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How Did a Sexual Minorities Movement Emerge in Post-Soviet Russia? An Essay.

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Abstract

After a long period of oppression of individuals and the absence of organizations, a movement of sexual minorities in Russia began in 1989. I analyze the initial period of the movement, arguing that the public organizations and groups of the initial period realized agenda and interests of the previously existed nation-wide community. On the basis of interviews with activists along with analysis of the early gay and lesbian press I show manners of their public self-presentation, agenda and specificity of the leaders’ attitude to the organizational activity in that period. I describe the three main perspectives that structured the movement and show differences between the first and the second (current) period in the movement’s post-soviet history. Besides better known organizations in Moscow and Leningrad/St.Petersburg, similar groups appeared in other parts of the country simultaneously, that I explain as an effect of the deep social and political transformation of the period. I demonstrate also that attempts to politicize the movement in the early 1990s were unsuccessful, and that they resulted in a deep de-politization of the movement in the second period. In the last part, I offer a case study of an activist’s attitudes and ways of organizational activity in early 1990s, which illustrates how these organizations have been established and how one activist perceived the urgent aims of the community. I also show that the Russian movement, in general, hardly came close to appropriating a collective identity as part of the 'global LGBT movement.'
HOW DID A SEXUAL MINORITIES MOVEMENT
EMERGE IN POST-SOVIET RUSSIA?
AN ESSAY
By
Mikhail Nemtsev
With a Preface by Prof. Laurie Essig
Table of Contents
Table of Contents.................................................................................................................................... 1
Preface..................................................................................................................................................... 2
Introduction............................................................................................................................................. 4
Acknowledgements................................................................................................................................. 5
General idea, key terms, and theoretical approach..................................................................................7
Chapter 1. Homosexuality in the Soviet Union before its de-criminalization..................................... 17
Some remarks about “sexuality” in the Soviet Union......................................................................17
Homosexual community in the USSR in late Soviet Union............................................................ 23
How to name the community? The problem of relevant naming ....................................................30
Chapter 2. The emergence of the Russian sexual minorities movement after 1989. Periodization of
the movement in the context of late-Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia..................................................... 37
The first public homosexual organizations, their interests and aims............................................... 40
Chapter 3. Aspects of Russian sexual minorities’ movement............................................................... 54
Russian sexual minorities’ movement and national politics............................................................ 54
National tradition and international LGBT Community in the group identity of early Russian
sexual minorities’ movement............................................................................................................ 63
Ethos of the movement’s activist. The case of Olga Krauze........................................................... 71
Conclusion.............................................................................................................................................81
Appendix. The list of the interviewees..................................................................................................85
Literature and sources............................................................................................................................86
Sources............................................................................................................................................. 92
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Preface
It has been nearly ten years since the publication of my book, Queer in Russia (Duke University
Press, 1999). What a perfect time, then, to read Mikhail Nemtsev’s essay on the emergence of a
sexual minorities movement in Russia. Let me begin with the difference in our topics: queer vs.
sexual minorities. I chose the word “queer” (not gays or queers or sexual minorities) because I did
not want to talk about actual people but how non-normative sexual practices were thought about in
Russian culture, both by those who participate in them (i.e. sexual minorities) and those who do not.
Nemtsev’s work slices into the problem from a different angle: he wants to know why and how a
movement of sexual minorities emerged so quickly after the fall of the Soviet Union when before that
point there was no space in the public sphere for sex of any kind, let alone queer sex. This question is
an extremely interesting one for anyone interested not just in sexual minorities or even more abstract
notions of queer sex, but in social movements more generally.
Nemtsev’s answer to the question of how a Russian gay/lesbian movement emerged seemingly out
of nowhere is a good one. He theorizes that such a movement could emerge in the post-Soviet period
because all the pieces of a social movement were already in place: a shared notion of identity and
community as well as a shared sense of what needed to be done first: the decriminalization of
homosexual acts. Nemtsev’s answer to how a movement could emerge so quickly is also why such a
movement fell apart soon afterwards: once homosexuality was decriminalized, the imagined
community of sexual minorities actually had no common agenda to hold it together.
This is, I think, what Nemtsev’s work really gives us: a way to think through the problem of social
movements based on identity politics. Judith Butler, in her groundbreaking critique of feminism
(Gender Trouble, 1989) suggests that no movement based on an identity can last for long without
endless fissures and fractures. As soon as a movement is built upon a claim to be something- like “a
woman” or “gay”- it must simultaneously engage in endless arguments about who is and is not that
something. As Butler points out, this is the very problem Frederick Nietzsche spoke to in his
“metaphysics of being.” Since any claim to “be” requires that others accept that claim, that one
successfully “perform” that identity, identity is always an unstable claim to power. It is the very
instability of identity that makes it difficult if not impossible to build a social movement- at least in
the long term- on the basis of identity- a lesson that American activists have learned over and over
again as one identity-based movement after another has fallen apart since the height of their power in
the 1960s and 1970s.
Perhaps by comparing the birth (and death) of a movement of sexual minorities in Russia with
similar movements in the US, we get the best perspective on why the movement did not last but
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might form again around other pressing issues. In the US, after a strong “gay liberation” movement
in the 1960s that linked the oppression of homosexuals with other forms of social power (such as
racism and sexism), gay activism faded away as the radical politics of the time were replaced with
more assimilationist goals as overt discrimination was stopped by changes in both the law and the
culture. Then came the 1980s and AIDS when gay men once again rallied around a common goal and
identity. This movement (e.g. ACT-UP) also broke up once AIDS became- at least for those with
access to pharmaceuticals- a controllable disease. A similar series of events happened for lesbians-
who reached the height of their activism in the 1970s, when they linked their sexual identity to the
concerns of feminism and a larger critique of patriarchy. This activism faded as feminism too became
more assimilationist in its goals as some women were increasingly given access to education and
professions. Today we see the reemergence of queer activism in the US around two issues: same-sex
marriage and transgender rights. Although these two movements have both changed the way
American society operates, they too will fade away as the needs of the particular groups are met.
Same sex marriage is legal in a growing number of states. “Transgender” is increasingly listed as a
category in need of legal and institutional protection (for example, my university protects “diversity
of gender expression” as do many other schools and work places).
Perhaps what is most interesting for those interested in why social movements form or do not, is
that a rhetoric of social justice and yes, even revolution, has been more or less absent from sexual
minorities social movements in the US and Russia. Because sexual minorities have organized on the
basis of “identity” and for their own interests, they have been unable to build the sort of broad-based
coalitions that might actually create long lasting movements. If, for instance, sexual minorities in
both countries began to fight for issues of economic and social justice (e.g. healthcare for all;
spending less on the military and more on education), then coalitions could be built between activists
regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression or any other particular identity. But if the 21st
century is anything like the 20th, that probably won’t happen. Modernity demands that we identify-
as a race, a nationality, a class, a sexual orientation. Unless we finally leave the demands of
modernity behind, identity politics will continue to dominate social movements. Movements of
sexual minorities, in Russia and in the US, will push the interests of some queers to get their rights
(e.g. marriage, AIDS drugs, etc). These movements will ebb and flow, as they succeed and fail to get
what they want, but they will never unite a broad-based coalition of people working for a better
world. Indeed, they won’t even unite all the queers, who will continue to fracture and fight and police
the meaning of their movements just like every other identity-based social movement.
Laurie Essig
Assistant Professor in Sociology,
Middlebury College, Vermont, USA
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Introduction
This short essay is based on my Master's Dissertation, completed in the Gender Studies Department
of the Central European University in the spring of 2007. In this research, I tired to conceptualize and
explain quick and (comparably) successful emergence of public sexual minorities' activity in the very
end of the USSR (in the wake of Boris Eltzin's Russia), along with its subsequent decline, partially
predestined by the previous successes. It was necessary to write a kind of social history of the
movement first, for such a review still did not exist. Thus, I was to complete two jobs simultaneously:
investigate the history of the movement as movement, and conceptualize the history in terms of
sociology of social movement. By its method and subject, the essay must be placed on uncertain
intermediate land between social anthropology and social history.
In this introduction, I would like to say a few words about the book in general. Studying history of
non-normative sexuality all over the world while in the CEU, I was impressed by the fact how poorly
Russia had been represented in the history. It was particularly strange in comparison with the general
interest to Russian society paid by various scholars in domains of culture, society and politics. Thus, I
found it an urgent as well as interesting task to explore the history of non-normative sexuality in
Russia to contribute to the general history of sexuality and make in more complex. At the same time
one should understand the status and position of the practices, named in this book “non-normative
sexuality” to study history and sociology of sexuality in Russia properly.
Russian society does not have a tradition of “politics of identity”. Therefore, historical sociology
and anthropology of LGBT movement in this particular cultural environment receives in post-Soviet
Russia an interesting case of how sexual minorities may form a social movement, taking advantages,
if any, of their particular social and cultural circumstances in the given society.
There are other reasons to study situation with non-normative sexuality in Russia. During last two
years before the paper was written, the political situation of Russian LGBT community had changed.
From the one side, homosexuality has been politicized by right-wing and conservative politics that
began publicly stigmatize homosexuals’ in their public speeches and law-making discussions.
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Homophobic attitudes are still rather wide-spread in the country, but it was only recently that they
entered the official political discourse, recast as a matter of the state policy (Zayavlenie 2007). In
2006, “Gay Pride,” projected and organized by a group of LGBT activists in Moscow , united by
project GayRussia.ru, was banned and severely dispersed by metropolitan authorities. Thereby, the
very concept of “gay pride” quite suddenly received nation-wide publicity. The status and condition
of gays and lesbians in the country suddenly have become widely disputed by mass media and
citizens. Simultaneously, the community itself is being challenged by slight but apprehensible
boosting of state homophobia, which partially reflects activity of the leaders of the 'gay pride', whose
tactics of self-presentation is not wholly approved by national LGBT community. The situations
changes considerably quickly. It makes sense to compare this ongoing situation to with the period
when lesbigay community entered the public discourse for the first time (fifteen years ago).
Due to my own personal circumstances I could not review and change the text before the
publication deeply enough. I have made small refinements, expanded several fragments that had been
abridged in the dissertation, and put some more references. The “original” text of the dissertation is
freely available on the web-site of CEU library (www.library.ceu.hu). I hope this small essay would
contribute to the transformation of sexual and gender regimes in Russia. I like to think about the text
as an initial part in a research of transformation of sexuality in contemporary Russia, which I hope to
be able, to continue with God’s help, sooner or later.
Acknowledgements
As far as the work was written to be submitted to Central European University Department of Gender
Studies, the role of the Department was fundamental on every step of writing the text, from the first
moment I grasped the idea till the very defense. Every member of the defense committee did so much to
make it appear. These were prof. Allaine Cerwonka, prof. Elissa Helms, my supervisor, and Eszter Timár,
who introduced me into the alluring world of queer studies. I am really grateful to all of them, but I should
not miss the chance to thank the entire faculty, especially the professors and their assistants, along with
other CEU staff, under whose instructions I got so much during that unforgettable academic year:
Erzsébet Barát, Francisca de Haan, Éva Fodor, Dusica Ristivojevic, David Ridout, Andrea Pető, Sophie
Howlett, Jasmina Lukic, Susan Zimmermann, David Weberman, Emil Iuga, Mária Szécsényi, Andreas
Veiter, Natália Versegi, Judit Zotter, Éva Bodogan. I thank God for the possibility to discuss the idea and
content of dissertation with Anna Kutuzova, Artyom Kosmarsky, Dmitry Vinnik, Maria Ivancheva (it
surely should not mean that I forgot other CEU friends). I want to thank Natalia P. Kosmarsky, Natalia
Kosmarsky, Petr Kosmarsky for their trust and friendship. Without selfless help of Nikolai Barashkov, for
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his selfless help without him, this research simply won’t exist. I must thank people who taught me
gender studies and anthropology of sexuality for the first time — Tatiana Barchunova (Novosibirsk) and
Nadezhda Nartova (St. Petersburg). A person who has effectively influenced my way of thinking about
sexuality is prof. Igor Kon (Moscow). I am especially grateful to him for his collection of early Russian
gay and lesbian press that he gave into my disposal.; the work would be incurably poor without that
collection, which I passed to the Open Society Archive in Budapest. Several useful sources were recently
provided to me by Svyatoslav Sheremet (Kiev).
I want to thank my Moscow and St. Petersburg interviewees who always were ready to spend their time
with me, answering questions and explaining obvious matters. I cannot express how important was your
personal impact on me. During the research I was lucky to became acquainted with wonderful people.
Prof. Laurie Essig, paid attention to the essay and wrote an extensive and insightful introduction to it, it
was s gesture of a gesture friendship. Thank you!
My parents, Irina Nemtseva and Yuri Nemtsev, and my brother Sergey, never refuse to support me in all
my projects and initiatives including quite strange and shady ones, I cannot express how fundamentally
important their trust and love is for me. I also want to thank Valentina and Katya.
The last, but not the least, to be pointed out here is Verlag Dr. Müller Publishing House, which suggestion
to turn this MA thesis into a book was a big surprise for me. It was Agnes Nelhübel who helped me to
fulfill the project.
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General idea, key terms, and theoretical approach
The social history and anthropology of sexual minorities in the post Soviet Russia has not been
studied properly yet. The fact is amazing, if we look at comparably developed scholarship on Russian
homoerotic literature (Engelstein 1992; Karlinsky 1991, 1989). Detailed histories of non-normative
sexuality and same-sex sexuality often did not pay attention to history of this region (Adam et al.
1999).
There is only one social anthropological monograph dedicated to the subject (Essig 1999; I
consider one of its key points below). In Russia, up till now, the most popular and widely used works
are Igor Kon’s overviews written in mid-1990s, although one should not overlook several
dissertations describing contemporary lesbian and gays communities that have appeared in recent
years (Kupriyanova 2004, Nosova 2002, Vorontsov 1999). Unfortunately, they do not go deep into the
details of the communities' social history. Thus, I think that every new work in this field is important
both in terms of development of anthropology and gender sociology of Russian society, and in terms
of helping the community to advocate their rights, due to an obvious fact that public knowledge about
the community legitimizes its claims for rights and public acknowledgement.
