- The Magazine
A group of Russian paratroopers put on a shocking, homophobic performance depicting a gay man being crushed to death under a concrete block at a public event in Yaroslavl last week.
The performance took place at an August 29 show at the Dobrynin Palace of Culture, as part of an anniversary celebration for a local patriotic military club. The performance was supposed to entail cadets in camouflage fatigues showing off their martial arts skills.
As the unsuspecting audience watched, the cadets hoisted a shirtless man above their heads and placed a concrete block with the inscription “death to f****ts” on his stomach. Then, one of the other performers smashed the symbolic object with what appeared to be a sledgehammer, Radio Free Europe reports.
Igor Derbin, the director of the Dobrynin Palace of Culture, said he and other leaders of the theater were “outraged” by the performance.
“‘Initially, the event was planned to be upbeat and positive. Their trick was a surprise for all of us. It wasn’t preplanned or agreed upon because they knew we wouldn’t allow it,” he told website 76.ru after the show. “By their act, they erased all the good impressions of the event. And they put a shadow on me, on themselves, on the institution.
“I already spoke with their supervisor and asked that all photos and videos be removed from social media,” Derbin added. “Now we understand the current situation and are trying to minimize the negative consequences.”
Igor Sidorin, the head of the Yaroslavl branch of Defender, an organization for veterans who served in the North Caucusus, who witnessed the display, said in a Facebook post that he was so shocked that he filed a police report. He also took issue with the fact that underage children were present during the performance, calling the cadets’ actions “unacceptable.”
But Andrei Palachev, the head of the military club being honored, told reporters he saw nothing wrong with the mock execution scene.
“What’s the problem? They just don’t like [homosexuals],” he said, using an offensive slur for gay people. “And neither do I.”
The performance, and Palachev’s response to it, illustrate what LGBTQ advocates claim is a trend of rising homophobia and intolerance toward sexual and gender minorities in Russia over the past few years, aided and abetted by indifference from public safety officials. Advocates claim there has been an uptick in violence and harassment against LGBTQ people from conservative activists or those espousing Orthodox beliefs.
Further complicating the issue is a 2013 law outlawing “gay propaganda,” or any distribution of material, written or visual, that condones homosexuality, portrays it as “normal” or a naturally-occurring phenomenon, or presents it in a positive or value-neutral light. The law is intended to protect minors from being exposed to any information that contradicts or undermines “traditional family values.”
By effectively serving as a gag on free speech, the law makes it harder to change attitudes and opinions about LGBTQ people in conservative Russian society, as advocates risk prosecution if they run afoul of the law’s various prohibitions.
In Chechnya, a majority-Muslim region in the North Caucasus, the republic’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, as well as military and law enforcement officers, have been accused of waging an ongoing, several-years-long “purge” targeting sexual minorities, resulting in the imprisonment, torture, and even alleged killings of people suspected of being gay or lesbian.
Once released, former detainees may be labeled “terrorists” to restrict their movements or put them under surveillance, and families of suspected LGBTQ people are often encouraged or threatened to take part in “honor killings” — overlooked by local law enforcement — to preserve their families’ reputations as an indirect way of rooting out homosexuality from Chechen society.
Two days after the cadets’ performance at Yaroslavl, a literary festival in the Tula region, south of Moscow, was canceled because of complaints about the participation of a lesbian writer, Oksana Vasyakina.
While the Tula History and Architectural Museum claimed the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a local feminist activist told Radio Free Europe the event was canceled after Orthodox activists and local security officers unsuccessfully tried to get Vasyakina expelled from the event.
In another recent controversy over LGBTQ visibility, a health food chain, VkusVill, was forced to pull an advertisement featuring a lesbian couple for violating the country’s anti-“gay propaganda” law and apologize to its customers.
The backlash from conservative activists, including several death threats and threats of violence, was so severe that the women, and their family members, were forced to flee the country and resettle in Spain.
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