Book: ‘Out of the Blue: Russia’s Hidden Gay Literature’
Edited by Kevin Moss, 1997
This article appeared in the Spring 2000 edition of Lesbigay SIGnals
Indiana University Office of Overseas Study
Copyright 2000, The Trustees of Indiana University
site url: http://www.indiana.edu/~overseas/lesbigay
Queer History of Russia and Eastern Europe-overview of sources and developments in Russian and East European gay studies
by Geordie Jones, Indiana University
The history of sexuality is a new area of scholarly inquiry. It grew out of feminist examinations of women’s history as well as the development of both masculinity studies and gender studies. Existing work on gay and lesbian history tends to focus on the United States, Britain, and, to a lesser extent, the rest of Western Europe.
One possible explanation for this stems from the fact that many historians investigating homosexuality link the development of homosexual identity, as opposed to homosexual behavior, to processes of modernity dating to the Victorian era. Despite this focus on the West, some scholars have begun to look at other times and places in order to broaden their understanding of homosexuality. Such a trend exists in both Russian and E ast European historiography. This article attempts to give an overview of some of the sources and developments to date in the field of Russian and East European gay studies for those people who may be interested but are unfamiliar with the topic.
The earliest scholarship dealing with homosexuality in Russia is that of Simon Karlinsky.(footnote 1) Karlinsky authored several articles that attempted to bring to light Russia’s gay history. Initially, rather than focus specifically on one particular time peri od, Karlinsky outlined the more general existence of both homosexual behavior and identity within the Russian experience. Karlinsky’s work simultaneously pointed out a tradition of homosexuality in Russia and underscored the need for more intellectual inv estigation into this subject matter. Although his work does not necessarily provide the most in-depth discussions, it serves as an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the subject of gay and lesbian history in Russia.
Laura Engelstein has produced the best scholarship dealing with Russian gay and lesbian history. Although she deals specifically with gay and lesbian issues, she also manages to tie this subject to a larger discussion of the dynamics of sexuality in t urn-of-the-century Russia. This is particularly true of her monograph, The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siecle Russia, and is also apparent in other articles.(2) When dealing with early Soviet ideology, Engelstein provides a thorough explanation of how and why Soviet attitudes developed as they did. For anyone interested in pursuing this subject, Engelstein’s work provides a good vantage point from which to begin exploring other sources.
Russian scholars have also conducted research on gay and lesbian issues. The most well known scholarship of this type is that of Igor Kon.(3) Kon explains contemporary (post-communist) attitudes toward "sexual minorities" by giving an overview of how th ese attitudes were shaped by the Soviet experience. His work serves as a useful source for those interested in more recent gay and lesbian issues. His utilization of opinion polls makes for a very informative read. Kon provides a mixed bag of both positiv e and negative reactions and developments in the 1980s and early 1990s, all of which are well grounded in detailed and solid research. Kon’s work cannot be categorized as gay and lesbian history per se, but instead falls under the broader umbrella of gend er studies. However, it stands as an excellent background for anyone wanting to learn more about Russian (and Soviet) attitudes toward homosexuality.
Recently, Laurie Essig published a monograph that deals directly with the issue of gay and lesbian experiences in Russia.(4) Like Kon, she remains largely concerned with contemporary attitudes and developments. In addition, she attempts to explain a str ong Russian gay and lesbian political agenda — going so far as to define a "Queer" segment of Russian society, a term that is politically loaded. Her book is both interesting and useful in terms of augmenting previous scholarship and breaking new ground. Moreover, it demonstrates what a rich topic gay and lesbian issues can be for scholars of Russia and Eastern Europe.
While no single book attempts to provide an overview of Eastern European gay and lesbian history, there are several articles that treat this issue either through specific region-based case studies or other types of comparison. Interestingly, while this area of research has been growing, almost all of the scholarship concentrates on the post-socialist period. Many Western scholars have become interested in how gays and lesbians experienced the collapse of communism and are curious to see what, if any, role homosexuals will play in rebuilding various East European societies. Contemporary books examining gay and lesbian rights in an international context are useful as a starting point for concerned scholars and individuals who are unfamiliar with this. (5)
The primary exception to the post-socialist focus found in the current scholarship is the case of East Germany. Several works attempt to address the East German situation by going back to the 1980s or earlier. (6) Some works look at the experience of Naz ism as a source of later East German attitudes. As more scholars become interested in gay and lesbian issues, other aspects of East European gay and lesbian history will come to light.
