LGBT history in Russia
The history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) in Russia and its historical antecedents (i.e., the Soviet Union, the Russian Empire) has largely been influenced by the political leanings and levels of liberalism or tolerance of the rulers. It has also been influenced by the historically prohibitive nature of Russian Orthodox religiosity regarding sexuality.
Homosexuality has been documented in Russia for centuries. The earliest documented bans on homosexuality date to the early-mid 17th century. Gregory Karpovich Kotoshikhin recorded during the reign of Czar Alexis Mikhailovich that male homosexuals were put to death, and also states that female homosexuals are also put to death by burning. Government attempts at preventing homosexual practices began in the 18th century, with Tsar Peter the Great banning homosexual relations in the armed forces in 1716, as a part of his attempt to modernise the country. In 1832 further laws were enacted criminalising certain sexual acts between two males; however, an LGBT subculture developed in Russia during that century, with many significant Russians being openly homosexual or bisexual.
In 1917, the Russian Revolution saw the overthrow of the Tsarist government, and the subsequent foundation of the Russian SFSR, the world's first socialist state, followed by the founding of the Soviet Union after the end of the civil war in 1922. The new Communist Party government eradicated the old laws regarding sexual relations, effectively legalising homosexual activity within Russia, although it remained illegal in other former territories of the Russian Empire. Under Lenin's leadership, openly gay people were allowed to serve in government. In 1933, the Soviet government, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, recriminalised homosexual activity, most probably to improve the strained relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, who considered homosexuality sinful. Following Stalin's death, there was a liberalisation of attitudes toward sexual issues in the Soviet Union, but homosexual acts remained illegal. Nonetheless, homosexual culture became increasingly visible, particularly following the glasnost policy of Mikhail Gorbachev's government in the late 1980s.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the foundation of the Russian Federation in 1991, the Council of Europe pressured the new administration to legalize homosexuality, leading President Boris Yeltsin to do so in 1993. However, there are several restrictions on activities related to homosexuality.
- 1 Russian Empire
- 2 Soviet Union
- 3 Russian Federation
- 4 References
Prior to Tsarist policy, homosexuality and cross-dressing were punished by religious authorities or militias. Ivan the Terrible was accused of being gay, in an attempt to discredit him. When Tsar "False Dmitry I" was overthrown his broken body was dragged through the streets, from his genitals, alongside his reputed male lover.
In 1716, Tsar Peter the Great enacted a ban on male homosexuality in the armed forces. The prohibition on sodomy was part of a larger reform movement designed to modernize Russia and efforts to extend a similar ban to the civilian population were rejected until 1835.
In 1832, Tsar Nicholas I added Article 995 which outlawed muzhelozhstvo. While this could have created a ban on all forms of private adult voluntary homosexual behavior, the courts tended to limit its interpretation to anal sex between men, thus making private acts of oral sex between consenting men legal. The law did not explicitly address female homosexuality or cross-dressing, although both behaviors were considered to be equally immoral and may have been punished under other laws (similar to how the Church would punish girls for being 'tomboys'), as lesbians were previously punished by law in the 17th century and prior. Persons convicted under Article 995 were to be stripped of their rights and relocated to Siberia for four to five years. It is unknown how many Russians were sentenced under this law, although there were a number of openly gay and bisexual Russians during this era, e.g. the conservative Nikolai Gogol, and homoerotic rites were popular among some religious dissidents in the far north of Russia. The relatively high number of openly gay or bisexual artists and intellectuals continued on into the late nineteenth century.
Author and critic Konstantin Leontiev was bisexual, and one of the most famous couples in the late-nineteenth-century Russian literary world were the lesbians Anna Yevreinova (a lawyer) and Maria Feodorova (an author). Another notable Russian lesbian couple were author Polyxena Soloviova and Natalia Manaseina. Other notables included poet Alexei Apukhtin, Peter Tchaikovsky, conservative author and publisher Prince Vladimir Meshchersky, Sergei Diaghilev, who had an affair with his cousin Dmitry Filosofov and, after the breakup, with Vaslav Nijinsky. Mikhail Kuzmin's novel Wings (1906) became one of the first "coming out" stories to have a happy ending and his private journals provide a detailed view of a gay subculture, involving men of all classes.
