Meet the Gay Russian Teenager Using Twitter to Combat Homophobia
Aug 24 2013
A screenshot of a photo Kirill recently tweeted
In the last few months, Russia has become notorious for its antigay stance. Vladimir Putin’s regime has passed “gay propaganda” laws that effectively ban people from discussing anything in support of LGBT people, and now gay people and their allies live in fear of prosecution and attack—especially from the neo-Nazi anti-gay group Occupy-Pedofilyay, a group led by former skinhead Maxim Martsinkevich, which uses online personal advertisements to lure gay boys to buildings where they detain and humiliate them. The group films the boys being harassed and then uploads the videos onto the internet.
Russian queers cannot run to the police for help, since most likely, none would be given. Few gays are able to leave Russia, so they live within a country that hates them. Apart from activists protesting in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, most gays have either gone into hiding or attempted to mask their identity, making it difficult for Westerners to know what it’s really like to be gay in Russia. But one brave gay Russian teenager is changing this with @ru_lgbt_teen, a Twitter account about being a gay teen in Novosibirsk, the third most-populated city in Russia.
Like most teenagers, Kirill tweets about his personal life, with short sentences about his recurring depression and minor updates on what he does in his free time. In recent tweets, he has discussed bullying at school and his inability to seek asylum. His avatar is a simple "SOS," and he often posts news about Russia and images of boys in homoerotic situations that could also be seen as tragic—such as the 19th century Russian painter Ilya Repin's Barge Haulers on the Volga, which shows over-worked men falling on each other as they drag a barge across a river.
Barge Haulers on the Volga, a picture the Russian painter Ilya Repin painted 140 years ago in 1873, via Wiki Commons
Via email, Kirill was kind enough to speak to VICE about his Twitter account, how he meets other gay teens, and his plan to escape Russia. For his protection, Kirill has asked us to only use his first name.
VICE: What's it like being a gay teenager in Russia?
Kirill: Generally speaking, you have a gay teen being seen as a “disenfranchised deviant” in the eyes of society and the state. People are different, but the male members of society are trying to avoid having anything to do with gays, [because they don’t want anybody] to think that they are gay. In Russia, gays are not people.
Has being gay in Russia always been this difficult?
There have always been problems. Personally, I came across homophobia when I was 11 years old. People began to mock me just because my first literature teacher offered me the female lead in the Autumn Festival of Russian Language and Literature in the fifth grade, citing the fact that in Japan, women's roles are played by men. But I'm not in Japan. Because this snowballed into bullying around my sexuality, at some point the whole school became aware that I was gay.
My homeroom teacher is a biology teacher. This is why when she heard rumors about my sexuality and bullying in 2008, she explained that homosexuality is normal. Many people argued with her in class. Today, she would be charged under the “propaganda” law. She changed her views and does not protects gays, because this year in class she openly joked about children in same-sex families. Perhaps, this really is funny. Personally, I was sad to hear that.
Do any of your friends or family members know you're gay?
I live in a single-parent family. My mother pretends not to know. One day she found my journal, where there was one very gay entry, after which there was a big scandal. She said to me, “If you're sick, I'll treat you.” I haven't had friends since July 22, 2010, in part because of my sexual orientation. Now I’ve finally turned into a “problem” teenager. No psychologist can help me, and I need to see a psychiatrist.
Have any antigay attacks happened near you or even to you?
I am not a victim of Tesak [Maxim Martsinkevich's Russian nickname, which means “the Cleaver” in Russian] or his followers. However, I have experienced the unimaginable limits of school homophobia, where you are constantly humiliated, insulted, and almost beaten during recess and by the school, while teachers act like they do not notice.
Do you know any other gay teens?
In real life, I do not know of any other LGBT teens. But on social networking sites, I talk with several kids from other cities. I would not say that their problems are drastically different from my problems. Not all of them know what it means to be an outcast at school, but they know firsthand what it means to be an outcast in society as a whole.
Do you want to leave Russia?
I would very much like to leave Russia. I would say that for me, it is kind of an obsession at the moment. I can't be granted asylum, because I cannot prove school bullying, and I do not have the mental health or the mental capacity to protest to help the gays. But that does not mean that I am not doing anything to leave Russia. In the fall I will start learning German, and I plan to study for a few years in Germany. For me, this is one of the most accessible options in terms of my financial situation.
Have you been involved in any protests?
I remember August 31, 2011. In the central square of the city of Novosibirsk, there was a rally in support of LGBT teens. I myself decided not to take an active part in it, but I walked around where the action was.
How do you feel about the West boycotting the Sochi 2014 Olympics and Russian vodka?
I believe that the boycott will not improve the situation with the rights of gay people in Russia. The main Russian TV channels represent the state propaganda. When France passed legislation on same-sex marriages, there were rallies and protests against them. Our television stations talked about it for several days and just said, with such theatrical pathos, that “in France there is gay censorship and dictatorship.” This was followed by measurements of public opinion polls about how the country's homophobia is growing. And then a few weeks later, Russia adopted the antigay law. While at the same time, personally for me and for the majority of gays whom I know, our last hope is the West.
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