The experiences of Russian and East European gays and lesbians constitute a major new arena for interested scholars. Despite the growth of such research, much remains to be done. We need to study not only what life was like for homosexuals in these co untries, but also how people in each society understood and responded to gay and lesbian individuals. My own research thus far has examined how certain members of cultural elites in Russia during the early part of the twentieth century attempted to use ar t and literature to construct and advance a distinct gay and lesbian identity. However, my interest in gay and lesbian history is limited neither to Russia nor to the early twentieth century. I plan to do further research that looks at the Russian and E ast European gay and lesbian experience from a comparative perspective.
1. See for example his "Russia’s Gay Literature and History (11th-20th centuries)" Gay Sunshine 29/30 (1976): 1-6, or his "Russia’s Gay Literature and Culture: The Impact of the October Revolution" in Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian P ast, (New York: Meridian, 1990).
2. The Keys to Happiness Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siecle Russia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992). See also "Soviet Policy toward Male Homosexuality: Its Origins and Historical Roots" Journal of Homosexuality 29, 2-3 (1995).
3. For example his "Sexual Minorities" in Sex and Russian Society (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993).
4. Laurie Essig, Queer In Russia: A story of sex, self and the other (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999).
5. For example, Barry D. Adam, et. al. eds., The Global Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Politics: National Imprints of a Worldwide Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999) or Donald J. West and Richard Green, eds. Sociolegal Control of Homosex uality: A Multi-nation Comparison (New York: Plenum, 1997).
6. See for example the work of Katrin Seig, Christina Schenk, and Denis Sweet or Jurgen Lemke, Gay Voices from East Germany (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).
Editor’s Notes: Geordie Jones is a graduate student in the Indiana University Department of History. This article originally appeared in the Newsletter of the Indiana University Russian & East European Institute.
5 September 2001
Banging Fists Against City Hall’s Walls
by Anna Badkhen
Mayor Yury Luzhkov this summer banned two shows that would have changed Moscow. One was Portuguese bullfighting — a brutal show that involves blood, violence, and, in some cases, death. In Portuguese bullfighting, the animal is stabbed with barbed darts. Portuguese bullfighting is considered more humane than its Spanish version, where matadors end the fight by slashing the bull with a 10-pound sword. The Russian capital, where brutality and pain are the order of the day, has never seen such refined cruelty before. Luckily for the bulls, it doesn’t look like it will see it anytime soon.
The other show Luzhkov outlawed was a Love Parade, which the mayor’s office equated with a Gay Pride parade. What is there in common between a gay parade and bullfighting? Nothing, if you ask me. During a Gay Pride parade, gay women and men walk peacefully down some street announcing that they are gay. The only blood shed at such demonstrations — including the one that would have taken place during City Day festivities last weekend, had Luzhkov granted the permission — is menstrual.
A Gay Pride parade is a declaration of a right to love and an attempt to open the minds of prudish and homophobic creatures. Alas, Moscow’s homosexual community did not manage to overcome the prudishness of the capital’s narrow-minded and homophobic mayor. Homosexuality, in City Hall’s opinion, "goes against traditional moral values of most Russians, as well as the canons of the main religious confessions in the city." When the city’s gay community received this statement, they must have felt like they had been banging their bare fists against a brick wall.
The law of independent Russia doesn’t throw homosexual men in jail for five years, like the Soviet law did. (Gay women were never punished, perhaps because nothing women did apart from winning Olympic gold for figure skating and gymnastics was ever taken seriously in this country.) Still, gays are not considered equal members of society. When in his City Day opening speech Luzhkov said City Hall "does not forget for a minute about its responsibility before Moscow residents," he obviously didn’t mean the city’s homosexual men and women.
Another group of people Luzhkov apparently forgot when he made his speech were Moscow’s Chechens. And Georgians and Armenians and Azeris and Ingush — anyone who, to the city’s vigorous policemen, looks Chechen and who therefore gets harassed and even tortured every day because of the way they look.
Moscow’s Chechens probably chose to stay at home for last weekend’s holiday. After all, they had almost had their chance to demonstrate for their rights on Pushkin Square, in the heart of Moscow, in June. Unfortunately, Luzhkov banned that demonstration, too. The mayor said the grim topic of the protest — human rights — would have interfered with the festive mood of another event that was taking place in town: the 2001 Theater Olympics. Welcome to Moscow, the 854-year-old city of fair-skinned, blond, straight people. And happy, healthy bulls.
Anna Badkhen is a freelance correspondent based in Moscow.