My main objective is to offer a general view at the history of the movement which may help to
figure out the process of self-establishment of the sexual minorities’ community in this particular
social and political context. I discern repeated patterns of self-determination of the organizations,
which I have named “trends.” Having been shaped in the initial period as they were, these trends are
still discernible today. I argue that the whole process of emergence was pre-defined by the conditions
of the society that had been before first groups performed their “coming out”. Hence, as my core
questions about the sexual minorities’ community I defined the following ones:
1) What were the social and political conditions of the forming and existence of the community
before its public “coming out” in 1989-1990? This question is considered in the 1st chapter.
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2) What kind of thing was the “community” in general, as a complicated but united object of
research in the historical period I look at? I would discuss this in the 2nd chapter.
3) What were the characteristic features of the movement which would help to understand its
social, cultural ad political self-organization? This question is very complicated, therefore in the three
parts of the 3rd chapter I concentrate on three aspects of it: 1) political self-positioning of the
movement (with the inner trends reflected by different relations to political activities among the very
community), 2) its self-positioning in national and global cultures, and 3) ways of individual
participation in the public activities in that initial period. In the Conclusion, I summarize the findings
and try to suppose the directions for further investigations.
The first methodological problem one must face, exploring this topic is how to theorize the very
subject I dealt with. I have already implied the term “community” above. However, sometimes I
doubted whether I should apply this term speaking about a group of people who have almost nothing
in common besides their sexual orientation, which is considered (by outsiders, but often by
themselves, too) “abnormal” and thereby “outlaw”. It is necessary to have evidence in taking this
group of people for a community, at least potentially.
By community I denote (1) an analytically defined set of individuals and their groups who
practice the same social practice (in the particular case of the group I speak about, such practice is the
same-sex sexual activities and homoeroticism), (2) who are interconnected by formal and informal
relations, (3) have a certain sense of group solidarity and are (4) socially defined (by others and by
themselves) as belonging to one category. Even if a person refuses to signify herself or himself by the
category, the very possibility of being signified in that manner is meaningful. These features allow the
persons to form a collective identity. Even if these people do not actually know each other, and have
no articulated feeling of solidarity, they have sufficient reason to unite with other people who are able
to share the same social experience. Long before the end of the Soviet regime, a real homosexual
“community” has emerged in the country, considering a distinct cultural style, specific sociolect and
widespread underground networks around which the community has clustered itself.
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It is important to note that several persons from the group produce a specific attitude to the group,
which I will call anethos”, after Mark Blasius (1992). These persons imagine the group (any big
group is an “imagined” one, the same must be said about any nation-wide community (Anderson
1991)) as a set of people who share the same social experience, have common social and political
interests and, consequently, may organize a social movement to promote these interests. The
community has wishes and problems, which should be satisfied and solved, thus there appear activists
who identify themselves with these needs. An exemplary story of such activist is presented in the last
section.
In this research, it is set of various activities of groups there people with non-normative sexuality
gathered that is conceptualized as movement.” I define the “social movement” as a set of publicly
acting groups, who have their agendas and programs, and try to realize their social, cultural and
political objectives in the favor of the community. We may speak about a movement when these
groups share the same agenda and may cooperate (even being criticized by the members of the
community for unwillingness to cooperate effectively). The movement is based on a community, and
represents its “interests,” as the movement’s activists apprehend them. Simultaneously, the
community is being (re)formed and (re)shaped by the movement.
My argument is that the quick development of a sexual minorities’ movement at the end of the
Soviet period was possible only because such a developed and complicated (underground)
community had existed before. However, in order to mobilize the community’s participants, a
movement identity should emerge in the movement. It is a “collective identity based on shared
membership in a movement” (Polletta and Jasper 2001, p. 289). I study how the movement identity
has emerged in the groups that have appeared as personal projects of certain individuals, and how this
emergence was sustained by the social situation of post-socialist transformations.
If there is a movement, it must act publicly. One creates and sustains the identity by proclaiming it
in public sphere, i.e. giving others a chance to discuss and criticize it. The very act of public
demonstration of an identity is crucially important. One always can participate in the community
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without public disclosing of (this part of) his or her identity. However, to act as a social activist,
working on behalf of sexual minorities’ community, one obviously should “come out”. “Coming out”
is a fundamental process in which the movement identity emerges. This coming out may be partial
(i.e. imply nicknames, avoiding mass-media presentations etc.), but it nonetheless must happen once
in this or that way. It is possible to consider the emergence of sexual minorities’ movement an effect
of mass coming out of many people who previously participated in the movement or were intended to
do it (but could not due to the lack of information or inordinate social control they suffered). I
overview the movement as it has emerged and self-organized in the process of its leaders’ coming out
(since 1989). It was the period of the community’s transformation into the movement.
The ending of Perestoika and collapse of the Soviet society surely served as the main social context
in which all these events have happened. In 1989, the first public “Association of Sexual Minorities”
established itself, and the first officially admitted (registered) specialized newspaper appeared as well.
The unconditional collapse of the USSR and two coups (failed in 1991 and successful in 1993)
followed soon after. I argue that the first period of the movement’s development has been finished, in
general, by 1996. During this period in the country’s social and political life, unusually high level of
political participation and spontaneous emergence of mass movements were typical (Finifter and
Mickiewicz 1992; Weigle and Butterfield 1992)1. At the same time, the deconstruction of pre-existing
social-political system along with decline of the state economic system led to harsh mass
impoverishment and disappointment. The history of the movement was framed by this
transformation. The period of social activity was followed by a period of embarrassment and total
anomia (in Durkheim’s sense) that caused mass retreats from any social activism. In the following,
speaking about “post-Soviet” Russia, I mean this extremely specific period in the life of the society.
The international LGBT community should be considered another crucially important context.
Participants in the Russian movement could understand themselves as participants in a wider
community. Objectively, the whole movement was highly dependent on donations and promotion
1It makes no sense to mention many works about various aspects of Perestroika social transformation. It is easy to find
and access a huge number of works about Perestroika. I only wanted to highlight the contextual importance of the period:
it was genuinely unique time: so many unusual things were possible neither several years before nor several years after it.
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from abroad. Surely it would not have been possible to realize many of their educative and political
activities without the international support. At the same time, the country, opened to the international
exchange and travels after a long period of self-closure, attracted a lot of interest from abroad. After
the door was opened, European and American activists strived to look inside. The Russian
community and activists, representing it in front of the public eye, had to define themselves in the
bigger international context. I outline the role that the new information and financial possibilities,
provided by the international community, both have played in the designing of the movement.
A social movement usually proclaims its intention to achieve certain social, political and cultural
objectives. To do it, the movement should form its infrastructure, consisting of organizations with
internal separation of responsibilities and (more or less) routinely professionalized activities. Besides,
various groups with vague inner structure and loose membership may share the movement identity
and take part in it. Crucially important is the relation between the movement and community on the
basis of which all the activities are grown up. This relation is one of important objects in gay and
lesbian history studies. In his milestone studies in the history of American Gay Liberation movement,
John D’Emilio especially emphasizes that the gay and lesbian movement cannot be understood
without analysis of its relation with the community it represents, although the community often is not
so visible (1998). Lesbian and gay men communities, to which the abbreviation ”LGBT” does not
always fit, contributed into the grow of collective identity that later become the indetitty of the public
movement (Irvine 1996). In my research I try to discern this relation between publicly proclaimed
objectives of the movement’s activities and particular positions of the community’s participants.
The social activity of sexual minorities is a subject for conceiving it as a social movement,
especially in the “new social movement” paradigm (Calhoun 1994). They give us a bright example of
so-called “politics of identity.” It may be argued that sexual minorities organized in a social
movement may propose as their claims more radical claims than just acknowledgement of their life
style (Blasius 1992). These social movements vary in their radicalism and preferable position in
politics; thus, the strategies they choose to make their public image may be compared according to
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their attitude to the political activity (Klandermans 1993). At the same time, it may be argued that
“sexual minorities” do not compose a genuine subject to form an effective political movement, at
least unless they have strong support of a community and stand for its mutual interests. “Sexuality” is
not a proper item for entering into political field (Sherrill 1996; Woods 1995). I think that in the case
of Russian movement, these relations between communities’ expectations and the real results of the
activists’ deals help to understand shaping and transformation of the movement identity.
The activities of sexual minorities in Russia were studied by Laurie Essig. Her Queers in Russia.
The Study of Sex, Self and other (1999) provides a theoretical framework for conceptualizing the
uncertain set of non-normative sexuality based activities that became possible after generl
liberalization of the society. She argues that the activities developed by the first generation of activists
since 1989 fade away until mid-1990, while the specific regime of practicing the non-normative
sexualities without necessity to disclose your “orientation” came instead. She offers the term “queer”
to signify this regime, and compares it with images of “post-identity” sexual politics that may be
found in contemporary queer theory. Kevin Moss mentions that Russian sexual minorities’ situation,
on the contrary, must be understood as pre-“identity politics” (1995, 2001). He argues that their
practices are based on social techniques of closeting, partial closeting and informal communication,
developed by the population in the Soviet period when people were to hide their political views in a
way, that was a mode of “closeting” (1995). These techniques have not miss their importance until
today (Nartova 2004). Thus, the Russian community gives an example of a relatively early stage of
movement emergence, which was already over in many Western countries up to 1980s. I agree with
Moss’s accentuation of the importance of national social culture and traditions of informal
cooperation. Essig’s work is the main theoretical and factual contemporary source on anthropology of
Russian non-normative sexuality.
Other important works are overviews of Igor Kon (1994, 1995, 1997). Due to his unique expertise
and active public position, he used to act as an advocate and consultant for the emerging community,
thus his descriptions of the sexual minorities’ public activity are very detailed and offer important
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facts. However, the community’s life before 1989, as well as various non-political activities of the
groups and organizations out of the capitals is not explained there in desirable details. Kon's writings
are not only extremely popular in the community, they also still serve as an authoritative source of
correct information about (homo)sexuality all over the country. Searching for the history of
homosexuality on LGBT web-sites, one unavoidably comes across scanned chapters of his books.
Thus, these chapters, concise as they are, must be considered a “normal” history of non-normative
sexuality in the USSR and Russia. Nonetheless, this “history” was written by Igor Kon as an organic
part of his books about the sexuality in Russia, so he got into details only then it was necessary to
clarify the main ideas of his books. Due his own unique experience as an expert, he was lucky to
depend on his own impressions of his “participant participation” in the movement formation.
An important source for my work was also Sonya Franeta’s collection of interview with gays,
lesbians and transsexuals from Siberian cities that show the life of the community in province (2004).
It is seemingly the first work of this kind, performed in a very empathic manner, that gives chance to
look into the life of gay men and women in big cities in Russia in 1970-1980s. Vladimir Kirsanov’s
collection of biographies helps to reconstruct several less known activities of the period, hardly
mentioned in “normal” Kon’s history (gay business, “gay art,” publisher’s enterprises) (2005). David
Tuller’s book (1996) with his “included participant” observations of events in Moscow and
Leningrad/St. Petersburg “queer life” include a number of important details useful for reconstruction
both the life of community in the period before and right after decriminalization of homosexuality,
and of the movement’s activities. It perfectly matches Essig’s book, for the authors spoke about the
same people at the same places and at the same time, but the book of Tuller gives a bright and
remarkable picture in the manner of “travelers’ diary”, while Essig provides also an anthropological
theoretical frame for the picture.
However, there is no developed anthropological conceptualization of the emergence of sexual
minorities’ public activities in Russia yet. I propose to conceptualize it from “social movement”
theoretical perspective. In my work I concentrate on the analysis of historical facts and try to
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construct a concept which would explain the features of the movement and dynamic of its inner
development.
Methodology and research design
Although I was not writing an extensive history of the community and how it gave birth to the
movement, I had to reconstruct the chronology of events and describe development of certain
organizations chronologically. What I wanted to do was to reconstruct intentions of the movement’s
actors. My theoretical presumption was that activists who realized (in their own ways) needs and
interests of the community, could not do anything else but make the most of situational options; thus,
I tried to reconstruct their own interpretation of their behavior in that time and how they had
apprehend their conditions. At the same time, the community in general, as the operative context of
their activities, was to be described as a complicated system. There were three levels of the analysis:
1) The “generalized” history of the (underground) community which as the basis of the movement;
2) transformation of the symbolical system of representation, that shows how the community and
movement was shaped and reshaped over time;
3) individual intentions of the activists as they may be reconstructed on the basis of present-day
interviews and publications of that period.
Thus, I tried to make a chronologically organized reconstruction of the movement’s emergence and
organization following these three levels simultaneously. As I could not reconstruct the whole
history, I chose several aspects that would effectively demonstrate the specificity of this “Russian”
case. Although the work is not designed as a “case-study,” it includes considerations of some cases.
The main sources of “historical” part work were published historical descriptions (Essig, Kirsanov,
Kon, et al.), and early lesbigay (“tematic”) editions of that time. The ongoing process was depicted in
there. Prof. Igor Kon kindly provided me with me his personal collection of these editions, so I had a
unique opportunity to work with these unique materials. I also studied materials of Moscow Archive
of Lesbians and Gays (ALG), a private collection of primary and secondary sources about the history
14
of the community. Besides using of the gay and lesbian press as a (narrative) historical source, I made
content analysis studying their usage of different terms for the sexual minorities’ community.
The fieldwork consisted of interviews with the movement’s participants of different ages. Because
of the conditions of my travel grant, received from CEU Gender Studies Department for this
fieldwork, and time limitations, I concentrated on the interviews in the two main centers of the sexual
minorities’ community in Russia: Moscow and St. Petersburg. I hope that results acquired by
fieldwork even on such constrained field may be applied to the community and history in the whole
country.
