New survey sheds light on status of LGBT in Russia

A new report released by the independent Levada Center sheds new light on ordinary people’s perceptions of LGBT people in Russia today. Unsurprisingly, the results are not encouraging. But the release of such a poll offers rare insight into Russian public opinion on these matters, and the international LGBT community would be wise to use this moment to reflect on how it can take positive steps to develop a strategies to fight homophobia in the post-Soviet space.

Titled “An Invisible Minority: on the Problem of Homophobia in Russia,” the survey took place late March, interviewing about 800 people in 134 different localities in 46 regions of the country. Thanks to the country’s “gay propaganda” law, the survey goes out of its way to note that all of those questioned were above the age of 18. The margin of error for the poll stands at plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

One of the key findings in the report is that the Ukrainian crisis and increasing tension with the West have not helped attitudes toward the LGBT community. They have, however, drawn attention from the issue. A year ago, so-called “gay propaganda” laws were a regular fixture of the news. While the public is no more tolerant, they are now much less fixated on queer issues than they were previously. The current focus on “external opponents,” such as America, the European Union and Ukraine, has distracted the Russian public from perceived “internal enemies” such as migrant workers, the gay community and ethnic minorities.

Instances of violence against members of the LGBT community, for example, were relatively low compared to 2013, at least in part due to the fact that homophobic campaigns and the community’s response to them were much more prominent at the time. According to SOVA Center, a human-rights related nonprofit, while 2014 saw 8 recorded injuries and beatings, in 2013 there were at least 2 injuries and 25 beatings. Of course, those numbers should not be viewed optimistically.

Said campaigns have likely had a chilling effect on how people responded to many of the poll’s questions. In response to questions about the nature of homosexuality, respondents in 2015 seemed generally less informed and less tolerant than in 2013. In 2015, 26% of those asked considered homosexuality to be the result of poor upbringing or a “bad habit,” as opposed to 17% in 2013. However, in 2015 only 13% considered homosexuality to be the result of abuse; 23% thought so in 2013.

Asked how society should handle the question of homosexuality in 2015, 18% said that LGBT Russians should be prosecuted by law, up 5 percentage points since 2013. Those who said that homosexuality should be “cured” stayed about the same, at 37% compared with 38% in 2013, as did the number of respondents who said that queer people should “receive help to live a normal life,” with 7% in 2015 and 8% in 2013. The number of people who said that gay people should be left alone, however, fell tangibly — from 31% in 2013 to 25% in 2015.

levada

A translation of one of the Levada poll’s key questions. 2003 polling was limited to cities with over 20,000 residents

In the last year or so, personal feelings toward LGBT persons have not shifted much at all. However, as the report points out, among people who understand that homosexuality is “a sexual orientation with as much right to exist as heterosexuality,” the number of neutral and positive responses was twice as high.

In 2014, Levada also conducted a survey asking Russian citizens about their feelings toward trans people, which shows that a similarly high number (66%) of respondents have a negative perception of gender non-conforming people. The specific results and framing of the questions differ from those of this survey, so for comparative purposes it’s difficult to say whether shifts in attitudes toward trans people have tracked with shifts in attitudes toward lesbian, gays, or bisexuals.

For whatever reason, the poll about transgender issues also asked about peoples’ attitudes toward nudists (about which Russians are only slightly more accepting), so this particular poll should be taken with serious reservations to begin with.

The report also gets into more detailed questions about what ordinary citizens consider to be “gay propaganda,” and how knowledgeable the general public is about LGBT issues. Only 5% of those polled claim to have any gay friends among their acquaintances, or at least only 5% are aware that they do. 91% of respondents are under the impression that they do not know any queer people. Of course, under current circumstances being open about one’s sexuality or true gender identity in Russia remains dangerous.

Nevertheless, those who do know someone in the LGBT community are one and a half times less likely to have strongly negative views of gay people, and those who know even a little bit about the LGBT movement are more likely to be understanding of their problems. That much should be obvious, of course. The question is what those of us in the international community can do to be supportive and show our solidarity with queer people living in Russia, and what can be done to break through the Russian public’s stereotypical perceptions of LGBT.

