Looking East


Submitted by Nigel Whitfield, 12 April 2017



It's very easy, in western Europe and the US, to become complacent about the freedoms that we have as gay men, and as leathermen. As I've written before, in some countries - and often those only a short distance away - things are much less secure.

Our concerns, whether they be about equal marriage, loss of venues to gentrification or access to PrEP are important to us, but just as important is that we don't lose sight of struggles in other countries.

For our members in eastern Europe, Russia is not the distant country that many of us in the west think of. It's right on the doorstep, and also inextricably entwined with the history of their own. Just as in some of those countries there have been the first steps to a little more openness, which has seen events like Mr Leather Poland or EuroPride in Latvia, so too are there some faltering moves in Russia. This summer, for example, will see the St Petersburg Leather Club (SPBL) have their first event, from July 14-16th.

That might ordinarily seem like a case for cautious optimism, given the notorious anti-gay stance of the Russian government. I wish I could say that were the case, but over the last week very disturbing reports have emerged from the autonomous region of Chechnya, such as these from the BBC and the Independent.

While the Chechen authorities claim simply that there aren't any gay people there, reports say over 100 gay men have been held, some murdered and others tortured, as part of what the Russian LGBT network says is an organised campaign.

How you can help

There are petitions online about this, but honestly I'm not convinced that they achieve much beyond making people feel momentarily good for clicking and signing. However, feel free if you want to.

More usefully I think it's important for people to speak up, both to their own politicians, and to Russia - Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation, and so it's Russia that represents them on the world stage, and Putin to whom the Chechen leader answers.

Thanks to Conor from Geared Ireland for the list below of some key Russian embassies that can be called or contacted to express your views about the reports. I'd also suggest you contact your own elected representatives.

Russia is very much in the news at the moment, especially with regards to their actions in Syria, and already subject to some international sanctions as a result of action in Ukraine.

You might like to consider asking your politicians to try and ensure that, as well as issues like Syria and Ukraine, the treatment of gay men in Chechnya - and in the wider Russian Federation - is also raised. When the Winter Olympics were held in Sochi in 2014, we managed to make our voices heard, and mainstream politicians spoke out against Russian laws then. We must urge them to make their voices heard now, too. Decent treatment of gay people shouldn't require a high profile event to make it worth speaking about. Torture and kidnapping demand a clear, loud response.

  • Russian Embassy Dublin - 186 Orwell Rd, Rathmines Little, Dublin Hours: Open today · 9–11:45a.m. Phone: +353 14922048
  • Russian Embassy London - 6/7 Kensington Palace Gardens, Kensington, London W8 4QP, UK Hours: Open today · 9a.m.–12p.m., 2–5p.m. Phone: +44 2072296412
  • Russian Embassy Berlin - Unter den Linden 63-65, 10117 Berlin, Germany Hours: Open today · 9a.m.–1p.m., 2:30–6p.m. Phone: +49 302291110
  • Russian Embassy Washington DC - 2650 Wisconsin Ave, Washington, DC 20007, USA Hours: Open today · 9a.m.–12p.m. Phone: +1 2022985700
  • Russian Embassy Ottawa - 285 Charlotte St, Ottawa, ON K1N 8L5, Canada Hours: Open today · 9a.m.–6p.m. Phone: +1 6132354341

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