By week’s end, Russia’s infamous gay propaganda law is likely to become even stricter, and as the prospect looms, one activist is refusing to let the country’s LGBTQ+ community be forgotten.
Doctor and LGBTQ+ activist Pyotr Voskresensky opened an LGBTQ+ history museum in St. Petersburg on Sunday. And while he knows it is a risk, he told Open Democracy it would be too dangerous not to do something like this.
“I am aware that all this can end badly, so I take the risk only on myself and I don’t call anyone to get involved.”
“I’m opening the museum not because the time has come, but because time is running out.”
As it stands, Russia’s gay propaganda law, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2013, prohibits the distribution of LGBTQ+ content to minors. Proposed amendments to the law make it even harsher by extending the prohibition to people of all ages, rather than just minors, and significantly increasing fines for violating the law.
Voskresensky said that he had always been interested in history and had already spent years exploring old documents and memoirs when he discovered that an LGBTQ+ museum had existed in St. Petersburg in the 19th century.
He said the kind of items it housed were likely destroyed – “either by relatives who were afraid to bring disgrace to the family and memory of the deceased, or by the owners themselves when the era of repressions arrived.”
Then he visited the Tchaikovsky Museum.
“The museum was set up by his brother, Modest, who, like Tchaikovsky himself, was gay. Modest did not allow his other relatives to destroy Tchaikovsky’s archive, which had unambiguous references to his homosexuality, but, of course, he cleaned the estate [of anything that could out him].”
Voskresensky then realized that there were likely many crucial pieces of LGBTQ+ history on sale, and he began to scour flea markets, antique stores, and websites to build up a collection.
Voskresensky runs the museum out of his apartment and will open in the evenings.
He told RadioFreeEurope that he wants to ensure people know that LGBTQ+ people have always been part of Russian history.
“Traditional values are more than just large, monogamous families. Queer people fit in there as well.”
The amendments could reportedly become law as early as December 1, when Voskresensky said his collection will become a “museum in exile” and a “refugee” in another, more accepting country.
But Voskresensky is confident hints of queerness will never be erased from Russia and, no matter what, will always be hidden in plain sight in the country’s museums.
“Let them try to remove and ban it all,” he said. “They can’t do it.”
He told Open Democracy that “the LGBT community has one advantage: it is immortal… The fact we can look into our history now gives us some hope that if we have a past, we will have a future.”