To that end, I spoke briefly with Nina Long of RUSA LGBT, a network of Russian-speaking LGBTQ people concentrated in the New York area. She stressed the fact that the difficulty of the situation is exacerbated by the state’s near-total control over federal TV channels, which remain the primary source of information for most of the country’s citizens. (Another Levada Center report showed that about 90% of the country gets its news from federal TV channels, partially because the geography of the country means that cable and internet are still widely unavailable). Proper information about LGBT issues is out there, she said, but one can only find that information if they actively look for it.

Asked what kind of support the international community can lend, Long said that bringing publicity to the issues LGBT organizers in Russia face on a daily basis is still a number one priority. She gave the example of Konstantin Golava, a gay-rights activist from the auto-industry town of Tolyatti, who was recently accused of “inciting hatred” against ethnic Russians on absurd grounds. The important thing, Long noted, is that activists are frequently targeted by local actors — police, security services, politicians, etc. — who are simply eager to please their higher-ups. These kinds of incidents are in fact rarely orchestrated from above. The perception outside of Russia may be that Putin controls every minute detail of government activity, but in reality much of the madness of present-day Russia occurs when local officials take the initiative to try and impress their superiors. International coverage of such events may embarrass local bureaucrats enough that they back off, she said.

Journalist Elena Klimova, for example, was charged under the country’s “gay propaganda” law early last year for creating the website Children 404, offering support to LGBTI teenagers. After drawing international attention and even a campaign from Amnesty International, charges against Klimova were dropped.

Rainbow Russia, via Wikimedia Commons

Rainbow Russia, via Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, Long said that it is crucial to establish real friendships and connections with activists abroad, and to build stronger ties between the LGBT community in America and elsewhere. She said that people should not be afraid to visit, and RUSA is currently working to bring LGBT activists from both Ukraine and Russia to New York City’s pride festival to build such connections and get people in contact with one another. The proximity of this year’s EuroPride to Russia and Ukraine, to take place in Riga, Latvia, will also make such connections possible.

Lastly, Long pointed in the direction of creating solidarity right here in the United States. She noted that since last year, asylum requests have been up significantly, but so have waiting times to have those requests heard. The increasing length of time it takes to get approved puts asylees in a dangerous position in which they are forced to either work illegally or save up for months or even years to be able to wait out the process. Long suspected that Congress’s inability to act on immigration reform has made it more difficult and more dangerous for working-class LGBT in the Russian regions to seek safety abroad, and that this is increasingly becoming a problem that the Russian-speaking LGBT diaspora must seek to address.

All of which would strongly suggest that, as elsewhere, the way to move the fight for queer liberation forward is not just to seek equality, but to build solidarity in the pursuit of justice.


James Neimeister is a freelance writer from Ohio. His interests include: Russia, Ukraine, education, technology, and "cyberspace."

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  • Mixa

    In Russia, these people are outcasts. These people despise everything.

  • Mixa

    это просто смешно читать

  • Bill_Perdue

    According to Google translate “Do not write unverified information . You do not live in Russia”

    I can read. You should try it sometime.

    http://links.org.au/node/829
    http://links.org.au/node/3445

    I don’t live in New York City, Jamaica or Uganda but I do read about them.

  • Mixa

    Не пиши информацию непроверенную. Ты не живеш в России

  • Mixa

    Real democracy in action—in
    Russia, for God’s sake! https://youtu.be/OsId7-wmfnQ

  • Mixa

    Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel waves as he poses with his partner, Belgian Gauthier Destenay, after their wedding ceremony at Luxembourg’s city hall, May 15, 2015.

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  • Bill_Perdue

    I used the term cult to describe all superstition based groups as an accurate description and as a pejorative. That’s more or less common in far left circles.

  • Indigo

    I’m not deny that. It’s just that the use of the word “cult” has reached such pejorative status that anyone who uses it is automatically assumed to be rabidly angry. Like Catholics talking about the Scientology cult or Presbyterians railing against the Roman cult. Your use of the pejorative surprised me. You’re usually more polished than that.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Yes. They have cultism and right wing politics in common and that share that with with leaders of the Tories and with Democrats and Republicans here.