In my search for the respondents I was interested primarily in interviews with the active
participants, organizers of groups and organizations. In general, I made 13 in-depth semi-structured
interviews. Conducting the interviews I tried to provide my respondents an opportunity to tell me
their stories as they could re-member and re-construct them now. Thus, the first part of the interview
consisted of their self-presentation. The second part of the interview was grounded on a uniform
questionnaire that I had constructed after my preliminary readings. It covered the following topics:
1) preferable categories to name the community and persons with no-normative sexuality; 2)
important chronological dates, 3 ) the condition of the community before the emergence of the first
public organisations about 1989 – if the respondent knew at least anything about it; 4) personal story
of “coming out” and entrance into the community (this topic often was the first one to discuss), 5)
condition and characteristic features of the community in early 1990s, its structure, relations between
the organisations and their leaders, 6) history of the particular organisations and groups the person
belonged to with accent on the intra-organizational dynamics and the results of their activities, 7) the
typical cultural features of the community(s) books, songs etc., relation to symbols and signs of
“global LGBT community”, 8) social context of their activities and their interpretation of main
political and social trends in the society of that time; 9) ideology of the movement, who and how
discussed it and how the interests and aims of the movement (could be) defined, 10) relations with
grant givers and strategies of financial support, 11) (other) leaders, personal relations with them, and
15
(retrospective) estimation of their activities. I also made several short exchanges with other
participants of the community. Where were 2 persons to serve as experts: prof. Igor’ Kon and
Nadezhda Nartova who was an open lesbian and studied the community as an anthropologist alike.
All respondents beside two had higher degrees, and belonged to three generations of the community.
The average length of the interviews was 2, 5 -3 hours, except for Krauze’s interview which was
longer. Not all interviews were possible to record (three interviewees asked me not to do it). I also
made notes. All recorded interviews were transcribed by myself. I also made follow-up questions by
e-mail. This way of communication needed more time than I actually had and several activists I
needed to contact were, perhaps, too busy with preparation for the Gay Pride (it had to take place in
June,27) to keep in regular contact.
As far as I was not intended to complete a genuine history of LGBT community before and in the
time of Perestroika, but tried only to grasp its main features, meaningful in the framework of my
research, I did not try to meet and interview all remarkable participants of the events. I spoke neither
with Eugenia Debryanskaya nor with, say, Dmitry Lychev. Of course, it would undoubtedly make
sense to collect more interviews. However, I think that they would only add details to the story which
main line I hope I grasp correctly.
Popular in this kind of research, “snowball method” was used for sampling and search for
interviewees. A preliminary communication by e-mail was very effective. In Moscow, I made several
interviews with lesbian women from the circle of ALG. The activists I spoke with, being “public
figures” agreed with mentioning of their names (two of the had regular nicknames and were
mentioned here by these nicknames); in several cases the respondents did not want to be mentioned
by their full names, so I used only first names in my text. The list of the interviewees is in the
Appendix.
16
Chapter 1. Homosexuality in the Soviet Union before its de-criminalization
“U nas seksa net!” (We have no sex!)
A notorious post-soviet joke
Some remarks about “sexuality” in the Soviet Union
Sociocultural status of homosexual practices and intentions among its citizens is affected by the
whole systems of ideas held in the society about sexuality and its “proper” and “improper” forms.
Therefore, it is necessary to survey the status of sexuality in the society in the period before the
legalization of homosexuality in order to understand the broader socio-cultural context, where
homosexuals had to realize their identity and invented organizing themselves.
In this section, I outline the main features of the regime of sexuality established in the Soviet
society. It is important to study them before looking at the specificity of the “Russian” case of
introduction of non-normative sexuality in the public life of the society.
In terms of sexuality regime in the Soviet Union, one should mention three features, important for
drawing the background of this research:
1) The state openly tried to put the whole run of private life of its citizens under control, and
succeeded in doing it to a high degree. Definitely, sexuality was under suspect as an important aspect
if individual’s life, that was hard for officials to control (Healey 2001, Kon 1995; Zdravomyslova
2001). Of course, any public expressions nd even mentions of it were prohibited (Kon sarcastically
provides surrealistic examples of this social control), and even intimate matters were proclaimed to be
a legitimate site of party care for the citizens.2 Igor Kon conceptualized this relation to sexuality as an
2 In Russian discussion of this topic, song “Red Triangle” by the semi-underground singer of that time, Alexander Galich,
is being often mentioned. The song told how a woman wrote a report about her husband’s infidelity to their factory’s
Trade-Union and Party committee. The husband’s behavior was publicly discussed in the Communist’s meeting (he had to
17
attempt to build up “sexless civilizationwhere not only expressions of sexuality as a part of human
everyday life, but also any hints to it were excluded from public (Kon 1997). No “knowledge” about
homosexuality was tolerable under that condition.
The criminalization of homosexuality, combined with its medicalization, functioned effectively as a
truly effective tool to erase it from the citizens’ minds (Gessen 1994). This regime of total “closeting”
of homosexuality may be compared to Western societies before the “sexual revolution”; however,
Russian society never had such strict prohibition of homosexuality before the middle of 20 Century
neither by law nor in public opinion (Healey 2001, Kon, 1998). The USSR allegedly had the biggest
prison population in the world, and huge number of men were actually involved in homosexual acts
while their imprisonment (Kon 1997; Kozlovsky 1986) Imprisoned homosexuals were stigmatized
and humiliated, forced to survive in inhuman conditions.
2) Any information and knowledge about sexuality was excluded from media and literature. Or,
should I rather say, the state did everything it could “to de-sexualise” art and meida. (Consequently,
terrifying myths had a fertile ground to grow. Many stories of gay and lesbian self-understanding of
that period include episodes of purifying their self-identity from these myths). Although the
authorities never could stop circulation of knowledge about these matters and (illegal) distribution of
sexuality-related materials always continued, people often had no rational, science-based knowledge
about sexuality. This circumstance even had been considered a social problem by specialists in
sociology of family, because it influenced relations in families and between adults and children
(Golod 1996). In the 1970s, in the period of late socialism (“Brezhnevism”), a slight movement to
discuss such matters could be detected but it was not sufficient enough to transform the regime of
“sexless civilization”.
3) Nevertheless, the country’s population could not avoid sexual life. It was shown that the history
of sexuality in the Soviet Union came through basically the same periods as “Westerner’s” sexuality
did (Kon 2002, Rotkirch 2002). Anna Rotkirch, for example, discerned three generations in the Soviet
detalize the case answering questions), after which he was publicly reprimanded and instructed to “behave himself.”
18
population, gradually moving from condition of “constrained and oppressed sexuality” to more free
and “experienced” sexuality; this generational transformation may be compared with simultaneous
transformations of attitude to sexuality in other European societies, as she had shown by her
comparison with Finnish society (2004). Kon (2002) suggested that Russian society underwent the
same deep transformation of relation to sexuality, that became conceptualized in the West as the
“sexual revolution”, but under the conditions of specific discursive regime of Soviet society, this
revolution became a kind of “stalled” one (to borrow an apt expression of Arlie Hochschild (1989)).
To the end of the Soviet period the citizens of the country already were not “desexualized,” and the
state already could not control their intimate life as effectively as it had tried to do it decades before.
But the “regime of solitude” was still enforced. Distribution of sexuality-related materials was still
illegal; but up to that time, a well-maintained and complicated system of production and distribution
of various self-made printed issues (samizdat) was established in the country, and it would not be
wrong to say that sexuality-related materials were produced and distributed the same way (Tuller
1998, p. 84). Besides illegal pornography, these issues had to include various self-made translations
of foreign sexual manuals and erotic literature. “Samizdat” activists had connections with Western
publishers and journalists. The same must be said about homosexuality-related issues. For example,
while the Leningrad gay poet and writer Gennady Trifonov was imprisoned in 1976, his verses were
published abroad but never in the USSR (Gay, slaviane! 1993, pp. 21-27).
We can summarize that until the 1980s there was a palpable contradiction between the real state of
affairs with a sexual life that lead to strong social demand for knowledge about sexuality, and its
“officially approved” non-existence. The lack of such knowledge was recognized as a feature of the
general regime of knowledge established in the country. This regime was juxtaposed with presumed
“Western” openness and freedom. Gorbachev’s Perestroika, had, as one of its main mottos, a strive
for Glasnost`. Besides other meanings (Remington 1989), this motto implied freedom of speech and
freedom of the press: for “erotic materials”, of course, too. Masha Gessen showed how this freedom
had been quickly utilized by (mainly young) publishers and journalists in the country (1995). The
19
extremely fast development of “sexing media”, as she called it, was caused by the long period of its
absence in the state-controlled media. This process of “sexing media” gave a significant advantage to
emerging gay and lesbian press.
It was the state criminalization of homosexuality that made its history in the Soviet Union so
painful and, at the same time unique among other national cases. The criminalization followed a
period of emancipation and simplification of family relations in the USSR in 1920s. The
criminalization of homosexual relations was a powerful tool in the general trend of putting all the
private life of Soviet citizens under the state control (Edge 1995; Gessen 1994(rus), p.6; Healey
2001). The law, officially published as the Law of 7 March 1934”, played a crucial role in the
history of homosexuality in Russia. Note, that the law was approved by Stalin in the same day when
Nazi took power in Germany( some authors doubt it was a mere coincidence3). An act of homosexual
intercourse led to four or five years of imprisonment. This law effectively introduced the idea of
homosexuality as a crime into mass consciousness. Homosexuals knew that their activity was
unlawful, and this knowledge often prevented them from engaging any activity to seek protection of
their rights as citizens and humans. Naturally enough, the decriminalization of homosexuality became
the first and main demand of the self-constituting gay and lesbian movement in the late Perestroika
period.
It is not known up till now, how many people were factually sentenced by this law. These data
would help to estimate distribution and features of homosexual practices in the USSR, but there are
several obstacles in such an investigation. Firstly, homosexual men often were not imprisoned but
blackmailed and thereby forced to cooperation by KGB. Komitet (the committee) systematically
collected information about homosexuals. Many homosexual men could stay free only if they agreed
to work for with the KGB. They were forced to work as secret informers, provocateurs etc. (Gessen
1994, p. 18-20; Kozlovsky 1986, p.155-156; Scherbakov 1993). Thus, although they truly suffered
from the state, they were not taken into account in any statistics. Secondly, this “obscene article” was
3Some journalists wrote it was Maxim Gorky who once had adviced Stalin to make sexual relations among men illegal.
They explain it an indirect hint against Nazis whom Gorky considered “homosexuals”.
20
sometimes used against political dissidents to worsen their “guilt” and make their situation in the
prison much more severe. Thirdly, as prof. Alexei Ignatov especially used to point out, there were
many more crimes because of this article than under this article (blackmailing, slander, extortion).
One specialist in Russian criminality wrote that the average number of men sentenced according to
the article was about 0.1% of all the prisoners that would mean about a thousand every year. (cited in:
Gessen 1994(eng) p. 10). After elimination of the law at 29 April 1993, about two hundred of people
accused of “sodomy” were in jail, among them 73 who were there exclusively because of this crime
(Gessen 1994(rus) p. 23). One of Sonya Franeta’s respondents described her a militia’s “operation”
against homosexuals that took place in Siberian cities as late as in 1986 when more than 130 men
were imprisoned. (Franeta 2004, p. 69).
According to Dan Healey (2001), not less that 26 thousands had been accused of homosexuality
and imprisoned since 1934 till 1993. However, he admits that the accounting is only approximate.
The real number must be higher, especially taking into consideration the 1930s. Even without
counting the precise number arrested under it, one can easily see that this law obviously was a big
danger for Soviet homosexuals. It made any public movement of homosexuals absolutely impossible
until the very collapse of the Soviet system (but even the first public, “open” gay activists began their
activity under pseudonyms, because they had to care for this danger to be prosecuted (interview with
Ortanov)). The law pined the ideological connection between “homosexuality” and “crime” in the
mass consciousness.
At the same time, this common danger unified people with non-normative sexuality and produced
the feeling of affinity and solidarity between people with homoerotic intentions. It was an important
factor for development of the community. Coomunity members of older generation spoke and write
about importance of informal help to each other. Our people (nashi lyudi), as they referred to
themselves (look the chapter 2) were to help “our” people. A certain experience in avoiding the
prosecution certainly was attentively analyzed and accumulated, at least by “influential” persons in
the community. For example, Alexander Kukharsky describes different ways of behavior at militia
21
and interrogation. He especially studied the procedure and laws to be able to consult men who needed
that kind of help. He recommended different strategies for different people in the early 1980s, and
studied the Penal Code especially for this aim.
This informal network of “our people” was sustained by the permanent threat of prosecution. These
connections did not disappear after the elimination of the law: my respondents mentioned relations
with the “our people” in present times as set of people they can call on in case of urgency. In the late
Perestroika era, the first official organizations of homosexuals were organized by small groups of
people who intensively used these informal network channels to find allies.
Thus, the experience of dealing with the law and the security service was accumulated in the
community under pressure of this constant danger. This experience obviously was used in the
development of group and individual tactics of being a homosexual in an intolerant environment that
was just one particular example of “double life” techniques. According to Kevin Moss (2002), in such
a highly politicized society as Soviet society, the citizens were trained to have a double life, what
should be defined as the “underground closet.” The same individual social techniques were applied to
hide unorthodox political views and non-normative sexuality alike. Perhaps, it would even make sense to
speak about closeting as a universal social and communicative technique, vitally important for vast
majority of adult population of this type of society.
To summarize this, I suggest that the well-known prohibition of male homosexuality, accompanied
by consistent medicalization of female homosexuality as a dangerous pathology, played an
ambiguous role in its history in Russia. It destroyed lives of thousands of people, yet forced them to
understand their unity meanwhile. Russian sexual minorities, being an oppressed social group,
established a subculture, which effectively would “came out” in Perestroika time. Thus, the state
oppression was a factor of creation of the subculture.
As many contemporary society, Russian is definitely homophobic one. Moreover, evidence if a slight
development of this attitude is available4 (Baraban 2002). Although since “coming out” of homosexuality
4Helena Omel’chenko (2002) provides an excellent explanation of anthropological framework for studies of ongoing
homophobia in Russian youngster’s communities.
22
twenty years ago, sociological surveys have used to display gradual growth of tolerance to the sexual
minorities, the society is still homophobic, and the mass support for prohibition of Gay Pride in Moscow
(Zayavlenie 2007) is a sign of this state of things. Brian Baer discerns specific form of homophobia, that
he considers an unusual feature of Russian folk conception of homosexuality:
Russians appear to recognize two sources of
homosexuality: biology and culture. And so, it is not uncommon then to
see pleas for tolerance (of natural homosexuality) side-by-side with
impassionated against homosexuality perceived as unnatural trend, foreign
borrowing, cultural aberration. …many Russian writers, commentators,
and even doctors today typically recognize biological and cultural sources
of homosexuality. It’s a surprisingly popular duality (Baer 2008, p. 5).
