How can we support LGB&T people in Russia?

Publish Date: 03/07/2013

Last weekend Russian president, Vladimir Putin, signed into law a measure that stigmatises gay people and bans giving children any information about homosexuality.

This comes after Participants of St. Petersburg Pride were reportedly arrested under Russia's anti-free speech laws which prohibit public conversations or displays about gay people.

The city of Manchester is currently twinned with St Petersburg, which historically has an agreement to promote cultural ties. Last year Manchester City Council led a campaign to encourage attendees at Manchester Pride to support those LGBT people living under these new laws. 

On a visit to Manchester Pride 2012, we spoke to  Polina Savchenko, a director of Coming Out, the St Petersburg-based LGBT group that provides vital support to gay people in the city and lobbies for LGBT rights.

Polina, what do you do on a daily basis for local people, what does Coming Out do for LGB people there?

We have a community centre. We have quite a few, actually we have ten programmes in the organisation, but they are directed at groups, it’s LGBT, it’s work with the public opinion to educate society, and to do it in creative ways. For the LGBT community it’s psychological services, so we also have a counselling room, legal services and informational programmes and seminars. People have very low awareness. Three years ago when we were just starting to work, people would come to us and say ‘why are you doing what you are doing? You’re just causing more trouble’. We need to explain to people that they have rights and tell them how they can defend their rights and there are ways to do that.

Is the community centre a safe place for people?

It’s a safe place psychologically. People feel like they are accepted there, but as far as physical safety, it could be better. It’s a small building, we have just the one floor, and the building doesn’t have very good security.

You’ve mentioned that it’s difficult to get support at home, so how can coming to places like Manchester help people back home?

I actually think international support plays a huge role in a subtle way. The Russian Government haven’t felt so much pressure, well I’m sure it has, but a lot of pressure was put on our politicians to answer why these laws are being forced, and why Russian Governments aren’t complying with the international obligations it has as a part of the council of Europe and other international organisations. Our government in some respect hasn’t felt this much pressure.

So by talking about LGB&T issues, more of the population will be aware of it, and then maybe more people would talk about it

Yes, absolutely. I actually think a fraction of these laws had some positive sides to it. First of all media coverage has been very positive. There have been a lot of serious articles on LGBT rights and homosexuality, whereas three years ago it was all tabloid-like coverage with language like ‘those perverts hit the streets again’.

How can we help our fellow LGB&T friends in St. Petersburg?

A few things actually. It’s very important for European governments to not let this issue go, and to keep bringing up the question of why these homophobic laws are in place and what are the Russian government going to do to protect the rights of gay people. People in the UK can keep bringing up these issues, it’s important. Send those messages of support, because if we didn’t feel as if the whole world was watching and standing in solidarity with us, we would really feel like we were up against a solid wall.

So what have you taken from your visit to Manchester Pride in 2012?

It was very inspiring to be in a society that is totally accepting. It feels like these celebrations are not just about gay rights, but that they are about freedom for everyone. It’s exactly what we want as well. We want society to understand that as long as one group is discriminated against, nobody is really free.

  • Geoff

    I have recently watched a documentary on Channel 4 called Hunted and have never been so upset and angry watching a programme. I am truly horrified at how LGB@T people are being treated in Russia and at times i felt as if I was watching a horror movie!! No human being should ever have to go through things like that in life. I just want to reach out and help and let everyone in Russia that is suffering know that we are all shocked by what is happening and will not let this go until justice is done. Don't give up hope we are all supporting you xx