Gay Russians fuse art and activism to agitate for change in fight against discriminatory laws

Published: January 2, 2014

There is silence over the phone line to the offices of LGBT advocacy group Coming Out in St Petersburg. Sasha Semenova is formulating the words to reply to a simple question: what is the hardest thing about being a gay parent raising a child in Russia?

The answer, however, is not simple. Ms Semenova’s voice is gentle and quiet as she explains.
"This is the feeling that you are never safe. I think that every person, like many people who have children, they want to be good parents, and, as many people, I’m trying to do best for my son," she said.
"I am constantly living with a feeling that no matter how hard I try, and what I am doing for this child, I am not good enough just because I’m not heterosexual."
For gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Russia, 2013 was a challenging year. They are dealing with heightened levels of homophobia, harassment and violence as the result of the Russian government’s new law banning the ‘propaganda’ of homosexuality to minors – those under 18 years of age.
Polina, from Coming Out, says the new law, introduced in June, "intimidates people".
"People don’t know what’s legal and not legal to do," she said.
She says although not all LGBT people are experiencing homophobic treatment in public, the sharp rise in the number who are is worrying.
"We monitor and document violations of LGBT rights and discrimination in St Petersburg, and people have been coming to us with stories of everyday harassment on the streets, which hasn’t been happening before," she said.
"So they get verbally abused, shoved, insulted, by regular people on the streets if they openly express their homosexuality or gender identity."
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