While there was a degree of government tolerance extended to certain gay or bisexual artists and intellectuals, especially if they were on friendly terms with the Imperial family, the pervasive public opinion, greatly influenced by the Eastern Orthodox Church, was that homosexuality was a sign of corruption, decadence and immorality. Russian author Alexander Amfiteatrov's novel titled People of the 1890s (1910), reflected this prejudice with two gay characters; a masculine lesbian attorney and a decadent gay poet.
Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection introduces a Russian artist, convicted for having sex with his students but given a lenient sentence, and a Russian activist for gay rights as examples of the widespread corruption and immorality in Tsarist Russia.
These depictions of gay men and women in literature suggest that the government's selective tolerance of homosexuality was not widely expressed among the Russian people and that it was also divorced from any endorsement of LGBT rights. While other nations, most notable Germany, had an active "gay rights movement" during this era, the most visible example of Russian homosexuality, aside from literature, was prostitution.
Russian urbanization had helped to ensure that St. Petersburg and Moscow both had gay brothels, along with many public places where men would buy and sell sexual services for or from other men. While there certainly was lesbian prostitution, and some alleged lesbian affairs, less was publicly said, good or bad, about gay or bisexual women. Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich Romanov (the younger brother and uncle, respectively, of Russian Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II) served as the Governor of Moscow from 1891–1905. His homosexual relationships were widely famous in Moscow.
Anarchists & Kadets
Anarchist Alexander Berkman softened his prejudice against homosexuality through his relationship with Emma Goldman and his time spent in jail, where he learned that working class men could be gay, thus debunking the idea that homosexuality was a sign of upper middle class or wealthy exploitation or decadence.
One of the founders of the Kadets, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, had written a research paper on the legal status of homosexuality in Russia, published by early gay rights advocate Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin.
LGBT rights following the Revolution: 1917–1933
The Russian Communist Inessa Armand publicly endorsed both feminism and free love, but never directly dealt with LGBT rights. The Russian Communist Party effectively legalized no-fault divorce, abortion and homosexuality, when they abolished all the old Tsarist laws and the initial Soviet criminal code kept these liberal sexual polices in place.
Yet, the legalisation of private, adult and consensual homosexual relations only applied to Russia itself. Homosexuality or sodomy remained a crime in Azerbaijan (officially criminalised in 1923), as well as in the Transcaucasian and Central Asian Soviet Republics throughout the 1920s. Similar criminal laws were enacted in Uzbekistan in 1926 and in Turkmenistan the following year. Criminalisation of homosexuality during this time was exclusive to nations of the Soviet Union associated with "cultural backwardness".
The Soviet Union sent delegates to the German Institute for Sexual Science, as well as to some international conferences on human sexuality, who expressed support for the legalization of adult, private, and consensual homosexual relations. However, in the 1930s, along with increased repression of political dissidents and non-Russian nationalities under Stalin, LGBT themes faced official government censorship, and a uniformly harsher policy across the entire Soviet Union. Homosexuality was officially labelled a disease. The official stance could be summarized in the article of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia of 1930 written by medical expert Sereisky:
Soviet legislation does not recognize 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 ... while recognizing the incorrectness of homosexual development ... our society combines prophylactic and other therapeutic measures with all the necessary conditions for making the conflicts that afflict homosexuals as painless as possible and for resolving their typical estrangement from society within the collective
- —Sereisky, Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1930, p. 593
LGBT history under Stalin: 1933–1953
In 1933, Article 121 was added to the criminal code, for the entire Soviet Union, that expressly prohibited only male homosexuality, with up to five years of hard labor in prison. There were no criminal statutes regarding lesbianism. During the Soviet regime, Western observers believed that between 800 to 1,000 men were imprisoned each year under Article 121. The precise reason for the new law is still in some dispute.
Some historians have suggested that Joseph Stalin's enactment of the anti-gay law was, like his prohibition on abortion, an attempt to increase the Russian birthrate and build a better relationship with the socially conservative Eastern Orthodox Church. Some historians have noted that it was during this time that Soviet propaganda began to depict homosexuality as a sign of fascism, and that Article 121 may have a simple political tool to use against dissidents, irrespective of their true sexual orientation, and to solidify Russian opposition to Nazi Germany, who had broken its treaty with Russia.