  • Indigo

    No bullying either.

  • Indigo

    It seems the anti-Irish DUP and the “roman cult” (as you call it) have something in common.

  • Bill_Perdue

    The presbyterian and anti-Irish DUP in English occupied NE Ireland is leading the fight against LGBT rights. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/northern-ireland-health-minister-resigns-5590018

    In the Republic the upcoming referendum on marriage equality will test the remaining strength of the roman cult. Most parties and all the left parties, especially Sinn Féin, support equality. Win or lose, the fight for marriage is creating a large movement for equality in general and driving nails into the coffin of the roman cult.

  • Bill_Perdue

    In the US they’re centered around Sacramento and are responsible for a lot of anti-LGBT violence, including a murder and constant, hamfisted intimidation of LGBT students. http://www.alternet.org/story/64336/anti-gay_movement_of_immigrant_fundamentalist_christians_threatens_western_states

    When I lived in Roseville, CA I saw the Russian bigots in action and was amazed and proud of the heroism of LGBT students who stood their ground in spite of the intimidation. The cops did little to protect our youth.

    In Russia they’re fundamentalists associated with extreme right wing politics and anti-LGBT activities. in addition they fought bitterly over how to worship, how to make the sign of the cross, witchcraft and other critical questions. They’re lunatics.

    http://rbth.com/arts/2013/03/29/shedding_light_on_secrets_of_ancient_russian_orthodoxy_24399.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Believers

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  • mf_roe

    LGBT persons have simply assumed the top cede on many Countries SCAPEGOAT Lists. The Soviet Union use to use JEWS as the Boogie Man. Today Russian Jews mostly don’t live in Russia anymore. They can’t use Capitalists anymore because they have embraced the vices of that system wholeheartedly. Using Islam as the source of all Russia’s problems is very risky given the number of Muslims in Russia and in countries that Russia needs to have good relationships with.

  • mf_roe

    Bill, my friend, could you give me a link to inform me about the “old believers”. I have never seen that reference before. Thanks.

  • Mr. Peanus

    Michelle Obama, rear view

  • Bill_Perdue

    It’s the similarities between police state regimes and between the leaders of those regimes, even if one was forced to rebrand, that are important.

  • FLL

    On two Internet sites in Russia (Queerussia.info and comingoutspb.com), there is a report today of an IDAHO gay pride event, and both Russian sites state that the event was attended by about 350 people. (The links for the two reports are here and here. If the story is verified (and it should be shortly, if it’s accurate), it is indeed a good sign, Nicho. On that, you and I agree. However, your mention of “90,000” is snarky or sarcastic. Occasional snark has its place, but since the topic of your comment is a gay pride event in Russia, snark and sarcasm are out of place.

  • Jon, emjayay has a very long history of such rude and snarky comments on this blog about grammatical/typo errors. It seems to be his “thing.”
    We are not aware that he has volunteered to be an unpaid copy editor for the blog. He seems to enjoy posting snarky comments regarding the copy, instead.
    Ignore him.

  • Look man, all I’m saying is that you can point out typos without being a jerk. If you were noting them out of a genuine interest in the posts being better rather than your own personal superiority, I would think that this wouldn’t be a problem.

    So by all means, keep volunteer editing our stuff and being as snarky as you want when you do it. I’m a big kid, I can take it. But wow, for someone as cynical about Internet writing as you seem to be, you’re embodying so many of the worst things about Internet writing in your comments.

  • emjayay

    Sorry about hurting your feelings. But there’s no crying in baseball.

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  • Again, thank you for the catches, which are fixed now. But again, I’d ask that you point them out without the digs. As I’ve said before, these posts don’t go “from [our] laptop at Starbucks to the internets;” this one in particular was submitted *while I was at work,* and I took a quick break to go through it once, add the image and publish. It was Friday, the process was rushed, so (again) minor typos like these are inevitable. But they’re totally fixable! So please, in the future, be mindful of that; you’re more than welcome to point them out — in fact, I encourage it because typos are as annoying to me as they are to you — but please do so without the sarcasm.

