Conditions for openly gay and lesbian Russians have become so dire that America is experiencing a surge in the number of LGBT Russians seeking asylum in America from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tyranny against them. Several asylum-seekers spoke with the Associated Press about what they faced back home.
Andrew Mironov, 25, left a lucrative job with an oil company. He also abandoned his dreams of a Ph.D. “In Russia, I would have gotten my Ph.D. this fall, had a job and health insurance,” he told the Associated Press. “Now, here, I’m nobody.”
He lives in New York City with an uncertain future, but he feels safe in America. Assailants beat him at a gay bar in Moscow.
“Which is more important, happiness or success?” he asked. “I would say happiness. I feel no fear here.”
In Russia, homosexuality is not outlawed, but there are no laws that protect them from discrimination based on their sexuality. Russia derestricted homosexuality as a mental illness in 1999. In 2013, the State Duma passed a law that forbids anyone from equating “straight and gay relationships, as well as the distribution of material on gay rights.” People face a 100,000 rouble ($2,026.55) fine if they promote non-traditional relations. Attacks on gay gatherings increased after Putin passed the law. Authorities blocked a gay dating app and threatened users with arrest under the law. Newspaper editor Alexander Suturin was fined when he printed that “being gay is normal.”
“It [the law] helped homophobic people feel the government is on their side,” said Mirinov.
Immigration Equality, a New York-based group, said the number of Russian homosexuals living in America jumped “from 68 in 2012 to 127 in 2013 and 161 through October 30 of this year.” To receive asylum, the person must prove “he or she has a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ in their home country.” Immigration Equality believes the new law in Russia will strengthen anyone’s case. The majority of the cases are gay men in their 20s and 30s, while some are lesbians with children.
Unfortunately, laws in America forbid asylum-seekers from working. Larry Poltavtsev, founder of the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, does not approve of the law, especially when Russians like Mirinov possess substantial talents that could contribute to American society.
“It makes no sense because most of our arrivals have advanced degrees and speak good English,” said Poltavtsev. “They’re capable of being productive, paying taxes, but we are not letting them do those things while they’re waiting.”
Andrew Nasonov was a journalist in Russia. His partner, Igor Bazilevsky, was a graphics designer. Neither may work, but did accomplish a huge step that is denied in Russia. Nasonov and Bazilevsky legalized their union in Washington, D.C.
“We were finally able to say that we are a real family,” said Nasonov. He added:
There are not enough words to describe how wonderful these feelings are. But of course, we are still faced with a lot of difficulties. It was hard to leave our relatives, friends, and parents behind in Russia. We have nothing here, and in many ways are completely dependent on the assistance of the people who surround us.
Though homosexuality is not illegal in Russia, it certainly is not welcome. In February 2014, Pink News, Europe’s gay news service, listed twenty-five anti-gay incidents in Russia. In one such incident, attackers gassed a gay club in Moscow; they are still at large. Three men stabbed and set alight a man “they believed was gay.” Men killed and used beer bottles to rape a 23-year-old man. Russian TV station Channel 4 produced a documentary on the Russian gangs who hunt gay people. A group calling themselves Occupy Paedophilia, which has 37 chapters across Russia, abduct and torture homosexuals across the country.