This observation is not so trivial, as far as the idea of necessity to find an effective criteria to separate
'true' homosexuals from 'spoiled' (who would stay heterosexual, if the propaganda or\and ceduction won't
mislead them) permeates everyday discussion over this topic ( here I can refer to my own “cultural
experience”)5. I think it helps to realize why the idea of public celebrating of non-normative sexuality
(what is, of “gay –prides”) hardly finds wide support in the society. Russians “are not homosexuals,” they
dislike “the culture of homosexuality” because it may distort the sexual desire of “normal” persons. I will
not go further into discussion if this position, partly because it is obvious, partly because I must proceed to
my main topics.
Homosexual community in the USSR in late Soviet Union
Long before its “emergence in the public discourse” in 1989, homosexual men and women surely
did exist in the Soviet Union. Homosexuality and homoeroticism certainly has a long history in
Russian society (as, for example, prof. Simon Karlinsky has investigated it in numerous publications).
There were even more or less successful attempts to theorize the phenomenon (Rozanov 1911). Even
under the threat of prosecution, homosexuals managed somehow to get know people “of their kind”
5Although the author traces the idea back to Vassily Rozanov’s pioneering research of psychology and esthetics of
homosexuality (1911), I cannot agree with this reconstruction. This work of Rozanov, which was a part of his studies in
the psychology of religion, never would become his most read and popular book, thus its influence could not be so strong.
The genealogy of this idea asks for more deep investigation.
23
and created a vogue net of social contacts. Life of the net was, of course, closed from the eyes of the
authority.
The nation-wide “community” I speak about consisted of many small groups as well as individuals,
often having no information about each other or connected only by personal acquaintance between
“old” participants of the groups. Many small communities were established by socially active
persons, thus those who joint hem were people from their everyday environment6. The very usage of
the word “community” in relation to Soviet homosexuals would not be adequate enough because it
implies a certain amount of solidarity between members of a community; nonetheless, as I said above,
I have no better word. From the researcher’s point of view, it is important to distinguish between the
community and the outer environment in a more or less consistent way. Therefore, it is more correct
to think about homosexuals in the Soviet Union as an indefinite network of people, unified only by
their hidden sexual preferences (one could not allow herself or himself to be known as a homosexual
to his environment, even being well-known to local homosexuals). A definition of the 'community',
used by Chris Woods in his analysis of Britain gay life, may find its aaplication here: “[the
community is a set of] series of communal identities based on various elements (such as gender, sex
preference, geographic location, musical taste or class) which coincide in varying degrees under the
nebulous label of 'homosexuality'” (Woods 1995). These people should not necessarily think about
themselves that they personally belong to “a community,” but they feel affinities with people of a
certain kind; they all are also immediately interested in the special infrastructure for particular
practices.
In the following, I make a sketched outline of infrastructure of this hidden community as it
seemingly was shaped to the end of 1980s. The biggest cities of the country and its regional centers
already had informal gay and lesbian infrastructure a set of special meeting and cruising places
(usually calledpleshkas”, плешки – the word is known to all members of the community, although
its etymology is unclear (Kozlovsky 1986)). Certain urban sites, like cafés and public toilets were also
6 For example, Olga Krauze told about several lesbian groups that consisted of women who were employed and resided
together. These women met together regularly, and they still do it now without any need to cooperate with other groups.
24
appropriated by the community as meeting places. A hidden system of informal communication
emerged as well.
The symbolical centers of the local urban communities’ infrastructures were cruising sites
pleshkas. Even the oldest members of the community did not know for sure how the pleshkas
appeared. These places are excessively described in the gay folklore that dates back to 1970ties. In
Moscow The main cruising places were a big square in front of the Bolshoi Theatre7 (according to
legends, this "queered" place was known as cruising site already in the beginning of the 20th Century
(Lychev 1993)), and memorial square near Kitai-gorod metro station. In Leningrad homosexuals met
in the famous “Catherine’s garden” in Nevsky prospect.. In Novosibirsk, cruising places were
Pervomajsky park (along with café “Sputnik”) (Franeta 2004, p. 124).
In Moscow, homosexuals met in famous cafés Artisticheskoe and Sadko. Dmitry Lychev wrote that
there were gays in the staff of the café, who used to invite their friends, and gradually the whole café
was appropriated by gays. Laurie Essig calls Sadko “the only public shelter in which queers could
gather… somehow the place was “known,” not only among those who gathered there but among
many in Moscow’s nonqueer population as well” (Essig 1999, p. 84). Going to a new town, a
homosexual could easily acquire information about “pleshkas” and got there possibility to find
company, lodging and sexual distractions. In big cities there could be several cruising places and
persons who regularly showed themselves up at one place could have only uncertain knowledge about
other places. For example, Krauze mentions “tram park “Konyashino,” – a municipal transportation
enterprise, where were many lesbians as well a female transsexuals employed. Some of them surely
were influenced in their sexual behavior scenarios by prison experience. They had a traditionally
masculine job therefore certain masculinization was “allowed” to them. This community of working
class women did not have connections with groups of women interested in homoerotics but belonged
to upper classes.
7 On the cover of her “Queers in Russia” (1999), Laurie Essig is depicted as a man in drag standing on this place; Moss
ironically mentions this gesture of demonstrating true national way to behave in a queer way (Moss, 2001).
25
There was a struggle for symbolic leadership in the community. Vladimir Kozlovsky’s informants
provided him with detailed descriptions of interpersonal relations at pleshka, emphasizing inter-
generational exchange and contradictions. It is worth mentioning that Vladimir Kozlovsky’s
dictionary includes the critical remark of an anonymous homosexual, who severely criticized the
dictionary, because it was filled with words produced by a considerably small company of aesthetes
who tried to present themselves as an intellectual centre of the “pleshka community” (Kozlovsky,
1986, p. 75). The leaders were necessary to gather the “our people” together; in fact their figures were
a necessary element of fixing the subculture style and spirit. In Barnaul gay café, as a local
community’s participant describes it,
“…this society has its stars, and the rest hung around them. It happened often that is some
of the “soul of the society” did not come the circle just left the place saying ”I see nobody
came today”, although there was a considerable number of people” (Lazarev, 1992).
To summarize, the pleshkas along with nude beaches, сafés and (of course) certain public toilets
were the primary city infrastructure of homosexual community in that period, localized in the urban
and suburban space; not always recognizable for an outsider, the infrastructure existed as a set of sites
for particular practices (comparably to the similar infrastructure in New York, as Deirdre Conlon
described (2004)). This infrastructure made for the practices helps the community survive, sustains it.
These practices are reproduced in certain sites and these sites receive additional cultural and social
meaning thereby (Brown 2000, Conlon 2004). More sophisticated socializing was possible in
companies were hosted by people having separate apartment (not every citizen could enjoy it in that
time); these companies were more or less exclusive. Other parts of the infrastructure were networks
of information exchange via “their” people, distribution of literature and visual materials (there were
collections of erotic materials gathered by leaders, for example, Aleksandr Kukharsky had such
collection, at least partially consisting from pictures made by himself). Collections of various articles,
pictures, and other resources about homosexuality and related topics (true libraries, in fact) were
collected by enthusiasts (on the basis of such private collection, ALG was later established). After
1990, the first specialized editions used these collections for completing their content (interview with
26
Ortanov)8. As soon as it became possible, Western organizations used to send their editions for these
collections, very often – for free.
Besides, semi-underground homoerotic art existed. Eugene Kharitonov9 (1941-1981) and Gennady
Trifonov were considered the most prominent gay poets, but they were the most distinguished but
certainly not the only writers and poets, celebrating homoerotics. Simultaneously homosexual themes
appeared in works of writers who did not belong to the community (Vishnevsky 1998). Musician and
poet Olga Krauze would remember transvestite home-staged shows in Moscow. Stories and poems,
published in gay and lesbian media soon after their emergence, sometimes are dated back to the
1970s. The audience was not open exclusively for “sexual minorities”, and she considered it as a big
advantage of that actions.
Developed as it was, the infrastructure could not effectively exclude “our people” from hostile
environment. All these activities were more or less illegal or paralegal. However, its existence
signifies that there was a kind of homosexual subculture, and even if these groups did not constitute a
bigger community, that could not survive without solidarity and information circulation. Therefore,
the later activities of the first LGBT organizations were grounded on these previously existing
networks and smaller communities and the agendas of these activists were articulated before their
official emergence. The activists tried to politicize the community and to create a more consistent
political body10.
Pleshkas were special sites where one could meet a mate (fulfilling informational and socializing
function), participate in collective cultural practices (fulfilling socializing function), and were,
factually, tiny separated spaces inside of urban environment where socially unaccepted (and even
prohibited in general) practices were tolerated by the environment. Symbolically, pleshkas could not
8 As Vladislav Ortanov explained to me, almost every formalized (institutionally) group of later period had a collection of
luterature on homosexuality along with AIDS-related materials.
9 Kharitonov E. Under House Arrest / transl. by Arch Tait. L: Serpent’s Tail, 1998.
10 These attempts failed, as I would show below. One should consider the on-going events around gay-prides in Moscow
and St. Petersburg, organized by a new generation of gay political entrepreneurs (предпринимателей) (as N. Nartova
defines them in sociological terms), the second wave of politicization of homosexuality in Russia. However, this self-
establishment of gay and lesbian identity politics nowadays, fifteen years after the first wave, takes place in sufficiently
different environment, with open state support of homophobia.
27
help but ghettoized homosexuals. Nowadays, pleshkas have lost their importance significantly after
the legalization of homosexual activities and development of Internet, although they still exist. The
majority have shifted to specialized clubs and discos. Cruising places - open-air places in the central
parts of town and cities continue their existence but they do not have the meaning of unique loci for
special “queer” activities. Younger representatives of the subculture, speaking about contemporary
gay and lesbian community, would refer to clubs and “discos”. I think nowadays the community does
not need to have such a central and stable place for meeting and socializing because a Russian city’s
downtown public places together with special web-sites perfectly fulfill these functions.
According to Dick Hebdige (1979), subcultures are produced by subordinate groups. They
challenge the overarching dominance by producing their own group culture. They make their own set
of symbols and remarkable patterns of behavior the “style” of the subculture (for samples., -
Golubaya Kniga 2000). Looking from this side, one can consider the set of homosexuals’ communities
in late-socialist Russia a subculture, at least as far as it had the recognizable culture style.
One of specific features of the style was surely its special language.
Besides slang, a specific subcultural speech practice developed in it as late as mid-1970s. A
specific manner of speaking and communicating has emerged among members of the homosexual
community, called “khabal’stvo” («хабальство»; the verb – хабалить, “khabalit’”). As far as I could
figure it out, “khabal’stvo” would imply an overt expression of sexual arousal, and interest, jokes
about “perversion”, and a complicated play with gendered expressions in language.
“Khabal’stvo” as a kind of speech practice was used in special places, among ”thematic people”
at ”pleshkas,” special parties, at social gatherings. Its function was to create the special closed space
that sustains the regime of sexual relations used in the communities. I would consider “khabal’stvo”
an important part of subculture system of cultural patterns: the capacity to speak and communicate in
this manner functionally reinforced the in/out divide and sustained group solidarity.
Several of my respondents used the term “khabal’stvo” as a synonym for a vulgar and unpleasant
manner of homosexual behavior, something they distantiate themselves from. Closer to the point,
28
“khabal’stvo” is often related to feminized homosexuals performing a female mannerism and
mentioning themselves in feminine gender. Persons performing this style are a rather recognizable
part of the homosexual community but many gays and lesbians try to have nothing to do with them.
Yet they share acquaintance with this type of speech practice and thus a perosn who practices
khabal’stvo is defenitely recognizable as someone belonging to the community.
“Khabal’stvo” may be compared with another homosexual subculture slang languages, such as
Britain “polari” (Baker 2002, Denning 2002), although I failed to find any comparative research. The
main obvious difference is that “polari” has its own vocabulary, whereas “khabal’stvo” has almost no
special words11. Many words are used with transformed meaning, but there seems to be no room for a
“khabal’stvo” dictionary; thus it is not slang, but rather a sociolect. Its usage has been and still is a
performative, used in special situations and contexts, and the fact of the existence of the manner I
propose to consider a feature of a developed and complicated ( as far as “khabal’stvo” is attributed to
a subgroup inside of the bigger subculture) social group. This speech practice was used primarily not
to hide relations and intentions by re-naming them (that would be a proper funcction of a slang), but
to reframe attitude to gender and sexuality by their ironical alienation. Simultaneously, “pure slang”
vocabulary of “khabal’stvo” does exists, too (in addition to Kozlovsky 1986, I should mention recently
presented compilation by Saburoff (2008); short as it is, the collection is seemingly an introduction of
continuing project, but it is obvious a collection of slang, where khabal’stvo is not even mentioned).
An interesting fact may be mentioned to argue for the level of self-organization of the community.
In this period lesbians managed to have secret marriages. Two girls who decided to live as a couple
–“family” –could not go to the state registry house (ЗАГС), but they used another ritual instead of it:
secret marriage in a church (I was told about such cases in Moscow). They could bypass the social
norm by employment of an alternative social norm. Religious "wedding" would be employed as a
symbolic alternative to the “secular” marriage. In Vladimir Kozlovsky’s book, “lesbian marriages”
are mentioned in the interview as a typical and not an exceptional event with a special recognizable
11 There is a special Internet-resource gathering examples of “khabal’stvo” and related materials: http://xabalka.gay.ru
29
ritual (1986, app. VI). Essig mentioned these marriages once as well (1999, p.41). Among my
respondents, only Julia Certlich could remember such a 'secred marriage'.
There were other signs used by lesbians and gays to recognize each other. Olga Krauze had an
earring in her ear in 1981 because, said she, “I'd heard that lesbians wore one earring”; similarly, one
of Essig’s respondents mentioned one earring as a feature of an “active” (butch-like) lesbian (Essig
1991, p. 116). There were also special patterns of acquaintance-aimed behavior, only some of which
could be recognized by outsiders.
