Metro Weekly

Russia’s Highest-Ranking Tennis Player Comes Out as Gay

“Living in the closet is impossible," says Daria Kasatkina, who has also criticized Russia's anti-LGBTQ laws.

Russian tennis player Daria Kasatkina – Photo: Instagram.

Russia’s highest-ranking female tennis player has come out as gay while criticizing her country’s anti-LGBTQ laws and its invasion of Ukraine.

Daria Kasatkina, who is ranked the 12th best female tennis player in the world, made her comments during a videotaped interview with blogger Vitya Kravchenko.

In the video, which has gained over 200,000 views since being posted to YouTube, Kasatkina announced she was dating former Olympian and competitive pairs ice skater Natalia Zabiiako, who currently represents Canada.

The four-time Women’s Tennis Association title winner discussed the struggles of being one of Russia’s greatest athletes and how she can no longer be “living in the closet.”

She criticized the suppression of LGBTQ people in Russia, and rejected the assertion — often voiced by social conservatives — that people somehow “choose” to be gay or can be recruited into it.

“This notion of someone wanting to be gay or becoming one is ridiculous,” she said. “I think there is nothing easier in this world than being straight. Seriously, if there is a choice, no one would choose being gay. Why make your life harder, especially in Russia? What’s the point?”

Noting that many subjects are “taboo” in Russia, Kasatkina said that even holding hands with Zabiiako in public would not be tolerated in Russia.

While same-sex relationships were decriminalized in Russia in 1993, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, the country passed a law banning “gay propaganda” in 2013. The law, promoted by conservatives as a way to “protect” children from being exposed to “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships,” has been used to crack down on any demonstration of support for LGBTQ rights.

According to The Council for Global Equality, attempts to enforce the “propaganda” law have resulted in a notable increase in attacks against the LGBTQ community. The law has lead police and other security officials to shut down Pride marches, arrest people for posting pictures deemed to “look” homosexual, shut down LGBTQ advocacy groups by branding them as “extremist,” and even detain travelers wearing rainbow-colored shirts.

Despite the fact that the European Court of Human Rights has, two separate times, declared the law to be discriminatory, and found that it violates LGBTQ groups’ right to freedom of association, Russian authorities have doubled down on the law, which fines citizens $150 for every piece of “LGBTQ propaganda” they share, publicly display, or post to social media, and fines corporations $30,000 for every alleged violation of the law.

Recently, Russia’s parliament introduced a bill that would broaden the “propaganda” ban to apply to all adults — meaning public discussions of any LGBTQ-related topics would effectively be criminalized, and LGBTQ content would be banned from all movie theaters and social media sites in the country.

Kasatkina also criticized the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying that the ongoing conflict has become a “full-blown nightmare,” with casualties estimated to be around 10,000, according to the BBC.

Kasatkina has since posted pictures of her with her girlfriend to her Instagram account and to Twitter. “My cutie pie,” she wrote in the caption.

Kasatkina credits Nadya Karpova, who came out as the first openly gay athlete on the Russian national soccer team last month, for paving the way for her own coming out. 

“Not only did Nadya help herself by coming out and getting this burden off her chest, but she has also helped others,” she said.

Karpova has since praised Kasatkina’s bravery for speaking out.

“When I heard the news about Kasatkina, I couldn’t believe it, I was so proud,” Karpova told The Guardian. “I was ecstatic, jumping around like crazy in my flat.”

Since Kasatkina’s interview was posted online, other public figures have also praised her actions, with out lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King tweeting: “It takes a great deal of bravery to live authentically, but it is worth it.”

Katakana appears to agree with that sentiment. 

“Living in the closet is impossible. It is too hard, it is pointless,” she told Kravchenko. “Living in peace with yourself is the only thing that matters, and fuck everyone else.”

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