  • The_Fixer

    I have thoughts on your screed… starting with “I don’t think so.”

    Let’s go to the beginning, where you say that:

    …progressives always seem to try to accomplish their goals by using arguments that are typically held by the people they demonize as radical extremists.”

    You seem to have embraced the right-wing’s substitute of the term “progressive” for the their former dirty word “liberal.” I say this because you never even mention the term “liberal”, which means that you can’t make the distinction. And there is a distinction, but we’ll leave that for another day.

    No, progressives don’t hold the opinion that they want to be left alone and yet have the government pay for everything. Progressives believe that we need a societal safety net, and that there are some things that only the government can do effectively, or even at all. We believe that the government should foster the improvement of society in terms of quality of life, with (ideally) no discrimination, or at least, as little as possible.

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I think it’s a question of balance. Some intrusion into one’s life is necessary for the common good. It’s intrusive to have to fill out forms and tell the government how much money we make – we’d never ask anyone that in “polite company” – but it’s necessary in order to collect taxes. It’s none of the government’s business how many people I have living in my house and how many times I have chosen to have offspring. But we have the census. It’s necessary to know how many people there are, where they are, and such so that we know what to do in the future.

    It’s a balance to be had, it’s a choice we make and that’s one of the reasons why we have lawmakers in our system of government.

    Regarding this:

    You can’t ask the government to stay out of your private life while demanding that they redefine marriage and acknowledge your union at the same time. A movement that often seeks to ban everything they find offensive or simply doesn’t wish to have exist in their community becomes a “Don’t tread on me” tea party when the desired agenda is banned.”

    No, you’re incorrectly interpreting the arguments of advocates of marriage equality. Yes, it is not the government’s business to know what I do in the bedroom – the anti-sodomy laws were struck down on that basis. But when it comes to marriage, no, the crux of our argument is not privacy when it comes to marriage equality – it’s equality. One has to give up a certain amount of privacy when entering into a public marriage contract, and the resultant government acknowledgement of it. Why? There are benefits to it, both tangible and intangible. All we’re asking for is the ability to marry someone who is compatible with our orientation, we know that we’ll give up a small amount of privacy in doing so. We’re not asking for special privacy rights.

    Your “slippery slope” argument that same-sex marriage becomes polygamy is off base, simply because we are not talking about polygamy. If polygamists want to go to the courts to argue for the right to marry multiple people, let them. Essentially, you’re comparing polygamists to gay people, and that is a conflation that is simply incorrect.

    We do not use the argument that it’s privacy, it’s equal rights. Your assertion that we become our mortal enemies in order to make a point (or something like that) is, therefore, invalid.

    Perhaps I am missing something, but I’m wondering what this has to do with the plight of LGBT people in Russia? You seem to be talking about marriage equality here in the U.S., when the topic is not necessarily marriage equality in Russia, but rather the public attitudes toward LGBT people in Russia and how that relates to their general treatment and well-being.

    In that light, your assertion that we become what we hate is looking pretty silly.

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  • Indigo

    Look closer to home. Irish anti-gay sentiment in the Republic is somewhat alarming.

  • Indigo

    They’re nothing like the United States. For one thing, they don’t have Costco. [ / smile ]

  • Indigo

    Possibly so but, you know what, those conservatives invade the privacy of others.

  • webefunny2

    I know I will probably get bashed for this and called all sorts of names that attempt to define me as a person, but progressives always seem to try to accomplish their goals by using
    arguments that are typically held by the people they demonize as radical
    extremists.

    It’s my body. It’s my property. It’s my bedroom.
    It’s my life. These have all been long-held beliefs of the “far-right”
    and libertarian movement for years. Progressives cite the same tenets as the libertarians. But while true libertarians really want to be left alone, progressives demand their privacy while
    simultaneously demanding heavy involvement from government. It’s my
    body, but you should pay to take care of it. It’s my life, stay out of
    it. Just give me a job, pay for my food, pay for my childcare, pay for
    my college etc.