In this chapter, I tried to argue that the primer manifestation and showing-up of the sexual
minorities’ movement was developed by its development in the previous period. Although
homosexuality was officially prohibited, the law did not prevent people with non-normative sexual
orientations from forming a nation-wide subculture. Emergence of this public movement and its
features were shaped by simultaneous “opening” of sexuality to public discussion and a sudden rise of
social tolerance towards its markers.
How to name the community? The problem of relevant naming
In this section I explain my approach to naming the community. I will also analyze self-description
through names being used in the community, along with connotative meaning of the names. In the
last part of the text I am going to explain how international terms for non-normative sexuality based
communities are used in this particular national context.
There never was any commonly accepted name for the community based on non-normative
sexuality in Russia, although there certainly were special terms to signify persons, attached to these
practices. A researcher can not use the “native” terms all the time, as far as they relate to a part of the
whole community, even if “the community” was analytically reconstructed as an entity. However,
these “native” terms always have connotations that cannot be controlled thoroughly. I prefer to use
the term sexual minority in order to avoid projecting of Western categories, such as “gay(s)”,
“LGBT” or “queer” to this community which still does not have any united self-description and has
30
accepted these terms only recently. I also try to avoid references to the theoretical perspectives these
terms had been attached to.
The most often used “native” term was tema. It literally means “theme”; it is easy to say about
somebody that he or she is “thematic”, or “she/he is about the theme”. The first official Soviet
newspaper for homosexuals was entitled Tema. (At the same time, young participants of the
community with whom I discussed the topic in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk in 2007-2008 told they
hardly knew the term and did not have an idea of naming themselves as “thematic” so, the term
would be already inappropriate for younger generation).
The most often used manner to imply involvement in the community, if only potentially, was to
signify (to speak about) a certain person mere as ours. Surely it was a common way to speak about
member of the same community or society. My respondents used to signify by this expression a
“hidden,” or “latent” homosexual (who could join the community, be he or she aware about his or her
“nature”). The third meaning of the word was to signify a “helper” - a person, who feels sympathy for
people with non-normative sexuality and may help to get a social advantage, or advocate for them,
regardless of the person’s own sexuality. In short, 'our' related to any person who possibly could
participate in the community’s activity. It did not necessarily mean that the person used to practice
same-sex sexuality; the person could only sympathize to sexual minorities and somehow enhance the
community.
The terms, most often used for homosexuals were bluesfor men, and “lesbians” for women. In
the speech of “blues” themselves this word had no humiliating connotations and was neutral12. This
term was likely introduced after the Great Patriotic War, because, according to one “veteran”, it was
not used in the Leningrad blue community before the war; as one Franeta’s interviewee from
Novosibirsk explained, the term had successfully replaced offensive prison argot that had domineered
before (2004, p. 131)13.
12 The term was used by Kevin Moss in the title of his anthology of Russian homoerotic literature, entitled Out of the Blue
(1997).
13 The same is stated in an anonymous interview: “I was a shy boy…” – in: Tema 1992, #4, p. 18
31
In his English-language article which basically repeats his earlier texts (not without new details)
Igor Kon mainly uses the term “blues” (1994); in Russian-language books of the same period he
prefers to use “gays”, possibly in order to facilitate the introduction of the term into Russian ordinary
language (1995, 1997). In contrast, the gendered equivalent for “blues”, “pink,” was rarely used by
homosexual women for themselves, and was more distinctively humiliating. The word “lesbian” has
always been used for homosexual women. Partly because it was possible to find the term in Russian
poetry of the Silver Age epoch and emigration (the story is revealed in works of Diana Lewis Burgin)
The word “homosexual” is not usually used in relation to a woman in the Russian language.
The word “gay” gradually became used in English speaking homosexual communities and societies
only in the 2nd part of the 20th Century (Speirs 2000). In the Russian context it was introduced in
1980s. Kirsanov suggested that the word was used for the first time by the first official Soviet
newspaper of sexual minorities Tema (2006, p. 479). In this newspaper, however, the word “gay” is
met relatively rarely. If we compare usage of words “gay”, “homosexualist” and “blue(s)” as
synonyms in three leading “blue” editions of that period Tema, 1/10 and RISK, a slight difference
may be discerned. Terms “homosexual” along with “homosexualists” (a more strict distinction
between the terms was developed later) preferably were used in abstract cases, then the speech is
about a person with “non-traditional” sexual orientation, or in pieces of information about
homosexual life abroad. The word “blue” tends to be used in relation to the community itself (not
exclusively), its history (for example, Tchaikovsky was preferably characterized by his gay
biographers as a “blue” person rather than as a “gay” one) and foreign issues. “Gay(s)” is used in the
texts published in that early gay and lesbian press with the least alienation, and in contexts that make
it possible to think that they speak about themselves or “our people” as a representatives of an
imaginary Russian sexual minorities’ community that was in becoming. If an article was written
about history of “western” gays, the word “homosexual” was used more likely than “gay” but,
speaking about contemporary events or communities which would be used as cultural samples, they
would use the words “blue” or “gay.” The latter word has more obvious positive connotations. For
32
example, in one issue of “1/10” (1993, #4 (11)), the word “blue(s)” is used 29 times, “homosexualist”
- 13 times, and “gay(s)” -15 times, but the word appears in news, in a report about the Founding
Conference of an Association, and in a descriptions of communal life (p.7). In various issues of the
newspaper 1/10, “blue(s)” almost all the time goes in quotation marks, that alienates this word,
whereas “gay(s)” is used without quotation marks, although the word has been adapted relatively
recently.
The community was in the process of developing a new identity for itself, complying with new
possibilities to speak about homosexuality publicly and to act in political field. The term “gay”
signifies reference to this positive image of a new (imagined) community, gathering people with non-
normative sexual orientations, who would be free of constant social oppression and socialize as they
like.
The oppressed groups, communities, and individuals try to redefine their position and legitimize
their social and political activities through solidarity. It is important for their leaders to establish a
social ground for their activities, and the more different groups and practitioners they would gather,
the better. Needless to say, the term ‘sexual minorities” may include not only homosexuals but,
potentially, any other non-traditional sexuality-based identities, such as bisexuals and transvestites.
This term was known to all of them, therefore it would be relatively easy to politicize it. As Laurie
Essig has discussed the term, it “does not rely on a simple binary opposition – hetero/homo. Instead,
non-normative sexualities are multiple and can easily overlap with heterosexuality (e.g. prostitution)”
(1999, p. x). I use the term “sexual minorities” as an umbrella term which includes not only lesbians
and gay men, but other non-normative sexualities as well. However, in fact I mainly write about male
and female homosexuals.
“Sexual minority” is a neutral term widely used in this community, through mainly by men (in this
case it complies with “lesbians” as gendered term for females), having no openly gendered
connotations and signifying the basic characteristics of the community: their orientation to same-sex
33
sexual practices14. Then I write about the whole community which may include people with any “non-
normative” sexuality, whether such a community actually exists or not, I use term “sexual
minorities”. Contemporary LGBT activists sometimes would decline the term, but they often propose
“LGBT” to name the community and the movement. I do not think it is a good option to apply the
term in relation to a text describing events 20 years ago, when the very abbreviation “LGBT” was
hardly known even to the leaders. As “sexual minorities” is a term used in the title of the 1st self-
proclaimed public organization in 1989, thus the term could be at least accepted in that time.
Russian community based on non-normative sexuality used "sexual minorities" as an umbrella
term; however, it never was commonly accepted. My respondents preferred not to use it, although
Ortanov, co-founder “Association of Sexual Minorities” in Moscow told me he liked the term for its
universality. They accepted its meaning but were not inclined to use it constantly, speaking about
their community(s). For me, this is a term of description, available for an outsider-anthropologist;
thus it stresses specificity of the movement as presenting interests of people with different non-
normative sexualities (not only “gay men” and “lesbians”). However, it is worth mentioning that the
status of the term illustrates one feature of the community, which became visible during fifteen years
of its public development. It consists almost exclusively of homosexuals –gays and lesbians; other
possible non-normative sexuality-based identities (like transvestites, transgender persons, BDSM,
swingers and others) are not visible as separate groups. The popular Western term LGBT is not
widely used in the Russian community. This term is an apparent appropriation of identity belonging
to another cultural area. It is used nowadays by activists who try to emphasize their participation in
global LGBT networks (and allegedly to get access to the recourses of the network). None of my
respondents agreed with this term. In fact, there was no reason to accept it. Classic Western definition
of the term implies different groups aware of similarities of their situations and interests cooperating
in social and political struggle. In Russia, “gays” and “lesbians” seem to be two dominant groups,
14 One of my respondents, V. Ortanov, defined the community through “homoerotic interests” as opposed to
“heteroerotic” interests, shared by the surrounding majority. I think this approach is very helpful in understanding of the
life-world of the communities participants, but too complicated to be used is a socio-anthropological work. I look at
people’s behavior and public self-presentation, not daring get into their minds where their loves and “true” desires live.
34
encompassing other (existing or virtually possible) groups like “bisexuals,” “transgender” persons
and others. As Nadezhda Nartova found in her research of a St. Petersburg middle class lesbian
community, it’s shape and mode of existence was highly normalized, according to heteronormative
models. It happened to be possible to normalize “lesbians”, but not for the persons whose sexual
identities problematize gender contract as such (for example, transsexuals) (Interview with Nadezhda
Nartova). Thus, the routine usage of this term may show a level of politization of a group or activist
(or at least the presence of a political claim). To proclaim oneself “LGBT” is to try to present one’s
agenda as part of global political agenda of “sexual minorities”; that’s why a national political
association established in summer of 2006 in order to act together against homophobia and
discrimination in Russian society, was entitled “LGBT Network Russia”15 (MSM…, 2007).
The process of introduction of the names continues nowadays. The term “queer” used by Laurie
Essig as a term of theoretical description is used neither in the published materials about/of the
community, nor by any of my respondents, it is not even appreciated by them (although it is
interesting that Ortanov gave me an interpretation of his favorite term “sexual minority” strikingly
similar to mainstream meaning of the term “queer”16). But as soon as a popular gay journal is entitled
“Queer” (Kвир), it would possibly become more popular soon in younger generation.
To summarize this, I should state that there has never been single definite way to speak about
people with non-normative sexuality as a group. In the legendary times of “underground life”, they
developed a set of speech techniques to mention people belonging to the community. In the period
after 1990, a slight appropriation of the name “gay” could be discerned. This term related to the
imagined “community” which would be shaped on the basis of the pre-existing one. The term
homosexual(ist) was in use, too. The terms used for self-description among Western communities of
people with non-normative sexuality (LGBT, queer) have not been appropriated (this fact should be
investigted together with the statement about reluctant and weak appropriation of “mainstream”
15 http://lgbtnet.ru; text of foundational agreement (in Russian) is available at: http://lgbtnet.ru/news/detail.php?ID=2431.
16 It was interesting for me to found that he defined as “sexual minority” any person whose sexual practices do not fall
under ideas and attitudes to “normal” sexuality of his or her environment. I thought he equated “sexual minority” and
“queer”. When I asked him about his usage of the term “queer” he said that he practically did not need it.
35
western gay identities by the Russian community). The best term that may be used in the description
of the community and its movement is “sexual minorities”. It does not hide the presence of other
groups like transgender peoples who participate in the life of the community, but have not been active
(or lucky) enough to form separate groups based on an identity of their own.
36
Chapter 2. The emergence of the Russian sexual minorities movement after 1989. Periodization
of the movement in the context of late-Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia
In this section, I try to make a general chronological framework for analyzing the emergence and
development of the gay and lesbian movement in contemporary Russia. I look at a possible
periodization of the movement, and explain political and cultural specificity of the period.
A periodization is important for research like this one because we need to frame the observed
process in time. One possible periodization is already introduced by Igor Kon (1997, p. 354). It is
based on the degree of “publicity” of the sexual minorities and their activities. The chapter with this
text from Kon’s book is being repeatedly reproduced on Russian sexual minorities groups’ web-sites;
therefore it stands to reason that it influences the self-understanding of the groups. Kon discerns four
main periods in history of sexual minorities in the USSR/Russia:
1934-1986 period of discrimination, penal prosecution and silencing;
1987-1990 beginning of open, public discussion of the problem by scientists and journalists;
1990- June 1993 sexual minorities enter the “public scene”, “human rights” are accentuated in the
discussions, the problem is transformed from medical to political one; and the first organizations
emerge. After declining of the article 121.1 in May, 1997, the new period follows: the situation for
gays and lesbians gets better, “the homosexual underground” begins transforming itself into a “blue”
subculture” (Kon 1997, p. 362), and more options for struggle against homophobia and for legal
guarantees of non-discrimination appear.
The disadvantage of this periodization is that the 2nd and 3rd period are not distinctively emphasized.
The first organization of sexual minorities has appeared in the USSR as soon as in 1984, and it
already formulates its political demands (the group of Alexandr Zaremba). It seems to me that these
two periods should be combined into one. In the broader social frame, that time was the time of late
Perestroika and the collapse of the USSR. Social activities and identity-building of the community
37
utilized opportunities that existed in that certain period. Although any generalization of this kind is
inevitably shallow, it is necessary to connect the community’s transformations with broader
transformations of the Russian society in that period (post state-socialist transition), and in the global
context (intensification of globalization processes) as well.
The initial period of sexual minorities’ activities has begun, I think, formally in 1989, when the
first newspaper (officially registered only later) and the first public organizations of the sexual
minorities have appeared. Before, “coming out” did not happen in public sphere and could not
became a basis for any political program. Since that time, the real movement is being reinforced by
“coming out” of its leaders. In the next two years, the movement institutializes itself remarkably fast.
This “initial” period finishes in 1995-1996. In this time, (1) social activity of the population in general
becomes weaker, and the whole situation in the public sphere changes (becomes more normalized),
(2) organizational models of the organizations are exhausted, and their leaders often decide to give up
public activity, thus many organizations, if they even still stay alive, give up active participation in
the public space, and (3) the new generation of gay-business entrepreneurs emerges. In short, the
country changes, thus the way how the community was structured and organized, is to change as well.
