Photo on display at Saint Petersburg's Queer Fest.
Six months after the western Russian city of Saint Petersburg adopted a law that human rights groups have slammed as “homophobic”, the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community recently held its fourth “Queer Fest”, an artistic and cultural festival that goes beyond the rainbow flags and party-like ambiance often associated with Gay Pride events.
The anti-gay law, which came into effect in March, bans all “propaganda promoting homosexuality or pedophilia”, thereby granting authorities the legal grounds to crack down on all public displays of homosexuality. Because of the vagueness of the word “propaganda”, the legislation is open to broad interpretation. If found guilty of “homosexual propaganda”, one could face a fine of up to 500,000 rubles (12,800 euros).
It is not the first time a Russian city has adopted a law targeting members of the LGBT community. Three other cities have already pushed through similar measures, triggering fears that widespread homophobic attitudes in the country could eventually result in federal legislation.
In an effort to address the issue of homophobia in Russia, the fourth edition of Queer Fest brought together artists from around the world to share their work on the topic. The event, which took place from September 20-29, featured an array of film, photography, cartoons and music. Although local authorities allowed the festival to be held, the new law meant that organisers were only allowed to promote it on social networking websites.
Video posted on YouTube by QueerFestSPb.
“More than half of Russians believe that members of the LGBT community are mentally ill”
Anna Vetrova, 28, took part in Queer Fest 2012.
I realised that I was bisexual late in life, at the age of 25. The realisation changed me a lot. For the next year or so, I struggled to understand who I was and the prejudices I had held on the issue. Since then, I’ve lived with my girlfriend for the last two years. Neither my parents nor hers know that we are ‘queer’. The only person who knows in my family is my stepsister.“Homophobia is something that is openly expressed in Russia”More than half of Russians believe that members of the LGBT community are mentally ill and need medical treatment. They think they should be segregated from the rest of society, or should at the very least keep quiet about their 'disease'. This kind of intolerance only got worse after the city adopted the homophobic law.There are very few people who are 100 percent open about the issue. We’re a community that doesn’t stand out and goes largely unseen. It’s difficult to live a lie all the time, so I’ve tried to make sure I’m surrounded by people who care. I am open about my sexuality with my friends. At work, I talk about it sometimes, but only with certain people.Homophobia is something that is openly expressed in Russia. For example, if I came out to all of my colleagues, I’m sure there would be some who would say ‘You want to have a child with two mummies? But you’re going to raise a pervert!'“There are a lot of gay people in Russia who are also homophobic”There are a lot of gay people in Russia who are also homophobic. For example, I know two women who have lived together for the past 10 years, but they have never, to this day, come out as lesbians. They can’t even imagine raising a child together without a man involved. There are a lot of women who are hard on themselves because they are ashamed. In a lot of cases, these women are left to deal with their issues on their own, because seeing a psychologist is something that’s still looked down upon here.“The queer fest…was a chance for me to be myself without hiding anything”The queer fest was a really important event for me. It was an opportunity to meet other members of the LGBT community, and also a way to meet different artists to discuss their work. It was a chance for me to be myself without hiding anything.
Written in collaboration with Sophie Alavi, journalist at France24.