More recently, a third possible reason for the anti-gay law has emerged from declassified Soviet documents and transcripts. Beyond expressed fears of a vast "counterrevolutionary" or fascist homosexual conspiracy, there were several high profile arrests of Russian men accused of being pederasts. In 1933, 130 men "were accused of being 'pederasts' – adult males who have sex with boys. Since no records of men having sex with boys at that time are available, it is possible this term was used broadly and crudely to label homosexuality." Whatever the precise reason, homosexuality remained a serious criminal offense until it was repealed in 1993.
The Soviet government itself said very little publicly about the change in the law, and few people seemed to be aware that it existed. In 1934, the British Communist Harry Whyte wrote a long letter to Stalin condemning the law, and its prejudicial motivations. He laid out a Marxist position against the oppression of homosexuals, as a social minority, and compared homophobia to racism, xenophobia and sexism. While the letter was not formally replied to, Soviet cultural writer Maxim Gorky authored an article, published in both Pravda and Izvestia titled "Proletarian Humanism", that seemed to reject Whyte's arguments point by point. He rejected the notion that homosexuals were a social minority, and argued that the Soviet Union needed to combat them in order to protect the youth and battle fascism.
A few years later, 1936, Justice Commissar Nikolai Krylenko publicly stated that the anti-gay criminal law was correctly aimed at the decadent and effete old ruling classes, thus further linking homosexuality to a right-wing conspiracy, i.e. tsarist aristocracy and German fascists.
LGBT history post-Stalin: 1953–1991
When Stalin came to power, homosexuality became a topic unfit for public depiction, defense or discussion. Homosexual or bisexual Russians who wanted a position within the Communist Party were expected to marry a person of the opposite sex, regardless of their actual sexual orientation. A notable example was the Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein, who despite his homosexuality managed to survive by leading a double life, having affairs with men while married to a woman, producing films that were politically pleasing to Stalin.
After Stalin died in 1953, he was replaced by Nikita Khrushchev, who proceeded to liberalize the Stalin era laws regarding marriage, divorce, and abortion, but the anti-gay criminal law remained. The Khruschev government believed that absent of a criminal law against homosexuality, the sex between men that occurred in the prison environment would spread into the general population as they released many Stalin-era prisoners. Whereas the Stalin government conflated homosexuality with pedophilia, the Khrushchev government conflated homosexuality with the situational, sometimes forced, sex acts between male prisoners.
In 1958, the Interior Ministry sent a secret memo to law enforcement ordering them to step up enforcement of the anti-gay criminal law. Yet, during the late 1950s - early 1960s, Aline Mosby, a foreign reporter in Russia at the time, attributed to the more liberal attitude of the Khrushchev government to the fact that she did see some gay couples in public and that it was not uncommon to see men waiting outside of certain theaters looking for dates with male performers.
A 1964 Soviet sex manual instructed: "With all the tricks at their disposal, homosexuals seek out and win the confidence of youngsters. Then they proceed to act. Do not under any circumstances allow them to touch you. Such people should be immediately reported to the administrative organs so that they can be removed from society."
Despite these rare examples, thousands of people were imprisoned for homosexuality and government censorship of homosexuality and gay rights did not begin to slowly relax until the early 1970s, allowing for brief statements. Kozlovsky was permitted to include a brief interior monologue about homosexuality in Moscow to the End of the Line (1973). Perhaps the first public endorsement of gay rights since Stalin was a brief statement, critical of Article 121 and calling for its repeal, made in the Textbook of Soviet Criminal Law (1973).
These references were characterized as being brief statements in a novel or textbook and were made by heterosexuals. Vicktor Sosnora was allowed to write about witnessing an elderly gay actor being brutally murdered in a Leningrad bar in The Flying Dutchman (1979), but the book was only allowed to be published in East Germany. When the author was gay and, in particular, if they were seen as supporting gay rights, the censors tended to be much harsher.
Russian gay author Yevgeny Kharitonov illegally circulated some gay fiction before he died of heart failure in 1981. Author Gennady Trifonov served four years of hard labor for circulating his gay poems and, upon his release, was allowed to write and publish only if he avoided depicting or making reference to homosexuality.