The last point in this chronological transition is the sharp economical crisis in Russia in August,
1998. At that time numerous social activities were abandoned because people became impoverished
and could not continue them. As Ortanov has explained it,
This period was about its end in 1995, but I was absolutely sure, that the breakdown
was in 1998. I knew many people who had interests in activities, and projects, but
after 1998 they just gave it all up. Firstly, they become poorer. Secondly, the
democrats’ power betrayed us then for the first time. We had a great deal of
optimism before 1998, but then…
At the same time, (4) the generational change took place. Certlich says between the “old guard”,
who came into the community already in the time of the USSR, or just in time of its collapse, and
could easily remember that sad experience of total “closet”, and opposes the veterans to the “young”
or “new guard” who came in after 1993. The latter already could not share that experience of being in
opposition to the state and the society. This “new guard”, representing mainly younger generations,
behaved themselves differently, had another image of the community and another expectations. She
38
argued that at least in the lesbian community this difference was realized and openly discussed.
Laurie Essig, who finished her observations at just about that time, concluded that the (first) period of
gay and lesbian self-organization was almost over in 1994; she even entitled the related section in her
book “the fall of queer politics/the rise of queer subjectivities” (Essig 1999, p. 67). From her point of
view, the transformation of the society she spoke about perfectly conformed to her theory. She argued
that the first period was over, and
“...there were still many organizations and groups based primarily on sexual identity
but few of them were as successful and hopeful as they had been in the past… [t]he
fissures that appeared early among queer activists have only deepened…
Disillusionment with Western models of organizing and identity, a sharp decrease
in interest and funding from Western sources, and a general feeling that the politics
of sexual identity was not meant to flourish on Russian soil have all dampened the
early glow of queer activists.” (ibid., p.68-69)
Finally, the rapid development of internet solved the information problem which was so crucially
important before the late 1990s, and provided new recourses for new leaders17. This essay's target is
description of the initial period.
The social and political impact of the loss of the main organizations' influence should be discussed
separately. Here I just state that the “new guard” population could not socialize in these organizations
simply because of their disappearance; thus, the “new guard” had to re-invite the communities again.
(The reasons of this rupture are discussed below). This period still continues nowadays. Several main
leaders of the contemporary community have acquired their influence in this period. It does not mean
that all previos leaders period lost their influence; rather, now they have to continue their activities in
a reframed field.
17 A bright example of them, according to all of my respondents, is the owner of www.gay.ru Ed Mishin (Mikhail
Edemsky). He was repeatedly mentioned by my respondents as an example of the new generation’s leader.
39
The first public homosexual organizations, their interests and aims
In this section I describe the emergence of the first organized groups and true organizations, not
only in the capital, but in other Russian cities as well. I look at the details of several activities of that
time and try to discern differences of their approaches to the future of the community. These
differences may be effectively used for typologization of these public activities. In the end of the
section, I make a comparison of their activities.
The first stable group of activists, working on behalf of sexual minorities, was organized in
Leningrad in 1982 by Aleksandr Zaremba. It was named “the Blue laboratory”. Its history was
described by one of the key figures of St. Petersburg’ gay scene, Aleksei Scherbakov (1991).
Zaremba was a qualified linguist and could communicate with foreigners. It was remarkable in this
organization that its activity included all the main topics of future organizations of homosexuals in
Russia. There were about 30 persons of both sexes in the “Laboratory”18 (Zaremba’s wife was
characterized in the article as “lesbian”). From the very beginning, this group achieved contacts with
western organizations. Zaremba wrote to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), and
in July 1984 representatives of ILGA visited Leningrad. It was at that time that the ILGA’s
international conference was held in Helsinki (so that they did not have to travel a long distance to get
to Leningrad). The Finnish organization SETA was the groups’ representative at the conference. The
“laboratory” also tried to establish contacts with other “thematic” organizations in order to receive not
only moral support but information useful fin the organization of political struggle. As Olga Krauze
remembers about this group,
I knew an astonishing story of how they established contacts with the Netherlands:
one of them had written a letter to “Izvestia” [leading national newspaper] asking if
any political movement of homosexuals existed [abroad] and how one could learn
about it. Thank God, the letter came into the hands of one of “our” people, and they
gave them the address of Dutch Communist Party, or forwarded the letter…
18 Laurie Essig mentions this group as “gay laboratory” (1999) The same does Igor Kon. However, as Olga Krauze
pointed out in interview, the word “gay” absolutely was not used in the community in that time. Scherbakov wrote about
“group” without giving it a particular name.
40
I think that the “blue laboratory” anticipated the perspectives and interests of later LGBT
organizations. Among their activities were:
1) Studies in history of homosexuality and distribution of information about it.
2) Search for contacts with foreign organizations and centers, using personal and informal (via
“our” people) channels.
3) Attempts to combine and coordinate activities in cultural and political areas. The group began to
submit correspondence to Finnish newsletter “SETA”. Unsurprisingly, the group fell under KGB
observation from the very beginning, but could continue its activity until the first open threats from
the KGB till August of 1984; is not clear, why they were let to be active for longer than two years.
It was mainly project of one bright personality, Aleksandr Zaremba. He moved to Kiev (he would
become a distinguished academician there), but other members of the group, Scherbakov and Olga
Zhuk would play an important role in the later establishment of “thematic” associations in
Leningrad/St. Petersburg. The “blue laboratory” did not establish any tradition, and was almost never
mentioned by other activists in their stories. However, its importance was in this anticipation of future
activities of this kind. Just as the “laboratory” was, all the subsequent organizations were dependent
on the will of their founders and leaders and did not become independently living projects.
Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg since 1991), two main cities of the country, were the two
main centers of the sexual minorities’ community in the USSR. Therefore, researchers usually paid
their main attention to events and processes in these two central megapolices19. At the same time, self-
organization of the sexual minorities’ community was rising in many places in the country
simultaneously, and the groups in the capitals’ were not the only national pioneers in it. Different
groups had similar agendas and presented themselves to their environment in similar manner, because
(1) sexual minorities’ movement was an organic part of a broader and more general rise of social self-
organization of that time. The Perestroika effectively stimulated mass activities all over the country.
As my respondents, along with authors of different works about these events have mentioned, there
19 They were also the most “accessible” sites for Western researchers. There they would find people who would speak
foreign languages, vibrant cultural life etc. It is clear form David Tuller' book, for example, how heavily he depended on
the emerging infrastructure of expatriates’ life in Moscow and St.Petersburg.
41
was a feeling of new and hopeful opportunities, opened by the social transformation, and this mass
enthusiasm made recently incredible experiments and enterprises possible. The political system was
considerably tolerant in that time. As V. Ortanov told me,
one can say that gays began only because the Perestroika had begun. If it hadn’t
begun, as it had not in the time of Zaremba, all the activism would be finished in the
same way by the KGB. As the Perestroika began, the gay’s movement started to
move itself ahead.
(2) The nation-wide community was already ready to launch public self-organization. There was a
common agenda that had been realized and formed inside the community in the previous period.
Consequently, as soon as the sociopolitical environment had changed, groups in different places
began to emerge. Activists (potential leaders of the community) took advantage of these new options
opened by the social transformation, and the “community” produced the movement by their activities.
There was a prominent expert who played fundamentally important role in the early shape of the
movement. It was Igor Kon, the most well-known Russian specialist in sexology and sociology of
sexuality20, who paid great efforts for it. His key role was not only of an authoritative consultant and
public advocate of the movement. He effectively worked as a connecting point towards international
intellectual community in this field (his own unique library of related literature must be mentioned as
an important recourse that influences the whole nation community). As an expert, he provided the
activists with necessary scientific knowledge, references and facts (he would still do it nowadays).
Thus, the movement’s leaders had an influential advocate and consultant who helped them find their
way to organize.
The event that triggered self-organization and collective coming out of the minorities was
international scientific conference “Minorities and society. The changing attitudes towards
homosexuality in 20th century Europe” that happened in Tallinn, Estonia, in 28-30 May. 1990. It was
the first public discussions of homosexuality on the territory of the USSR (Parikas and Veispak
1991). Many future leaders of the movement were invited to the conference on basis of personal
recommendations of Igor Kon. The conference effectively encouraged them to come out publicly.
20 His Introduction to sexology (“Vvedenie v seksologiyu”(1988)) was the most popular and acknowledged work about
sexology, consumed by the Russian audience in this historical period. His influence was characterized in: (Gessen 2002).
42
A concise outline of the period’ history below is based on the interviews, ALG materials and works
of other researchers (Essig 1999, Kirsanov 2006; Kon 1994, 1995, 1997; Tuller 1998). It was
commonly acknowledged that the first group of sexual minorities’ activists was the “Association of
Sexual Minorities” (ASM) established by Eugenia Debryanskaya, Roman Kalinin and Vladislav
Ortanov. This organization appeared as a collective action of a group of persons, everyone of whom
had personal political aims. Eugenia Debraynskaya already had experience of oppositional political
activity. She was among the co-founders of “Democratic Union”, the first public movement for
political reformation of the Soviet system and, at the same time, was in intimate relations within the
circle of Alezandr Dougin (who was her lover), one of the most influential pro-fascist, reactionary
intellectuals in Russia; thus, she simultaneously participated in the emergence of two opposite
political perspectives in the country21. In that time, her flat in Moscow became a meeting place for
political discussions and conferences. Thus, Debryanskaya consciously tried to enter the political
field. I hope her activities of that period may be summarized in conclusion that Debryanskaya turned
herself into a “public character,” as Mitchell Duneier defines this type of social actor, quoting Jane
Jacobs: “a public character is anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and who
is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special
talents or wisdom… he just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts…”
(1999, p. 6). It is important for survival of informal networks that certain persons function as an
interconnection of different societies and information flows; they also facilitate growing up of
different concrete groups. Additionally, the situation allowed Debryanskaya to take part in “political
games” among others.
Among other co-founders of ASM were Ortanov and Kalinin, who began publishing of the first
officially registered newspaper for gays and lesbians Tema”. Ortanov was a scientist with a stable
social and professional status. He was intended to participate in de-criminalization of homosexuality,
and he was interested in specialized editions for gays (due to his personal interests in gay erotics and
21 Kirsanov, 2006, pp. 411-413; Laurie Essig (1999, p. 141-143) characterizes her political visions as conservative-
nationalistic, that is, according to Essig, unusual for lesbigay activists and should be thought of as a specific feature of
Russian movement.
43
depending on his personal acquaintance with foreign samples of it during trips abroad which he did as
a scientist). He also tried to facilitate counter-AIDS activities. In a sense, Vlad Ortanov was the key
figure in the early gay movement of post-Soviet Russia. We may get to the conclusion considering that
these three trends of his personal targeting of his activities — political struggle for decriminalization
and antidiscrimination22, development of national “gay culture”, anti-AIDS programs (development of
sexual education, in broad sense) would become the main aims of the movement. Yet, he never
tried to gat any public acknowledgement, enjoing being just a “mere participant” of the movement.
Roman Kalinin, who was a student at that time, was a socially active person not afraid to “come
out” and became “the first open gay in Russia” ( Kirsanov 2005). He was acquainted with
Debryanskaya, and she promised him support in his activities. Before commencing the whole
enterprise with the Tema, Kalinin worked in a new political newspaper Novaya Zhizn’ (“New Life”),
acquiring the necessary experience in newspaper-making. Following an announcement in that
newspaper, Ortanov had got in touch with Kalinin, and in the very end of November they completed
the first number of Tema. Thus, initially it was a result of cooperation of two enthusiasts, who
checked the just-transformed social situation whether it was tolerant enough for display of such
unusual identity. They experienced that this initiative could acquire success in the new circumstances.
The newspaper was printed in Riga by Kalinin. He used his personal contacts with a printing house to
do it. In that time, the three (still Soviet) Baltic countries were a kind of recourse base for emerging
publishing and journalist projects from all over the USSR23. In terms of network building, these
countries were a special point in the informal system of information exchange that provided the
possibility for printing.
The first issue was distributed by vendor merchants in Moscow — by those of them who took on
themselves the risk to sell this kind of printing stuff it was more dangerous than to sell
pornography. As Ortanov explained, if they wanted to register the newspaper officially, they had to
22 In the interview, he stated that the struggle for legislative prohibition of discrimination must be and actually is the main
political objective for Russian sexual minorities’ movements since the decriminalization.
23 As Ortanov put it, “Everything was printed there. It was cheaper, and it was easier”. The first Russian edition of Edward
Limonov’s scandalous novel “It’s me, Eddie”, which introduced homoerotic images to the broad national audience was
printed there, too.
44
be an organization running the newspaper (a private person could not have a printed edition).
Thereby, ASM was established at the very end of 1989. It was made as an “umbrella”-organization
for any public activities in favor of sexual minorities. It did not have a fixed membership: anyone
who worked in accordance with its ideas could proclaim himself or herself a member of the
organization. Soon after, Moscow Association of Gays and Lesbians came instead of ASM. The
group was not better formed or organized. The transformation of name was significant: it became
more defined and more ”presentable”, I would suggest, for Western partners. The years 1990-1991
were time of experiments and self-determination for the group of activists. At that time, they were in
the center of public attention (Essig 1999; Robinson 1992).
The group that had established ASM and several other similar ephemeral “organizations” after it,
constituted one perspective in the self-organization of the Moscow sexual minorities’ community.
They tried to establish a tradition of “openly gay activist”. As far as there was no tradition of identity
politics in Russia before (or it was ther only for several years right after the October Revolution), they
found their analogues and smple patterns in the West. They were mainly oriented at the USA (with
“American” models of tough political conflict for recognition of the identity), whereas “culturally
oriented” activists24 was in closer contact with European (Germany, the Netherlands) activists and
organizations.
The activity of the same group of leaders led to the emergence of an organization which possibly
would become the first official and publicly legitimized organization for representation the interests
of non-normative sexual identities in Russian society and public sphere and advocating their
(presumed) group interests. It was called “Russian Gay, Lesbian and Bisexuals Organization
Center ‘Triangle’”. Leaders of the previously existing “Union of Coming Out25and the “Moscow
Gay and Lesbian Center”, as well as editors ‘thematic” press representatives of anti-AIDS
24 The distinction is explained bellow in ch. 3.2.
25 In Russian, this group was named verbatim “Union of Liberation” (Союз Освобождения), while in English
presentation texts they used term “coming out”, perhaps, adapting themselves to the expectation of their Western
addressees.