    Gay marriage advocates have continued to use the
    privacy argument to plead their case. Who are you to tell me who I can
    love? The government should stay out of my bedroom. No one has the
    right to tell me who I spend my life with. These are very legitimate
    points but the problem is that marriage then becomes a union between a man and
    a woman and a man and a man or a woman and a woman, etc. Marriage is a union
    between any potential combinations, the government and
    the law.

    You can’t ask the government to stay out of your private
    life while demanding that they redefine marriage and acknowledge your
    union at the same time. A movement that often seeks to ban
    everything they find offensive or simply doesn’t wish to have exist in
    their community becomes a “Don’t tread on me” tea party when the
    desired agenda is banned.

    It just seems to me to be a self-serving ritual of identity, a kind of Kabuki of manipulation. Any thoughts?

  • Bill_Perdue

    Putin’s Russia is a capitalist country with a strong police state much like the US.

    The key difference is that the movement there has yet to become strong enough to compel changes in laws or to influence public opinion they way our massive movement here has. They’re working on it but they appear to be about 20 or more years behind us.

    Their political culture in terms of LGBT rights has swung back and forth several times. “In 1917 in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Vladimir Lenin decriminalized homosexuality, and allowed openly homosexual people to serve in the government. Joseph Stalin re-criminalized homosexuality in 1933 (Stalin’s criminal code punishing gay men by up to five years in prison with hard labor) and the law withstood through the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was only repealed in 1993 under Boris Yeltsin.” Recently Putin and the religious right, the Russian orthodox cult and the even more virulent ‘old believers’ cult have been active in passing anti-LGBT laws and the cults have joined with neo-Nazis in attacking LGBT marches and events.

    The key is the development of a militant LGBT movement that rejects both the Putin regime and interference by the backpedaling Obama regime (1) and by supporting the left and the growing labor left in Russia. (2)

    Historical analogies are never totally accurate but if I had to hazard a guess I’s say that the LGBT movement in Russia is about 20 years behind ours in terms of it’s growth and it’s ability to compel change. In 1996 Bill Clinton promoted and signed DOMA and didn’t worry at all about showing how much he held us in contempt when he gloated about it. The same was true of the promotion of state DOMAs by Bush. Both were profoundly demoralizing but we fought back and won, even convince bigots like Obama, Biden and the Clintons to rebrand.

    (1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJBx1eS2muo

    (2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5QSysiQPhk

  • emjayay

    Great, but….

    “interviewing about 800 people in 134 different locals in 46 regions of the country”

    “While thee public is no more tolerant”

    I realize that blog posts go directly from your laptop at Starbucks to the internets, but maybe having a second look might be a good idea.

    Also, would you write “ordinary people’s perceptions of lesbian in Russia” or “increasing tension with the West have not helped attitudes toward gay? When used that way, doesn’t LGBT need to be plural or followed by “people” or something?

  • nicho

    St. Petersburg recently held a Pride march that was attended by 90,000 people, and the police protected the marchers from protestors led by the guy who wrote the ant-gay law. So, that’s a good sign.

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  • Baal

    Some recent features on BBC have highlighted the not-so-helpful role of the Orthodox Church in this.

  • Hue-Man

    I look at the table of responses to the question “How do you feel about lesbian and gay people?” and wonder if there are surveys in Western countries that ask similar questions. I don’t know if “disgust and fear” would reach 24% but there are certain regions – I’m too polite to point them out – where getting to double digits wouldn’t be unexpected!

    This isn’t the same as marriage equality polls where gays getting married doesn’t have any impact on straight people and where being against it is seen in a negative light.

  • 2karmanot

    There are hopeful signs that the Russians are switching from fashion burlap and feed bags to twill and chapeau.

  • 2karmanot

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  • FLL

    “She [Nina Long] stressed that fact that the difficulty of the situation is exacerbated by the state’s near-total control over federal TV channels, which remain the primary source of information for most of the country’s citizens. (Another Levada Center report showed that about 90% of the country gets its news from federal TV channels, partially because the geography of the country means that cable and internet are still widely unavailable).”

    The problem in a nutshell. Putin’s regime is a near dictatorship and, as such, has a monopoly over sources of mass communication. When Russians replace that dictatorship with free competition between political parties, that roadblock to accurate information about LGBT people will be removed.

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