In 1984, a group of Russian gay men met and attempted to organize an official gay rights organization, only to be quickly shut down by the KGB. It was not until later in the Glasnost period that public discussion was permitted about re-legalizing private, consensual adult homosexual relations.
A poll conducted in 1989 reported that homosexuals were the most hated group in Russian society and that 30 percent of those polled felt that homosexuals should be liquidated. In a 1991 public opinion poll conducted in Chelyabinsk 30 percent of the respondents aged 16 to 30 years old felt that homosexuals should be "isolated from society," 5 percent felt they should be "liquidated," 60 percent had a "negative" attitude toward gay people and 5 percent labeled their sexual orientation "unfortunate."
The precise number of persons prosecuted under Article 121 is unknown, with the first official information was released only in 1988, but it is believed to be about 1000 prosecuted a year. According to official data, the number of men convicted under Article 121 had been steadily decreasing during the Glasnost period. In 1987, 831 men were sentenced under Article 121; in 1989, 539; in 1990, 497; and in 1991, 462.
LGBT history under Yeltsin: 1991–1999
On 27 May 1993, homosexual acts between consenting males were legalised. However, there have been reports that by 13 August 1993, "not all persons serving sentences under the old legislation have been released from jail", and there have been "cases of homosexuals being re-sentenced and kept in jail, cases of imprisoned homosexuals who cannot be located and of missing files". The reform was largely the result of pressure from the Council of Europe. While President Boris Yeltsin signed the bill into law on 29 April 1993, neither he nor the parliament had any interest in LGBT rights legislation
No openly LGBT Russian has been elected to the parliament. The United Russia, Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and the A Just Russia are the four major political parties in Russia and they tend to ignore LGBT-rights issues or endorse a socially conservative stance in opposition. A similar stance tends to be taken with the smaller political parties. The conservative Patriots of Russia and Right Cause expressly oppose LGBT-rights, while the liberal Yabloko supports a human rights platform, but generally avoids taking a public stance on LGBT-rights.
In 1996, a Russian LGBT human rights organization called "Triangle" was formed, with several new LGBT themed publications and local organizations arising in light of the fall of the Soviet Union. Yet as was the case with the groups that arose during 1989–1990, many of these organizations, including "Triangle", folded due to lack of funding as well as legal and social harassment.
LGBT history under Putin: 1999–present
In 1999, homosexuality was formally removed from the list of Russian mental disorders (due to endorsing ICD-10, which removed homosexuality in 1990).
In 2002, Gennady Raikov, who led a conservative pro-government group in the Russian Duma, suggested outlawing homosexual acts. His proposal failed to generate enough votes but the suggestion generated public support from many conservative religious leaders and medical doctors.
In 2003, a new statute about military and medical expertise was adopted (1 July 2003); it contained «a clause of "deviations of gender identification and sexual preferences" among the reasons of disability for military service <...> this clause irritated the proponents of having equal rights for people of different sexual orientation <...> [while] another clause said that different sexual orientation should not be considered a deviation.» Finally, Valery Kulikov, the Major-General of the Medical Service, announced:
|“||The new statute about military and medical expertise from 1 July 2003 does not forbid people of non-standard sexual orientation from serving in the military.... The issue of person's homosexuality is not medical. There is no such diagnosis as homosexuality in medicine. There is no such illness in the classification of World Health Organization. The new statute about military and medical expertise follows international law practice. Therefore the reasons for evaluating the ability to serve for homosexuals are the same: physical and psychic health.||”|
|“||People of non-standard sexual orientation can have problems when being in the Army, and therefore should not reveal their sexual preferences, Valery Kulikov said. "Other soldiers are not going to like that, they can be beaten."»||”|
In May 2005, LGBT Human Rights Project Gayrussia.ru was founded by Nikolai Alekseev to fight discriminations on the basis of sexual orientation and raise awareness of LGBT issues in Russia. In July 2005, Nikolai Alekseev launched the Moscow Pride initiative which has been organized every year since May 2006. As of July 2009, LGBT Human Rights Project Gayrussia.ru is a transnational organization promoting LGBT Rights in Russia and Belarus.
In 2006, Grand Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin was quoted as saying about Moscow Pride marchers, "If they come out on to the streets anyway they should be flogged. Any normal person would do that – Muslims and Orthodox Christians alike". Similar comments were made by one of Russia's Chief Rabbis, Berl Lazar, who joined Tadzhuddin in condemning the march, saying that it "would be a blow for morality".