45
organizations joined it. The Center ‘Triangle’ was established at Founding Conference in August,
1993 in Moscow.
This organization was planned as nation-wide. A woman from Novosibirsk was elected as the
President. The real activity of the Triangle was in the responsibility of the Coordination Committee
(about 10 persons, almost all of them Moscow residents). The organization developed various
activities. It was important that the Center ‘Triangle’ was form the very beginning planned as a
professionalized NGO, promoting interests of a particular social group in the nation scale. They even
hired a director (Andrey Maimylakhin), who was chosen for his professional qualifications as a
person able to manage the organizational work. I considered this fact a sign of a new approach to
organization building26.
The Center’s main foreign partner was ILGA, which was interested in having a united center for
managing different projects in the country. The Center Triangle became a full member of ILGA27 in
January of 1995. Unfortunately, the regular fundraising was not developed.. When the fund received
from ILGA was exhausted, the organization had got no official registration yet. If it had, it would
have been the first organization representing interests of the LGBT community in the country. The
personal conflicts between the organizers combined with its financial difficulties, and as late as the
end of 1996, the Center Triangle disintegrated. A successor organization, the LGBT Network Russia,
would appear only in 2006.
In Leningrad/St. Petersburg, the emergence of the movement came another way. This city had its
own long traditions of underground homosexual life (Rotikov 1998). The groups’ relation to
traditions was much more reflected in this site than in other movement sites of the country. An active
participant of “Blue laboratory”, Sergei Scherbakov, joined groups established in this period.
The most well-known and popularized organizations were St. Petersburg Gay and Lesbian
Human Rights Center (initially -Association of Gays and Lesbians) Krylia, lead by prof. Aleksandr
Kukharsky, and the Tchaikovsky Fund for Cultural Initiatives lead by Olga Zhuk. They did not
26 After the termination of The Center Triangle activities, Maimulakhin moved to Ukraine and became a leader of a health
care organization in Lugansk.
27 The Letter of confirmation of full membership in ILGA, signed 18.01.1995 (ALG, File 65).
46
have any mutual cooperation, although there was no principal contradiction among them; however,
the both organizations were distinctively one-leader styled, and their activities were driven by single
active person. Like other less recognizable groups in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, their leaders
paid special attention to official organizational forms.
Names of both groups were reclaimings of the Russian homoerotic “tradition” (which they were re-
inventing). The Krylia was named after the book of the Silver age poet Mikhail Kuzmin, which had
been fetishized among certain groups already in Soviet homosexual underground. It was one of the
prominent homoerotic texts in Russian tradition. “Tchaikovsky Fond” received its name after Petr
Tchaikovsky, a Great Russian composer, whose (closeted) homosexuality was a subject of
discussions and numerous explorations. He was a hero and key historical figure for those who tried to
re-construct the “tradition” of non-normative sexuality in Russia. At the same time, the fund’s name
was a signal for “thematic” people. As Olga Zhuk explained it later, when they attempted to register
the organization,
[While registration] we had difficulties with mayor. They did not want to allow us
to use the name of the composer, because it would offend him [his memory], but for
us it was a principal position. We wanted to say by that: “you have acknowledged
that gay composer, so take all the rest of us, gays, now!” In papers we were
officially entitled “Fund for Cultural Initiative and sexual minorities’ promotion”,
but in media we appeared exactly as “Tchaikovsky Fund” (Anmegikjan 2005).
The Krylia may be described as an interesting (and almost unique) case of LGBT organization in
Russia, having existed and been active for such a long time. From the very establishment it maid its
task juridical consultations and other help for gays. Kukharsky had been successfully practicing this
for a long period before the organization was developed. He was always proud for his personal
contribution to the development of regional “blue culture.” The organization organized seminars and
lectures by different specialists and regular meetings28.
There was also a particular experience of cooperation between the movement and feminists
organizations. The most well-known case was in Leningrad/St.Petersburg. It was the site of the most
28 St.Peterburg’s lesbians with whom I spoke had no interest in “Krylia”’s activities. I can suggest these activities are
oriented mainly at a relatively closed circle of gays, belonging to one or closer generation who use them primarily as a
good possibility for regular meetings with old friends. The impact of such activity for the whole local community is not
clear.
47
developed ”tradition” of feminist organizing in Russia. The first Russian underground feminist
organization, Maria,” appeared here as soon as in 1979 (Gessen 1998). In 1988, Olga Lipovskaya
began editing and publishing self-made feminists journal Zhenskoje Chtenie (“Reading for Women”),
and in 1991 began to manage different feminist activities, the most successful of which was St.
Petersburg Center for Gender Problems. Lipovskaya cooperated with sexual minorities’ activists,
although this cooperation was not always successful29. Nevertheless, her Center should be mentioned
among the organizations that promoted lesbian activism in the country. It was a rare case of feminists
working together with sexual minorities’ activists.
Another key figure of the Leningrad/St. Petersburg movement was singer Olga Krauze, whose
personal story is analyzed in the last section.
At the same time, there were other local initiatives, which were not successful in receiving an
official registration. They should be mentioned here. For example, a group of girls calling themselves
Sappho Petersburgbegan to organize disco parties for sexual minorities. It was necessary to have
negations with the administrators of clubs, and to inform the rest of the community. Both tasks were
not easy (a disappointing description of their parties can be found in: Essig 1999, pp.77-78). The
group was lucky to be officially invited to Berlin and later to Omsk (a regional center in Siberia) to
participate in festivals. “Sappho Peter” also appeared as an situational answer to the need of gathering
people together. One of its objectives was to provide them information and help. Established by
lesbians, it was primarily, although not exclusively, oriented at this audience. Young lesbian activists
who participated in these actions kept working in next years, then the leaders of the previous
“generation” ceased their activity.
Simultaneously, sexual minorities’ organizations emerged in regional cities. In Omsk, a group of
homosexuals tried to establish itself as an unofficial organization. Its history could be partially traced
by their self-made newsletter Omskaya Tema (“Tema in Omsk”)30. Initially, that organization was
29 For the instance, she encouraged my interviewee Natalia and her friends to organize, but produced burdens for Olga
Krauze’s organizational efforts at the same time (according to interviews with them).
30 There are 14 issues in the collection of Moscow Lesbian and Gay Archive. The newsletter is typewritten. The language
is very colloquial, and I consider it must be classified as a “fanzine” targeted to a small and close company.
48
entitled “ОГОПУД” (?), but in July it was re-named “Klub ‘Poisk’”. There was a list of its members
in issue 9 (September 1991), including 45 names with 4 “enlisted forever”. The content consisted of
descriptions of visits to other cities (mainly Novosibirsk), club news (not understandable for an
outsider); the issue 6 had a reprint from Moscow gay editions “Tema” and “RISK”. It was remarkable
that the description of the “club” changed with every issue. In the beginning it was represented in a
manner, aping official Soviet reports about various official meetings; in later news, besides the
change of the name and the motto of the newsletter (from the parody “gays of the world, unite!” to
the less alienated “I no longer want to hide my love…”). Obviously, there was a rapid process of self-
determination in that local community. Extracts form the Tema and RISK shown that this group was
connected with other sexual minorities’ communities in the country.
In Krasnoyarsk, Siberian Association of Sexual Minorities was established about 1990 by a
group of gay friends. A gay man, who was interviewed by Franeta, thought that the main result of the
Association’s existence was to create the acquaintance and friendship between gays and lesbians in
the city. According to Franeta, the man considered his organization the third one in the country by the
time of appearance (2004, p. 75). Again, its establisher knew about organizational processes in other
cities but was autonomous in commencing this activity. Valery Klimov, an activist from the Urals
regional center city Nizhniy Tagil, facilitated information exchange among sexual minorities in his
region. Since the late 1980s, he has been consistently involved himself in information search and
promotion of help for imprisoned homosexuals and later (since 1993 till 2000) published a special
newsletter for them (Lasarenko 2004a)31. Similar activists soon showed themselves up in Tver’,
Novosibirsk, Barnaul and other centers. Unfortunately, they usually did not have much public
visibility or constant possibility to participate in activities in the center. Three persons from Barnaul
and Krasnoyarsk visited Moscow and St. Petersburg in the summer of 1991 and after returning began
their local initiatives. Natalia Ivanova tried to begin a “thematic” radio in Krasnoyarsk (Essig 1999, p.
67), and two activists in Barnaul established a regional NGO “Siberian Initiative” as soon as in
31 In ALG, among other materials of the 1993 Conference, Klimov’s registration form for the conference is kept.
49
1993. They both participated in the Triangle conference in 1993, but their interests were targeted
mainly towards anti-AIDS programs. This NGO, lead by Veniamin Volnov, is very active today in
HIV/AIDS-service programs and education32.
Thus, the emergence of sexuality minorities’ organizations took place in different parts of the
country simultaneously. The capital cities had the biggest concentration of these activities, and their
comparison would help to discern main trends of the community’s development.
It is possible to discern three main trends in the shape of the organizations’ activities. The first one,
a radical political trend”, is surely represented by the ASM, which was a product of activities of a
close, through not closed group of cooperators. They were in search of a proper organizational form,
which would be a vehicle for their public activities.
Another discernible trend in the movement should be attributed to the activities of groups such as
the editing collective of RISK and “Argo” journals (with Ortanov and Dm. Kuzmin as leaders),
Tchaikovsky Fond in St. Petersburg, and regional groups like the one gathered in Tver’ by Aleksei
Vinogradov. These groups were based on the previously existing network but they were less
politicized and targeted at the urgent needs of the community. They tried to avoid any open
confrontation with the authorities and possibly were not ready to make full “coming out”.
The third trend I would define as orientation atpurely culturalprojects, although nobody could
draw sharp boards between culture imitative and political position. They were most characteristic for
lesbian organizations, like “MOLLI” (Moscow Association of Lesbians in Literature and Science), or
Olga Krauze’s projects, and various small short-lived groups. They intentionally avoided politization;
an active cooperation with anti-AIDS and medicine organizations was not an urgent and important
issue for them (since HIV/AIDS issues were not so important for lesbians). They concentrated on the
establishment of communicative space for people with non-normative sexuality. This trend may me
named “the line of community’s culture development”. These three trends should be understood as
32 Its website: www.sibin.ru. The analogous organization was officially registered in Tomsk 20.09.1993; it was Regional
Organization Astarta.
50
ideal strategies of possible group activities of the described period, and used as typology of these
activities.
It may be seen that the struggle for human rights did not have a strong support in the community at
that time (although it was proclaimed as an aim of their struggle). Among the organizations in the
capitals’, only Krylia insisted on the necessity to work over the legislation and to communicate with
the officials in order to have adequate representation of the homosexuals’ position in law making
(perhaps, due to the personal expertise of its founder). The development of the community, with its
(homoerotic) culture and facilitation of information exchange were the most important perspective of
work for the majority of the activists, especially after 1993. At that time, the human rights discourse
was not demanded at all. I can suggest, that in the circumstances of “democratization euphoria” of the
early 1990s, with its selebration of unbelievable liberalization, securing of “human rights” seemed an
almost solved problem for the newborn, democratized Russia.
The history of this period reflects main features of group emergence in that time:
1) As I have already pointed out, the organizations were grounded on the basis of small
communities and informal networks that existed before the period of legitimation. The fast and
simultaneous emergence of sexual minorities’ activisms all over the country would not have been
possible without this community.
2) The organizations that appeared at that time were made by individuals and existed only by their
personal efforts. Consequently, the leaders could openly look at their registered and (more often) non-
registered organizations as a vehicle for realization of their own projects. At the same time, the
international context provided them with considerably easy opportunities to work on with
international funds and nets. The organizations effectively promoted their founders to have an access
to the “world LGBT community”. Almost all the leading figures of the movement lacked solid social
and cultural capital, but in that situation they could invent their own new social practice. This
statement won’t relate to everyone of them equally. For example, Ortanov and Kukharsky,
authoritative leaaders as they were, displayed comparable “modesty” in their political claims from the
51
very beginning. They followed another strategy: they only needed to socialize their interests, to get an
opportunity to develop their “preferable” practice, but had no reason to became actors of a public
political scene. Ortanov took part in emergence and design of three main editions: Tema (with
Kalinin), RISK (continued by Dmitry Kuzmin) and Argo. Although the two latter projects certainly
had political importance, in terms of open performing gay identity, Ortanov’s main aim was to
develop a new kind of edition — an art journal for gays resembling the samples he had seen abroad33.
This activity was terminated34 by the economic crisis of 1998. Kukharsky successfully continued his
cultural and legal initiatives: having high social status and cultural and social capitals, he was able not
to depend on financial support from abroad too much. These two leaders (as well as the initiators of
that may be named “classic” gay business like Shatalov (“Glagol’” publishing house) and Abaturov
(famous developer of first gay clubs in Moscow)) had another strategy of socialization of their
activities in favor of sexual minorities. They avoided additional politization of their activities. It was
interesting that they had both been abroad before and had mutual relations with foreign LGBT
communities. Thus, stage of acquaintance with possible models of behavior of a LGBT movement
leader was not so crucially important for them as for “younger” leaders.
3) In many cases, it would be easy to discern a gap between the leaders, who could afford
international travels (funded by foreign LGBT funds), and “mere” members of the community. The
Perestroika opened new opportunities and chances but not everybody could use them equally. The
new field of grant-based activities in mutual cooperation with foreign partners needed new techniques
of cooperation which were not accessible to part of the community. From the perspective of a
participant of the movement, it seemed that the several main organizations and their leaders were in
constant competition for foreign grants. Their activity did not acquire full legitimacy in the
community which was outside of the fund-raising activities that were more or less “normal” for the
management of these new organizations. At the same time, the lacks of organizational experience
33 He even managed an official registration of “Argo” as “gay erotic journal” in 1994; that registration was mentioned as a
feature of factually high level of tolerance to sexual minorities among officials in that short period.
34 Another popular gay erotic edition, Partner, disappeared at the same time because of the same reason (Kirsanov 2006,
p. 404).
