If you look at the Russian propaganda, like a recent insert bundled with your New York Times, you might be led to believe that things just might not be that bad for gay people in Russia. Talk to a couple of teachers about the witch hunt to out and fire the country's gay teachers, and you'd find out otherwise.
"I received a message on 'VKontakte' [Russia's verison of Facebook] from a user named Valkiria Repina (according to the 'Alliance of Heterosexuals,' that is the pseudonym of a man involved in attacks on LGBT demonstrations in St. Petersburg. Ed.). Repina told me to resign at once, otherwise they would 'ruin my life'." Russian teacher Olga Bakhaeva told the Russian publication Colta.ru, explaining that she was eventually blackmailed, that stories about her sexuality were leaked to the media, and that her posts on her personal VKontakte page were deemed propaganda. Bakhaeva was eventually forced to resign.
Stories like Bakhaeva aren't unique, as Colta found out, shedding light on one of the after-effects of Russia's gay propaganda law. That law makes it a crime to tell minors that gay people are equal to heterosexuals. The legislation relatively new — the law was signed by Vladimir Putin in July — yet it is already having its intended repressive effect.
Earlier this month, we learned that the law affected Russian kids with gay parents, who are now afraid to tell their peers about their families. Bakhaeva's tale is a bookend to those fears. Thanks to the anti-gay environment created by Russia's new laws, it's become open season on LGBT teachers. Homophobes can now apparently pressure school districts and officials to fire LGBT educators under the premise that they are breaking those gay propaganda laws.
And Russia doesn't really want you to know about it, either. The country simply hasn't owned up to its anti-gay stance. On September 18, an advertorial called Russia Beyond the Headlines was bundled along with The New York Times. The paper is connected Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a state-run publication.
That New York Times inset featured a "story" on LGBT life in Russia called "You Have to Be Willing to Make Compromises" and features quotes from LGBT people who say unbelievable things like how their lives are no different than those of gay men living in France or Britain. "Even over there you sometimes need to be careful and avoid certain neighborhoods. Homophobia exists everywhere!" one gay man told the paper, seemingly ignoring the fact that there have been reports that Russia has turned into one anti-gay neighborhood to avoid.
The paper also speaks to a 35-year-old named Yana Mandrykina. "My homosexuality has never prevented me from doing what I wanted to do — not me, nor my friends," she told the state-sponsored advertisement. Well, some others seem to disagree.