In late April and early May 2006, protesters blockaded some popular gay clubs in Moscow. After initial complaints that police had failed to intervene, later blockade attempts were met with arrests.
In May 2006, a gay rights forum was held in Moscow. An accompanying march was banned by the mayor in a decision upheld by the courts. Some activists, head of them Nikolai Alekseev tried to march despite the ban and attempted to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This march is known as the first Moscow Pride. This act and the presence of non-Russian activists aroused a nationalist reaction in addition to a religious condemnation of homosexuality, leading to the presence of both neo-Nazi groups and Orthodox protesters threatening the gay activists. Anti-march protesters beat the marchers, and about 50 marchers and 20 protesters were arrested when riot police moved in to break up the conflict. The documentary Moscow Pride '06 features the events that took place from 25 to 27 May 2006 in Moscow. It contains a vivid testimony of the first attempt to stage a gay pride march in Russia as well as the festival organized around it."
On 27 May 2007, Moscow Pride was banned again by the former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who had earlier branded it as "satanic", was held in Moscow again and for the second year running degenerated into violent clashes with anti-gay protestors. For the second time police failed to protect gay rights activists. Italian MP Marco Cappato was kicked by an anti-gay activist and then detained when he demanded police protection. British gay rights veteran Peter Tatchell and Russian gay leader Nikolai Alekseev were detained as well. The march is documented in the 2008 film East/West - Sex & Politics.
On 1 June 2008, Moscow Pride again attempted to hold a gay parade. Some 13 Orthodox opposers were held by police for violent actions against protesters.
On February 2009, at the final press conference in Moscow the Russian LGBT Network and the Moscow Helsinki Group published a paper titled «The situation for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people in Russian Federation». This is the first complex study of the legal situation of LGBT people in the history of Russia. The 100-page paper contains the analysis of relevant Russian laws and also assembles and generalizes specific instances of infringement of rights and discrimination.
On 8 May 2009, Russian Duma rejected a bill criminalizing gay "propaganda" in Russia (with only 90 votes in favor against 226 minimum required). This bill was initiated in 2007 by a Fair Russia party member and suggested depriving those who "openly demonstrated a homosexual way of life and a homosexual orientation" of the right to hold posts in educational establishments or in the army for a term from 2 to 5 years. According to Interfax, the parliamentarians decided that gay "propaganda" was not dangerous for society and thus could not be punished under the criminal code. Nikolai Alekseev, Chief organizer of the Moscow Pride, commented that with parliament rejecting this bill, it is likely that the Constitutional Court of Russia follows their request to cancel a similar law that is in force in the Ryazan Region.
On 16 May 2009, the Moscow Pride timed to coincide with Moscow's hosting of the 2009 Eurovision song contest finals was broken up by police, with all 30 participants – including British human rights activist Peter Tatchell – arrested.
On 17 May 2009, for the International Day Against Homophobia Russian LGBT network organized the "Rainbow Flash Mob" in Saint Petersburg; this event brought together from 100 to 250 people by various estimations, and the organizers consider it to be the most large-scale action in the whole history of Russia dedicated to the problem of LGBT rights. Also the action in smaller scales has passed in more than 30 cities of Russia.
In 2010, Russia was fined by the European Court of Human Rights under allegations by Nikolay Alexeyev that cities were discriminating against gays by refusing to approve pride parades. Although they claimed a risk of violence, the court ruled that their decision "effectively approved of and supported groups who had called for [their] disruption". He considered the ruling to be a "crippling blow to Russian homophobia on all accounts." In August 2012, contravening the previous ruling, Moscow upheld a ruling blocking Nikolay Alexeyev's request for permission to organize Moscow Pride for the next 100 years, citing the possibility of public disorder.
In March 2012, an attempt to organize a Pride House at the 2014 Winter Olympics was struck down by the Ministry of Justice, which refused to approve the registration of the NGO set up to run it on the basis of the Pride House inciting "propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation which can undermine the security of the Russian society and the state, provoke social-religious hatred, which is the feature of the extremist character of the activity".
In June 2013, Russia passed a federal law banning the distribution of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors,
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