MOSCOW — As news spread over the weekend of the horrific torture and murder of a young gay man in southern Russia, LGBTQ activists in the country are warning that such violence is escalating rapidly and with more frequency.
Activists point to an increasingly hostile stance on LGBT issues by both the powerful Russian Orthodox Church and the adversarial policies by the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Nikolai Alexeyev, the country’s leading LGBTQ equality rights advocate says that violence against Russian LGBTQ people has seen the sharp increase in the past two years as the Russian Orthodox Church has increasingly campaigned against them.
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Its leader, Patriarch Kirill, has suggested that homosexuality is one of the main threats to Russia. Kirill has fostered close ties with President Putin, who has publicly declared the church “guardian” of Russia’s national moral values.
Putin himself, while not castigating the LGBT community, has aligned himself with the church and other conservatives on public policy stands against same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples of Russian children from overseas, and lending his tacit approval to the law currently being considered in the Duma that would in effect criminalise support for the LGBT community.
On a recent trip to the Netherlands, Putin was greeted by hundreds of rainbow flag-waving protesters angered over the pending passage of the law. Putin claimed the law would be no threat to the LGBT community, but suggested it could help reverse a decline in Russia’s population, which fell to 141.9 million in 2011 from 148.6 million in 2001.
“It is imperative to protect the rights of sexual minorities, but let’s agree that same-sex marriage does not produce children,” Putin said.
During a presidential press conference last month, he warned that agreements with other countries on the matter of adoption of Russian children may be changed to ban such adoptions if those countries legalize same-sex marriage.
Alexeyev says that the Putin government’s support of laws such as the pending legislation, offer “unspoken support” for violence such as the incident in Volgograd against gay Russians.
“It essentially gives these people carte blanche to commit such crimes,” he said adding, “I think they may want to say, ‘Look, we killed a gay person and not a regular, normal person.”
As violence escalates, the issue is no longer a hidden factor in Russian life as illustrated by the brutal murder of 23-year-old Vladislav Tornovoy in the southern Russian city of Volvograd.
Tornovoy, who had been drinking with friends, at some point admitted his sexual orientation, which led to his death.
Andrei Gapchenko, a senior police detective in Volgograd, said one of the suspects had admitted to investigators that they had tortured Tornovoy.
“Four young people were drinking … And one of them already knew, he’d heard from others, that he (the victim) was of an untraditional sexual orientation.”
“He asked him the question and the victim said yes ..
After that, one of them hit him, he fell to the floor, and then they brutally beat him, set fire to the clothes he was wearing, slashed his anal area and then stuck three bottles in there, again beat him and then threw a 20-kg (44-pd) stone onto his head.”
Tornovoy’s naked body was found dumped in the courtyard of a nearby apartment complex.
In January, in a protest against the planned law on “homosexual propaganda,” Igor Yasin, a 32-year-old employee of a Russian government-owned television station was attacked outside the Russian Duma.
Yasin’s face was bloodied after being punched by one of several men who called themselves Russian Orthodox activists. They pelted protesters with rotten eggs and ketchup, knocked men and women to the ground and called them demons and witches.
“They said they were doing God’s will, and then they broke my nose,” said Yasin.
There are no official figures on anti-gay crime in Russia, and Alexeyev pointed out that most hate crimes go unreported, or are not classified as such by the police authorities.
As politicians and church officials press for the national law, which would ban gay pride events, gay rights marches, and impose fines of up 500,000 rubles ($16,600 USD) on organizers, activists continue to spread the word, particularly in the western media.
They are also worried as Putin’s government garners wider support among ultra conservatives and enjoys the support of the church on issues regarding public policy on LGBT issues.
“The ultra-right radicals decide immigrants are responsible for unemployment, and then they decide that LGBT is guilty for the fall in the birthrate, that morals are in decline, that AIDS is spreading. All those problems can be dumped on the gays; it’s convenient,” said Yasin.
A poll conducted last year by Levada — an independent Russian non-governmental polling and sociological research organization — found that nearly 50 per cent of Russians believe homosexuals should be given medical or psychological treatment, and 5 per cent said they should be “destroyed.”
Maria Kozlovskaya, an attorney who works with the Russian LGBT community, noted that in another poll conducted last year, 15 percent of about 900 Russian LGBT people who participated said they had been physically attacked at least once in the previous 10 months prior to the survey.
“Such crimes are committed around Russia every day,” Alexeyev said. “As a rule, all these crimes are categorized as something ordinary — they argued over a bottle of vodka, or there was ‘personal animosity.’ The real motive of hate is not mentioned.”