­side of the USSR le­galised ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity dur­ing the 1960s, be­gin­ning with Cze­choslo­vakia in 1962 thanks to a cam­paign by the sex­ol­o­gist Kurt Fre­und.

Fre­und had been com­mis­sioned to de­velop a test to ex­clude ho­mo­sex­u­als from the Cze­choslo­vak Army and spent the 1950s try­ing to “cure” gay men be­fore de­cid­ing it was fu­tile and that it was wrong and point­less to pun­ish them for ex­press­ing their at­trac­tion.

As so­cial­ism placed sci­ence above re­li­gious moral­is­ing, his ideas proved in­flu­en­tial be­hind the Iron Cur­tain and Hun­gary fol­lowed suit de­crim­i­nal­is­ing sex be­tween men the same year, with Bul­garia and East Ger­many fol­low­ing in 1968.

Rus­sia, how­ever, re­mained res­o­lute with its ban, and Ro­ma­nia even fur­ther crim­i­nalised ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity at this time. A Soviet sex man­ual from 1964 warned, “With all the tricks at their dis­posal, ho­mo­sex­u­als seek out and win the con­fi­dence of young­sters. Such peo­ple should be im­me­di­ately re­ported to the ad­min­is­tra­tive or­gans so that they can be re­moved from so­ci­ety.”

In 1984, with Ar­ti­cle 121 still in place, a group of gay men in Len­ingrad at­tempted to form an LGBT or­gan­i­sa­tion for the first time in modern Rus­sia, but they were quickly sup­pressed by the KGB. But when Mikhail Gor­bachev be­came the Gen­eral Sec­re­tary of the Com­mu­nist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985 and de­clared a new era of glas­nost and per­e­stroika (open­ness and re­struc­tur­ing) it was a breath of oxy­gen for a new gen­er­a­tion of gays and les­bians in Rus­sia.

Four years af­ter the KGB had sup­pressed those men in Len­ingrad, the Moscow

Gay And Les­bian Al­liance was founded by Yev­geniya De­bryan­skaya and Ro­man Kalinin. By the be­gin­ning of 1990, the coun­try had its first gay news­pa­per, Tema (lit­er­ally “The Theme”), edited by Kalinin un­der the pseu­do­nym “Dimitri R”.

This early progress, how­ever, was fol­lowed al­most im­me­di­ately by an at­tempted coup against Gor­bachev in 1991 by hard­lin­ers in the Com­mu­nist Party. An­other re­former, the re­cently elected Pres­i­dent of the Rus­sian Repub­lic, Boris Yeltsin saw his time to shine and or­gan­ised mass re­sis­tance to the coup, speak­ing to the na­tion from atop a tank.


As the first leader of the post-Soviet Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion, Yeltsin quickly dis­man­tled so­cial­ism. In April of 1993, as part of an ef­fort to ob­tain mem­ber­ship of the Coun­cil Of Europe, he signed a wide-rang­ing re­form that

With all the tricks at their dis­posal, ho­mo­sex­u­als win the con­fi­dence of young­sters. Such peo­ple should be re­ported so they can be re­moved from so­ci­ety.

fi­nally re­pealed the pro­hi­bi­tion of sex be­tween men in Rus­sia af­ter six decades.

In 1997 that re­form was re­flected in the new Crim­i­nal Code of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. Two years later Rus­sia de­clas­si­fied ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity as a men­tal dis­or­der. Then, in 1999, for­mer KGB agent Vladimir Putin came to power when Yeltsin re­signed. In 2003, in per­haps the only pro-gay re­form to take place un­der Putin’s watch, Rus­sia equalised the age of con­sent to 16.

But when LGBT ac­tivist and Gayrus­sia.ru founder Niko­lai Alek­seev tried to or­gan­ise the first Pride march in Rus­sia in 2006, Moscow’s city coun­cil banned the event and Chris­tian and Mus­lim lead­ers called for vig­i­lan­tism against any­one who took part. When they marched the fol­low­ing year, the event was at­tacked by anti-gay hooli­gans. Po­lice moved in – and ar­rested the Pride marchers.