July 23, 2001
Moscow Mayor Rebuffs Gay Parade
Moscow – The Moscow mayor’s office harshly rebuffed requests for permission to hold a Gay Pride parade, saying Monday that such an event would amount to "propaganda of dissipation.” With various festive parades a typical sight in Moscow during holidays, the office of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said it has been flooded by requests to allow a Gay Pride parade. The latest one asked for a parade to be held on the Day of the City this fall, when various other groups march across the center of Moscow.
Luzhkov’s press service issued a stern statement saying that "the city government will not allow holding this march in Moscow on the Day of the City or on any other day, because such demonstrations outrage the majority of the capital’s population, are in effect propaganda of dissipation and force upon society unacceptable norms of behavior.” Homosexuality was a crime punishable by prison time in the Soviet era. Gay culture has grown in Moscow and other large cities in the past decade, but remains frowned upon by most of the population.
Luzhkov’s statement added that homosexuality "goes against traditional moral values of most Russians, as well as the canons of the main religious confessions in the city.” The flamboyant Luzhkov is widely popular in Moscow because of the relative wealth enjoyed by the city, the large-scale renovations that shed the city’s drab Soviet-era image, and grandiose road construction that has helped alleviate notorious traffic jams.
But he has maintained a Soviet-era registration system, effectively requiring non-Muscovites to seek permits to live in the city — rebutting objections by federal officials that the restrictions violate the Russians’ constitutional right to choose their place of residency. Moscow police also hold arbitrary document checks on the streets, demanding proof of registration, and usually target darker-skinned people from the Caucasus region.
7 June 2001
Tatu’s Teen Queens: Lesbian Tunes
by Alexander Bratersky
A large truck is stolen from an airport parking lot. It charges down a wintry highway at high speed, apparently paying little or no attention to road signs. A worker dressed in an orange vest tries to stop the vehicle, but is instead run over by it, as it continues on. Who’s behind the wheel? Two teenage girls. But no ordinary teenage girls, mind you. This is the controversial pop duo Tatu, which rocketed to fame this year with their hit "Ya Soshla s Uma," or "I’ve Lost My Mind," which tells the story of a lesbian love affair between two young girls. And the scene described above is their latest music video – "Nas Ne Dogonyat," or "They Won’t Catch Us."
Formed last year by psychologist-turned-advertising-guru Ivan Shapovalov, Tatu became extraordinarily popular among teenage listeners with the release of a single song: "I’ve Lost My Mind." "I’ve gone mad/I need her" (Ya soshla s uma/Mne nuzhna ona) go the lyrics, written by television journalist and poet Yelena Kipper, formerly of NTV’s "Prok" consumer program. Despite the song’s theme, however, Shapovalov denies that Tatu’s Lena Katina, 16, and Yulia Volkova, 15, are artists whose work is as single-themed as a debut song about a lesbian relationship might lead some to conclude.
"This project has many sides," Shapovalov recently told music magazine Neon. "And I don’t intend to limit any of them. That’s my view of the world and I’m sure that everything Tatu will do in the future will be contemporary, sexy and with a cultish kind of appeal." Shapovalov need not worry. Katina and Volkova – by granting few interviews, keeping their private lives private and communicating with fans only via e-mail, have already achieved something of the cult figure standing he hoped for.
Nevertheless, despite their reputation for being standoffish with the press, both girls were ready to talk one day late last month. "We wanted to do something original, to be different from everyone else," said Volkova, a smiling brunette, at the Champion entertainment complex, where she is a regular. "I was so happy when I saw the [first] video and said to Lena, ‘Can you believe that we’re Tatu!’" Volkova and Katina, who were chosen by Shapovalov from among 500 hopefuls at a Moscow casting call last year to form Tatu, weren’t total newcomers to music – they’d both been members of the school chorus. "I really wanted to sing," said Katina, who hopes one day to study psychology and later work with drug addicts. "I tried to imitate all the female singers."
Katina added that she’d always taken the subject of "I’ve Lost My Mind" very seriously. "When I sing it, it goes through me," she said. "Before, this kind of love was forbidden, but those people are just like us. Sometimes, I even think that with Yulia [Volkova], I feel more than friendship." Volkova, who is a student at the Gnesinsky School of Music and wants to keep singing, has a similar emotional reaction to the group’s debut single, even admitting that the song made her cry once. "It’s a song about love between two girls," Volkova said. "But I think it has some references to suicide, because if a person is alone, he starts thinking about killing himself. It’s like we’ve both gone mad and nobody in the world can help us."
While it’s unclear if a song about a lesbian love affair will lead to suicides, many critics apparently feel that the influence of the band poses a threat to its audience of young girls. "Of course, there’s been some noise about the lesbian theme," Yekaterina Ignatova, editor of Yes magazine for young girls, was quoted as saying by OM earlier this spring. "And I don’t like what Tatu is doing and I don’t think it’s right to mock these girls this way.
"I don’t like this kind of speculation. I don’t think it’s right to confuse girls this way. It’s like with drugs – there are just certain topics that shouldn’t be used to make money." OM, a glossy magazine directed at a young adult audience, even dedicated an article (by journalist Boris Barabanov) to Tatu asserting that bands like this one use a homosexual angle to attract attention. Despite claims of a menace to society, however, psychologist Vladimir Shakhidzhanyan, author of the sex almanac "One Thousand and One Questions About It," said that such influences are minimal.
"The percentage of homosexual relationships isn’t going to change," he said. "Can Tatu help to raise the number of lesbians in a society? Of course not." But the controversy has certainly been a boon for Tatu – the band recently signed a contract with the Russian arm of Universal Studios to record three albums by the end of 2002. The monetary sum agreed upon was not disclosed.
Despite their success, however, the girls are realistic, even cynical, about their stardom. "Show business is a dirty word," Volkova said. "Everyone talks about it, but you have to live there to know. If I’m nice, a good girl, I won’t finish first. I have to be smart, be a snake, in order to be successful." Katina is even more straightforward. "Show business is just a pile of shit," she said.
March 27, 2001
Gays Gather Quietly, Out of Political Spotlight
by Elizabeth Wolfe, Staff Writer
Books, magazines, scholarly journals and newspaper clippings in Russian, English and French line the walls of the one-room apartment at Rechnoi Vokzal. Visitors to the tiny library would be hard-pressed to find another place where Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf share shelf space with Igor Kon, Sophia Parnok and Marina Tsvetayeva.
The founder and kee per of the Gay and Lesbian Archives is a middle-aged teacher who asked that she be referred to in this article by her English-language initials, H.G., as she fears being fired. She walks around the room as if walking through the years. She runs her fingers along the spines of 19th- and early 20th-century poetry, as well as dozens of texts that were not published and foreign authors who were not translated until after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
She hauls down a large binder from a top shelf and flips through pages of Russian newspaper articles about homosexuals, then sifts through piles of gay men’s magazines that appeared and disappeared in the early and mid-’90s. She points to a stack of back issues of the two gay-themed publications that remain in Moscow, Ostrov (Island) and Organicheskaya Lady (Organic Lady), black and white texts held together with staples.
In addition to building her archive, H.G. wanted to create a place where unpublished writers could show their work to an appreciative audience. She began displaying her collected materials in 1995 and visitors add to it when they stop by Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. "I understood that we needed a library and not some abstract organization that’s fighting for some rights."
"She is a living monument to our movement," said Natalya Vorontsova, a well-known author in gay circles. Vorontsova utters the word "movement" with a touch of irony, since many gays and lesbians in Moscow agree that no movement exists. Opinions are divided over whether it should, or could.
"There have been rudiments of such in both Moscow and St. Petersburg," said Viktor, 50, who asked that his last name not be used. He shares with the archives part of his own massive collection, including "Zerkalo" (The Mirror), a bulletin from his organization GenderDok, which catalogs and collects stories from Russian print media.
"Some organizations have broken up, some have stayed on, most turned more into social clubs. This is good, ultimately, but they do not respond to the social task," he said.
Yet others say that there is not much of a social task to attend to. "It doesn’t exist because no one needs it," Yevgenia Debryanskaya, 47, said of gay activism. Debryanskaya, a political dissident in the ’80s, was one of the first Russian gays to proclaim her homosexuality in 1990.
These days, though, she spends time organizing Saturday night parties for women. "Political activity is almost zero," she said. The early 1990s was marked by a burst of political and social organizations and publications by gays and lesbians, including the newspaper Tema; the Tchaikovsky Fund; MOLLI (The Moscow Organization of Lesbians in Literature and Art); Krylya, or Wings; and Treugolnik, or Triangle. Several were sustained by money from the West, as well as the implanted notion of politicizing sexual identity. Triangle, where Debryanskaya was director, received an almost $40,000 grant from the European Commission’s TACIS program.
"The problem with early-’90s funding was that it was offered for no particular purpose, but as a general support," said Nikita Ivanov, 25, a lawyer and an editor at Gay.ru, a cultural, political and social web site that registers 30,000 hits daily.