In 2008 ac­tivists held a flash­mob in Moscow in front of a statue of Tchaikovsky and un­veiled a ban­ner on a build­ing op­po­site Moscow’s city hall that read, “Rights to Gays and Les­bians. Ho­mo­pho­bia of Mayor Luzhkov should be pros­e­cuted.”

The fol­low­ing year the Rus­sian Duma voted against crim­i­nal­is­ing “ho­mo­sex­ual pro­pa­ganda” 226 to 90. With Moscow host­ing Euro­vi­sion that year, it was in­con­ve­nient. But the idea of ban­ning the pub­lic ex­pres­sion of LGBT peo­ple had caught on, with other ju­ris­dic­tions seek­ing to pass their own bans over the next few years.

Fi­nally, in June 2013, Rus­sia passed a fed­eral law ban­ning so-called “pro­pa­ganda of non­tra­di­tional sex­ual re­la­tion­ships” to mi­nors – ef­fec­tively ban­ning any pub­lic ex­pres­sion of LGBT iden­tity across the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. This time the Duma voted 436-0 in favour of the pro­posal and it was promptly signed into law by Vladimir Putin. Ex­actly 20 years af­ter Rus­sia had de­crim­i­nalised ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, their own govern­ment made the LGBT com­mu­nity in­vis­i­ble and voice­less once again.

Pro­fes­sor Healey sees the Rus­sian govern­ment and Putin’s ho­mo­pho­bia as part of an ef­fort to fos­ter a sense of “united Rus­sian ex­cep­tion­al­ism” in op­po­si­tion to the West.

“It’s a pop­ulist tac­tic to dis­tract at­ten­tion from do­mes­tic prob­lems and to de­flect blame on sup­posed ‘out­siders’ or for­eign agents,” Healey says. “At the same time, it’s im­por­tant to recog­nise that ev­ery so­ci­ety un­der­goes its own jour­ney in deal­ing with dif­fer­ently ori­ented sex­u­al­ity and gen­ders. We should re­mem­ber how ho­mo­pho­bic our own coun­tries were be­fore the very re­cent past.

“Rus­sia, be­fore and af­ter 1917, made amaz­ing ad­vances in what we would now call LGBT rights and cul­ture. The Soviet pe­riod be­gan as one of heady and world-lead­ing ex­per­i­ment, in­clud­ing in ho­mo­sex­ual rights as they were then un­der­stood.

“The Stalin and post-Stalin pe­riod laid down the ba­sis for Rus­sia’s modern ho­mo­pho­bia. But the democrati­sa­tion process of the 1980s and ’90s also gave LGBT Rus­sians the courage to ex­press them­selves, and their voices aren’t go­ing to dis­ap­pear.

“Rus­sian LGBT cit­i­zens are in this ‘cul­ture war’ for the long haul, and I think in the longer run, their cause will be recog­nised and ac­knowl­edged by main­stream Rus­sia – on Rus­sian terms, not on ‘for­eign’ or Western or Euro­pean terms.”

Back in Biysk, Maxim is hope­ful, too. He tells DNA that, in his ex­pe­ri­ence, the younger gen­er­a­tion of Rus­sians were more open­minded than their par­ents. “Stalin and the Soviet sys­tem are to blame for this,” Neverov says. “You can see that those peo­ple who grew up in the ’90s and later are less ho­mo­pho­bic than those who were brought up in the USSR.

“Sur­pris­ingly, the chil­dren of ho­mo­phobes are tol­er­ant. They qui­etly com­mu­ni­cate with me, de­spite the fact that I’m gay, and can dis­cuss any­thing with me. In my own life, I al­most do not face ho­mo­pho­bia.”

Maxim can also see a time where LGBTIQ peo­ple have equal rights in Rus­sia once more. “In 20 years, I think we will live in a tol­er­ant coun­try, where the rights of all peo­ple will be re­spected,” he says.

Let’s hope so.

An LGBT ac­tivist is ar­rested.

In­ter­na­tional sup­port: a proLGBT rally in Tel Aviv, Is­rael.

Stephen Fry at a sup­port rally in Lon­don.

Mem­bers of an or­tho­dox Rus­sian church group join an anti-gay counter-rally.

At an il­le­gal LGBT rally in Moscow, this sign reads, “Ho­mo­pho­bia can be cured.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.