Some say those entities faded along with hopes for adopting Western political and organizational models and the disappearance of funds. People weren’t willing to volunteer, and with the decriminalization in 1993 of homosexuality, "the leaders of early gay [organizations] in Russia had no clear view where to move further," Ivanov wrote in an e-mail interview.
Gay Russians say there are reforms they could be pushing for, including partnership registration and anti-discrimination laws, though not everyone agrees either is necessary. The larger task, some say, is to educate people about homosexuality.
"It’s a latent homophobia. It’s not explicit," Victor said. "You go out on a square and say ‘I’m gay!,’ some people will laugh and some will beat you up."
Those who believe that a revival of gay activism is necessary also see a long road ahead, not least because their rights are not at the top of the list while the Chechen war continues and poverty is widespread. For now, they insist they are not activists. "But the problem of attitudes toward gays and lesbians goes to a wider level and becomes a problem of social tolerance," Victor argued.
In the coming years, H.G. wants to compile an anthology of lesbian literature. Debryanskaya says that once the snow melts, she wants to gather club owners and plan an international gay conference next year in Moscow. Ivanov wants to open a gay community center and a gay information bulletin, with Western aid and strict monitoring of finances. At the cluttered reading salon, the clock hits 8 p.m., and those who lingered pack up to leave, bidding hasty good-byes until next week. .
For more information write to email@example.com or Organic Lady at firstname.lastname@example.org. BBC News, (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2996843.stm )
2 May 2003
Eastern gays seek Berlin refuge
by Ray Furlong, BBC
Berlin – The rainbow flag of gay pride flutters gently in a spring breeze outside the HT café in Friedrichshain, a hip district of eastern Berlin. Inside, the techno mingles with snatches of German and Russian conversation. It’s Tuesday night, and the Russian "stammtisch" is getting under way – a regular social event for Russian-speaking gay men.
"If there was different public opinion in Latvia then I would go back for sure," says Vadim, an ethnic Russian from Latvia. "But at this point I can’t imagine my life there." Vadim says that at home only his mother knows about his sexuality. "Everybody in Berlin knows that I’m gay, but I would never tell anyone in Riga that I live with a man," he says.
The "stammtisch" is a German concept, a place for the pub regulars to sit. This event was also organised by a local, Kai Stromberg. Kai, a database expert, often travels to Russia on business and started the meetings to keep up his language skills. But he also points to a paradox–while gay men from Russia come here for the liberal atmosphere, they are often still afraid to "come out" – wary of reactions from the wider Russian community in Berlin, which numbers about 100,000 people.
"They are often afraid to visit gay bars because they might be spotted by another Russian,’ he says. "But even if, due to their Russian roots, they are inhibited in comparison with Germans they are still definitely much freer. This is certainly not economic migration, as many politicians like to claim."
Model for emancipation
There are historical precedents for the large gay Russian community in Berlin. In the 1920s, when they were part of the wider post-revolution diaspora, it became fashionable for drag stars to adopt Russian pseudonyms. "The situation was very liberal at that time, so many gays and lesbians among the exiles found a new way of living here," says Karl Heinz Steinle from the Berlin Gay Museum – believed to be the only one of its kind in the world.
He says Berlin now also serves as a model for gay and lesbian communities in former communist countries seeking to build up structures of their own, and that Germans are trying to help them achieve emancipation at home. "The first Christopher Street parade in Russia, in 1992, was financed by Berlin gay organisations," he says.
"Another example is the Campaign Against Homophobia in Poland, which is being built up with the help of the German Green Party." This Polish campaign points to the ongoing battle for public attitudes towards homosexuality in East European countries about to join the European Union. Jozef, a dance teacher from Slovakia, discovered he was gay shortly after coming here 13 years ago and decided to stay. Although Jozef says he does not consider himself an "exile" he stresses the importance of the small, everyday things that make life different here. "It’s no big problem to hold hands with someone on the street here in Berlin. But I certainly, certainly could not do that in Slovakia. I would be a bit afraid about how people react." Like Vadim, at home he has only told his immediate family he is gay; they would not like other people to know, he says.
August 16, 2003
Gay black man died a victim of double prejudice
by Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow
Wale was a young refugee from a west African state who had fled to Russia to escape persecution for his sexuality. His lover, Sergei, was a young Russian hairdresser. In his adopted home, though, Wale faced prejudice of a different sort. Every day he’d be the target of comments about "monkeys" from skinheads or even ordinary Russians on the metro. After dark, he would rush home, keen to avoid the beating some young Muscovites dish out to the "chyorni ludi" they think are infecting their land. Wale’s homosexuality just added to the chance of being attacked. The two men, whose names have been changed, made sure they kept their affection for each other well hidden in public.
They had fallen instantly in love, and within a year decided to move in together. But there was a problem. On Sergei’s hairdressing wages they could not afford their own flat, and so Sergei’s disapproving mother reluctantly made room for them. She hoped Sergei would grow out of this "silly phase" and find himself a nice Russian girl to settle down with. But that was not about to happen. The daily abuse and racism – which sometimes involved police officers stopping "the monkey" for pointless passport checks to extract a bribe – had made Wale feel uneasy about staying in Russia. Soon their new neighbours turned against them. Threats were made. Advice was dispensed: keep what you are doing in there to yourselves, a locals said, implying that if it got out there would be trouble. The couple decided they could not live in a state of fear.
They asked the UN for advice about moving to another country. Their case stood little chance, they thought. Wale could not return to Africa because of civil conflict and the fact that he faced as much persecution there for his sexuality. They wanted asylum in a third country. Miraculously, a Scandinavian state accepted them as a "married couple". They were ecstatic; Sergei’s mother was furious but they made preparations to leave town. They never saw them through. This month, Wale’s body was found below their apartment’s fifth-floor window. Those close to him are sceptical that he would have taken his own life, months before starting a new one with his lover. Many also fear that the police – not renowned for their attention to the plight of the black community – will not even open a criminal investigation.
The tale of Wale’s and Sergei’s time together is an awful example of the prejudices that still pervade much of Russian society. While many young Russians have a liberal approach to sex and race, some elements of society remain fervently opposed to immigrants, and to gays, or "goloboi" (light blue), as they are colloquially known. Wale was beaten with both sticks. Reports of black people being attacked are alarmingly regular. While Russians are used to the darker skins of immigrants from the Caucasus, Africans remain a mysterious novelty.
During a blazingly hot afternoon just off Red Square, I watched as a British-African was mobbed by an astonished Russian family, desperate to have him pose with them in front of the resplendently patriotic memorial to the second world war leader Marshal Zhukov. It seemed as though they had never seen a black person before.
4 September 2003
Russian Church in gay wedding row
The Russian Orthodox Church has defrocked a priest for conducting the country’s first reported gay wedding. Church authorities in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, east of Moscow, said the ceremony was a blasphemous act and a gimmick to attract public attention to single-sex unions. "The Russian Orthodox Church is against single-sex marriages and condemns homosexual relations as a deadly sin," the diocese press service said in a statement. A spokesman for the diocese described the priest who conducted the service, Father Vladimir, as a "black sheep".
Partners Denis Gogolev and Misha Morozov have described the ceremony, which took place on Monday, as the first ever gay church wedding in Russia. "Misha and I want to show that gays can and should live in Russia, and quite openly," Mr Gogolev said. ‘Spouses’ They took their vows in a small chapel, exchanging rings, circling the altar and donning crowns as in a traditional Orthodox wedding. Newspaper reports said there was some confusion during the service, with the priest asking who was the husband and who was the wife. Mr Gogolev replied that they did not mind and both wished to be considered "spouses".
Homosexual relations between men were considered a crime in Soviet times. They were legalised in 1993 – though a group of members of the Russian parliament last year tried to reverse the move in what they said was a campaign to restore traditional moral values. Excommunication The Russian Orthodox Church also opposes euthanasia, abortion and artificial insemination. A priest who conducts a gay wedding could face excommunication, Father Alexander of the Nizhny Novgorod diocese told the Reuters news agency. Both the men married by Father Vladimir are standing in December’s parliamentary elections. They are putting their hopes in the female vote. "Women love and respect us," Denis said. "They even idolise us."
September 14, 2003
Gay union bemuses Russia Church ceremony seen by many as publicity stunt–Gay Pride isn’t on most Russians’ radar screens
by Michael Mainville, Special To The Star Moscow
Ed Mishin watches with envy as Canadians wrestle with the issue of same-sex marriages. The director of the Together GLBT Centre, one of Russia’s few gay-rights groups, Mishin knows the debate has been divisive, emotional and sometimes confrontational. But he still wishes his own country would address the issue. "I hope that some day we can have the same kind of debate that you are having in Canada," says Mishin. "For most Russians, homosexuals are still perverts who do not deserve rights."
It has been 10 years since Russia repealed the criminal code’s Article 121, which labelled sex acts between men a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. But the wave of liberalization that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 quickly stalled. In the years since, there has been no debate on the issue of same-sex unions. On Sept. 1, two men shocked the country by taking part in a full Russian Orthodox marriage ceremony.
Wearing traditional embroidered crowns, Denis Gogolev, 26, and Mikhail Morozov, 24, exchanged vows and rings in a small chapel in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, 400 kilometres east of Moscow. Gogolev told tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that he bribed a local priest, Father Vladimir, the equivalent of $450 to perform the ceremony. Gogolev said he approached Father Vladimir after seeing how the priest had behaved during his baptism ceremony earlier this summer. "He snatched the fee right out of my hands, so I thought we could approach him." Gogolev said the priest readily agreed to perform the ceremony in exchange for the money. "He didn’t raise an eyebrow or try to tell us that we were doing something reprehensible." At one point in the service, the priest muttered "shame," but he then continued with the ceremony, Gogolev said.
The two men later tried to register their marriage at a government office but were turned away. Photographs of the service appeared in newspapers and on television and immediately sparked controversy. The 1,000-year-old Russian Orthodox Church labelled the ceremony blasphemous, suspended Father Vladimir from his duties and condemned homosexual acts as mortal sins. Viktor Malukhin, a spokesman for the Moscow patriarchate, says the Church has set up a special commission to investigate the incident. "Nothing like this has happened in the history of our Church," he says. "The commission will find out what happened and we will take proper measures." Malukhin says the ceremony was disgraceful and an insult to Orthodox Christians.
"The position of the Orthodox Church is, and has always been, that marriage is the union of a man and a woman blessed by God, and that homosexuality is a sin. "These people were simply looking to create a scandal for publicity and to be heroes on television." Mishin says the Russian gay community is divided over the incident. Some gays welcome it as a way of promoting discussion of same-sex unions, but others have called it a stunt that does nothing to promote gay rights. He also says the fact that both men recently announced they will be running in December’s parliamentary elections casts doubt on their motives. "It looks to some people like publicity was the only goal of their marriage."
Despite the legalization of homosexuality, Russia remains a deeply homophobic country. Last year, a group of deputies in the Russian parliament proposed reintroducing prison sentences for homosexuals. One of the supporters of the move, Gennady Raikov of the pro-Kremlin People’s Deputies party, said at the time that homosexuals needed to be punished for spreading AIDS and "destroying spiritual morals."
Another supporter of prison sentences, Communist deputy Vasily Shandybin, alleged that homosexuals had infiltrated the upper reaches of government in order to push their agenda. The effort to amend the criminal code failed, but the move had broad public support. A poll carried out by the Ekho Moskvy radio station showed that 47 per cent of listeners believed homosexuals should be incarcerated. A 2000 poll by independent research centre ROMIR found that only 1.9 per cent of Russians consider homosexual relationships normal. Mishin says the gay community remains nearly invisible in Russia, especially outside major cities, and homosexuals often live in fear of hate crimes and discrimination, even in relatively tolerant Moscow.
In 2001, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov rejected a plan for a Gay Pride parade, saying that "such demonstrations outrage the majority of the capital’s population, are in effect propaganda for debauchery and force upon society unacceptable norms of behaviour." In such a climate, Mishin says, the prospects for the acceptance of same-sex marriages or homosexual adoptions are bleak. "Our society is a long way from being able to discuss this issue and it will be many years before that changes."
September 23, 2003
Russia’s First Gay ‘Wedding’ Scandalizes Church
by Jeremy Page Nizhny Novgorod
The Russian Orthodox Church calls them sinners and blasphemers. But Denis and Mikhail call themselves man and husband. For years, they lived secretly as homosexual lovers, sharing an apartment with their cat in Nizhny Novgorod on the Volga. Then on Sept. 1, they paid a priest to marry them in a church in what they say was Russia’s first gay wedding.
It was a provocative move in a country where homosexual relations between men were outlawed in Soviet times and are still considered a "deadly sin" by the church. To ensure a scandal in a still deeply homophobic society, a Russian tabloid was invited and splashed pictures of the couple exchanging rings in traditional marital crowns across its pages. "I am a revolutionary, a pioneer," said Denis Gogolev, 27, throwing down a pile of newspapers which have since run stories on him and his 23-year-old "husband," Mikhail Morozov. "I am a Russian citizen, an Orthodox Christian and a homosexual. I simply wanted to marry the man I love."
The Church denounced the marriage as blasphemous and declared it null and void. It suspended the priest who apparently conducted the ceremony. Others said Morozov, a hair stylist, and Gogolev, an "image maker," had staged a publicity stunt, far from their first. Morozov once tried to enter a "Miss Nizhny Novgorod" beauty pageant. The couple have appeared on numerous television shows.
They plan to run in December’s parliamentary election. But sham or not, it has thrown a spotlight on the Russian Orthodox Church’s ultra-conservative attitude to homosexuality amid a debate on the issue throughout the Christian church. The 70 million-strong Anglican Church is torn over its stance on same-sex unions and faces a crisis over the appointment of gay bishops. Roman Catholic and Protestant groups fiercely oppose plans to legalize gay marriages in Canada. In Russia, the terms of the debate are vastly different.
The Russian Orthodox Church not only bans same-sex marriages and homosexual priests, it advocates barring gays and lesbians from teaching jobs or senior positions in the army and prisons. Church Orders Investigation Father Mikhail, a spokesman for the Orthodox Patriarch, said an investigation would be launched into the "wedding." "Such marriages are strictly forbidden by the church," he said. "It cannot be considered a marriage, regardless of what the investigation shows." The church’s hard line is uncontroversial in Russia, where many see it as the guardian of traditional values and view homosexuality as a symptom of post-Soviet moral decline. Some gay rights groups saw the "wedding" as little more than a red herring in their difficult fight for acceptance. "This wedding shows just how much our homophobic society loves displaying dirty laundry," said Konstantin Yeogornov, who edits a gay Web site in the northern city of Murmansk.
"This is a matter for two people and if they find the means to fulfill their own idea of happiness, let them get on with it." Homosexual relations between men were punishable by up to five years in prison in Soviet times, though they were never outlawed between women. The law was changed in 1993 to allow relations between consenting males over 18. But gays and lesbians still cannot legally marry, adopt children, or have parental rights over a partner’s child. Even mainstream public figures can be virulently anti-gay.
Last year, a group of deputies in parliament proposed reintroducing prison sentences for homosexuals as part of what they said was a campaign to restore traditional moral values. It is still unclear why the priest, Father Vladimir, agreed to marry the couple, but Gogolev insists he sympathized with their cause, although he admits he paid him $450. Father Vladimir was not available for comment. Despite local notoriety, the pair refuse to be intimidated. Gogolev, who has peroxide blond hair, and Morozov, who wears thick foundation and eyeliner, drive around in a bright yellow sports car and stroll through town "on principle."
During one interview in the city center, a group of young men shouted "Gays!" and jeered when they spotted the couple. Other locals have started to warm to them. "Old ladies in our building call each other on the phone and say, ‘Switch on the TV, they are showing our gays,"’ said Morozov. "They treat us as if we were sons or grandchildren."
October, 10 2003
Priest sacked and church destroyed over gay wedding row
A priest has been sacked, his church bulldozed and the wreckage burnt after he allowed the building to be used for a gay marriage last month. Church officials in Nizhni Novgorod, west Russia, said that the chapel in which the men were married had been destroyed because the marriage ceremony had "desecrated" it. Father Andriy, spokesman for the Nizhni Novgorod eparchy told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper: "Father Vladimir Enert, who married the gay couple, committed a sin in doing so. He desecrated the place. We therefore needed to destroy the chapel."
He added that Vladmir Enert had been defrocked by Russian Orthodox Church officials. The marriage of Dennis Gogolev and Michail Borozov in early September caused outrage among many Russian Orthodox Christians. Gogolev had first approached Father Enert to arrange a marriage ceremony but told him he wanted to keep his bride’s identity secret till the last minute because her parents did not agree with their wedding. But he arrived at the ceremony with his boyfriend, Borozov, and asked the priest to go ahead with the wedding service. Father Enert reportedly married the couple, despite initially protesting that he had been expecting Gogolev to arrive with a woman.
November 18, 2003
Russian Church freezes ties over gay bishop
Moscow – The Russian Orthodox Church says it is suspending ties with the Episcopal Church U.S.A. over its consecration of an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire. The Orthodox Church said homosexuality is a sin and it can’t condone the decision. In a statement on its Web page, the church said the consecration of the Rev. Gene Robinson had forced the Russian Orthodox Church to freeze its relations with the U.S. church.
The Russian church said it hopes to maintain contacts and cooperation with American Episcopalians who clearly pronounce their adherence to the moral teachings of Christianity. Gay sex was a crime in the Soviet Union, and homosexuality remains taboo in Russia.