52
lead to the wasting of received money. Perhaps, we should suggest that in that situation, it was easier
for the young organizations to find financial support than to use it properly. The stage of
professionalization of NGO activity came later, in times then the main organizations described above
were over. Thus, then the participants of the community of that time would speak about the realities
of organizational projects, regrets of the improper expenditure of money often would have been
heard.
4) Many organizations of that time had similarities in their agenda: political unification of the
community in struggle for decriminalization, information support of the community life combined
with public introduction of new norms of lesbian and gay culture. In 1993, the first aim was achieved.
Next political objective, which would continue mobilize the community to movement - struggle
against discrimination was not even formulated in a commonly accepted way. The task of
information support would be more effectively solved by the Internet. The initial severe lack of
information was not so important to the mid-1990s. That’s why these activities, nurtured by the
Perestroika, had to undergo structural transformation.
In this analysis, I do not touch one important aspect of the sexual minorities’ coming out in the
post-soviet Russia, which should be discussed in details in any historical research of this period. I
mean the set of problems of anti-AIDS activities and programs. In fact, the emergence of AIDS that
fundamentally changed the LGBT community existence all over the world just in that time (as well as
humankind’s relation to its sexuality in general), no less influenced the forms of the movement’s self-
organization. In the Soviet Union, the first official registration of AIDS happened on 1 of March
1987, but the state officials were not ready to discuss preventive measures or to invite any new
methods to fight against the epidemic (Allova 1988). In the USSR, unlike other countries,
homosexuals were almost never mentioned in the discussion of the epidemic, mainly because they
were not “recognizable” for the public eye in that time. The allegedly “guilty groups” were drug
addicts (narkomany) and prostitutes. However, homosexual men-activists played an important role in
distribution of the knowledge about the disease. These activities relate to the second trend.
53
Chapter 3. Aspects of Russian sexual minorities’ movement
Russian sexual minorities’ movement and national politics
If there are no gays in Duma [Russian State parliament],
the Duma is not representative.
Igor Kon (cited by Ortanov)
Although, I have presupposed in the previous chapter that the first period of the sexual minorities’
movement in the post-Soviet Russia came to its end in period between 1994-1998, it does not make
sense to try to define a precise date of its diminishing. Laurie Essig takes the disintegration of the
Center Triangle in 1996 as such landmark event, whereas some of my informants would rather
mention the financial crisis in the summer of 1998. The movement was gradually transformed along
with the transformation of the whole social system. Thus, it would make sense to compare different
aspects of the first period activities with these that have appeared in the second one and still continue
to exist nowadays. Leaving aside the overall transformation of the post-Soviet Russian society, I will
concentrate in this section on the movement’s attempt to participate in national politics. This
perspective of their activity was the most visible for the citizens of the country and, at the same time,
forced the community to reflect on its identity and public presentation.
By “politization” I mean transforming a group of activists into a political subject who tries to force
other political subjects of the country consider its claims and somehow collaborate. Not every group
of activists would need to enter the political field. However, sometimes the group finds it necessary to
attract public opinion to achieve its basic objectives. Sometimes it is personal interest of the group’s
leader. In general, certain politization regularly accompanies rises of social activities, so in this period
it happened too.
One of the obvious distinctions between the first and the second period of the movement is their
relation to (imaginary and projected) intervention into state inner politics. In its initial period, the
54
movement was more politicized, then in late 1990s. There were activists and organizations who tried
to present themselves in the political field. This cannot be said about the second period. Below, I
outline the political activities of the first period. I speak about different trends in the movements’ self-
organization (as they have been characterized in previous section), with a special attention to the
“political” trend, and compare them. Above I have concentrated on the organizational process in the
community, thus now I would look at their relation to the political process.
In the Moscow part of the community, the politization was reinfoced by the representatives of the
“radical” trend, and it culminated in the Center Triangle’s efforts to establish cooperation with
parliamentary political parties and social movements. The “radicals” did not have a chance to develop
any long-term strategy of working with other political actors or the state apparatus. One can say that
their politics was to construct and declare a political position of sexual minorities’ community as
such. The second line in political activity, oriented towards cooperation with state power and gradual
improvement of the condition of homosexuals in the society, is represented in that period almost
solely by the Krylia. Its main targets were (and would be) anti-discrimination of homosexulity and
resistance to various emerging projects of such discriminatory law-making.
The whole politization of the movement began as consolidation in the struggle for
decriminalization. The aim of non-discrimination was articulated at the same time, too, but its
possible legal decisions were not strictly defined at that time. Surely, the very public appearance of
people who came out, demanding for the abolition of the legal prosecution was important. This
political claim received its social support while signatures gathering processes. One of effects of
struggle for decriminalization was temporary unification of lesbian and gay groups in their political
struggle. In the moment of the article’s repose, this powerful factor of gathering and cooperation
vanished. The next and perspective aim of the activities would be struggle against discrimination. But
the next ten years would not see any rise of social resistance on the side of sexual minorities.
There were several campaigns of signature gathering, in which different strata of elites were
involved. The most well known action was an act of gathering signatures for decriminalization among
55
musicians, organized by underground performer Vladimir Veselkin (artistic pseudonym)35. Vlad
Ortanov did the same among scientists and academics, and Olga Krauze among middle class
intelligentsia in Leningrad/St Petersburg. It must be noted, that gathering signatures under open
letters and proclamations was a typical form of political participation during the Soviet period. It
obviously had an affirmative effect in constituting elites’ positive opinion for the decriminalization.
Authoritative journals and newspapers supported this demand in their publications. An open letter
to the state authorities with the demand to decriminalize homosexuality and guarantee the rights of
sexual minorities was published in a popular newspaper36 in 1989 soon after the establishment of
ASM. It was, possibly, the first public statement of political interest and objectives of the sexual
minorities, an apparent feature of their coming out.
The infamous article 121.1 was reposed along with the process of reformation of the penal
legislation. It was not at all an answer by the state authorities’ to the activism, but as a part of a
routine bureaucratic procedure. The key figure was prof. Aleksei Ignatov37. Being one of the most
experienced experts in law, he was involved into the new law’s draft preparation process and used
this opportunity to eliminate the infamous article from the code. For him, sexual behavior could not
be a subject for criminal law, for it had nothing common with a crime (unless violence was involved).
Since 1991, he kept in touch with several sexual minorities’ activists, advocating their interests with
the full authority of a distinguished law expert. In the end of the day, consensual homosexual acts
between adults were decriminalized (Gessen 1994, Kon 1995, Petrov 2006). The decriminalization
had been widely discussed and protested in the community, but the very action happened without
direct participation of the movement.Although there were uncertainties in the legislation about sexual
crimes, known and disputed by the experts, the ground problem was totally solved. For the majority
of the community, it was all they dreamt of.
35 Veselkin is a bisexual independent rock-musician who came out in early 1990s. Although he is not often mentioned in
articles about the history of the movement, his openly queer performances were important for the legitimation of public
queerness in Russian “independent” culture in 1990s (Kirsanov 2005, p. 462-68).
36 In was “SPID-Info” (AIDS-Info), not an official newspaper, but the one that was popular and read all over the country
(Gessen 2002). Quick development of media sphere along with its liberalization created a situation in which sexual
minorities even did not have to struggle to appear in mass media. Nobody would seriously stand against it.
37 Personal information about him (in Russian): http://law.edu.ru/person/person.asp?persID=1121369.
56
For comparison, in newborn Ukraine decriminalization happened two years earlier: the 10th law
approved by the new national government after Ukraine become independent, decriminalized
homosexuality (muzhelozhstvo). It happened in December, 12, 1991 (Blue Book 2000).
A great part of the community distanced itself from any open political claims. For example such
leader as Mila Ugol’kova, co-founder of MOLLI (seemingly the most important purely lesbian group
of the early 1990s) tried to concentrate on the development of “lesbian art” and avoid political
confrontations (Essig 1999, p.73; Certlich’s interview). The majority was satisfied by the
decriminalization and thought that the homophobic attitude of the population should be transformed
primarily by cultural and social introduction of the very idea of non-normative sexuality (homoerotic)
into the life of the country. It meant that they concentrated on the development of their particular
activities without any attempt to offer common political agenda for the whole community.
There was no person who would try to make a political program based on the sexual minorities’
claims (possibly, included into a broad political agenda). The only attempt was made by Roman
Kalinin. In 1991, he announced that he would be a candidate in Presidential elections from the
Libertarian Party (established soon before on the basis of Russian branch of the Transnational Radical
Party). In fact, he hardly could participate in elections because of his age, so it was just a kind of
extravagant gesture. This demonstrative “coming out” was widely discussed in the national press38.
Until the First gay-pride in 2006, this case was, perhaps, the most well known case of gay’s political
participation (Kirsanov 2005, p. 481-483; Lazarenko 2004). Simultaneously, a reckless interview
with Kalinin was widely distributed by national mass-media and that publication was even discussed
in a court as offensive. Kalinin and his friends also managed the first Russian festival of sexual
minorities in the June of 1991, whose initially projected motto was “Turn Red square into pink
triangles!” As Kon rightly mentioned that motto reflected not only the courage of the “radicals” but
also their American partner’s ignorance, and could became a pure provocation39.
38 Ortanov remembers that a student of him, who was far from any politics, told him she would vote only for Kalinin. In
my interview, he retold this story including it into his own re-evaluation of Kalinin’s activities of that time. For him, the
student’s utterance was a sign of the public acknowledgement of Kalinin’s activities.
39 IGLHRC leaflet, 1991 (ALG). The motto was disclaimed after protests of many authoritative activists like Ortanov and
Kon himself (Interview with Kon).
57
Since 1993, the main agent of the political positioning became the Center Triangle (since 1993),
which gathered together the main activists of Moscow homosexuals’ community. At this period,
Roman Kalinin left the field of public political activity for his own project, the first Moscow gay club
“Underground”; thus he embodied the common trend to de-politisation and concentration on private
business enterprises. This kind of turn is typical for activists of his “generation”.
The Center Triangle’s strategy was to influence the political decision making in fields which were
important for the community. In 9 of June, 1996, they sent at least one letter to State Duma
Committee for Women, Family and Youth with demand to consider the same-sex families in the
project of the new State Family Code40. In the same day, a national conference about LGBT issues
had to take place under Triangle’s management41. The Triangle even sent a congratulation letter to
newly-elected President of the USA Bill Clinton42. Quite expectedly, none of the letters was answered
or otherwise commented by the authorities.
While the Third conference, an unusual ally was found among Orthodox Christian priests. A small
religious group calling itself the Russian Orthodox Catholic Church sent a letter with blessing and
congratulation to the participants of the conference43. Although this religious group was highly
marginalized in Orthodox Christianity, the act of communication possibly could be used as a
precedent of cooperation between sexual minorities' movement and a division of Christian Church.
The Center Triangle had a wide range of activities aimed to position itself as a political actor. In
this activity, it fully developed the “political orientation” of the Moscow sexual minorities’
40 The letter is in ALG, file 65. It is written there that there were about 8 millions of homosexuals living in the same-sex
couples in the country. I consider this number very overestimated, but I cannot say whether it was an attempt to influence
the officials (i. e. conscious disinformation) or the Trangle simply did not care about the factual number.
41 The information leaflet is in ALG, file 65.
42 ALG, file 65.
43 This “Church” was established by Mikhail Anashkin and Manuil Platov, both of whom later were accused of pedophilia
and attempts of homosexual rape (untitled news at http://www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=200580; last access
21.05.2007). There were many homosexuals in its community. According to a well-known specialist in history of church
in Russia f. Yakov Krotov, this “church” has not and is not being acknowledged among other church officials in Moscow,
and did not mirror the Orthodox church’s position at all. It must be stated, further, that their personal interests to non-
normative sexuality, their public action as the heads of the “church” follow the same logics of cooperation between
marginal positions with possible emergence of a shared solidarity as a result of the cooperation. In the letter of the church,
a project of an official document about the church’s relation to the same-sex sexual relations is mentioned. These people
tired to reframe interpretation of their own sexual intentions even pacing into religious orthodoxy's domain.
58
community. The first issue of its newsletter, “The Bulletin”, included “the opinions of gay activists
about the October44 events”.
As was mentioned above, ASM was established by the same person that founded famous
Democratic Union (DS) two years before. This mutual cooperation with a leftist (in that period)
political movement was an exceptional case, that happened because of warm relation to the sexual
minorities’ struggle from the part of the DS leader Valeria Novodvorskaya. She publicly approved
their activities, although did not participate in them. Another democratic politician who publicly
supported them was St.Petersburg politician Galina Starovoitova45. They both were exceptional
politicians with highly individualized political positions. Nobody else dared to follow them: as the
Center “Triangle” stated in the end of 1995, none of influential politicians from left and right camps
alike agreed to support the movement and include its claims into their political programs46.
At the same time, the movement found 'helpers' among radical nationalists. At the same articles
mentioned above the Triangle proclaimed about negotiations with the National-Bolsheviks Party
(NBP), recently found by Edward Limonov. Limonov himself was known as a reluctant “popularizer”
of homosexuality in Russia due to his fascinating description of his same-sex adventures in New
York in “It’s me, Eddie” novel47. Another political leader who promised support was Vladimir
Zhirinovsky, whose personal relation to homosexuality was ambiguous for the public (Tuller 1998,
pp.192-195). At the same time, the well-known gay journalist and poet Yaroslav Mogutin published
openly nationalistic articles48, and Zhirinovsky suggested him position of his press-secretary. Mogutin
rejected it.
Until the mid-1990s, the Russian sexual minorities’ movement failed to find any support or
cooperation from political parties and movements. This may be explained, primarily, by common
44 The take-over of the state power committed by Boris El’tsin at 3-4 of October.
45 Interview with Olga Krauze. Galina Satrovoitova was one of the main Russian urban ethnologists. In the late
Perestroika, she had become famous in the country as an expert in human rights and in nationalists movements. She was
murdered in 1998.
46 Vechernya Moskva, 21. 11. 1995; Sex i politika’ (Sex and politics) –in: PLUS Center, #50, 1990. Both article without
authorship. In the last one two photos are printed, of Debryanskaya and Limonov respectively.
47 It was extremely popular in the country in that time. Then “Glagol” publishing house had been established to publish
gay literature, this novel was its first and the most successful product (Kirsanov, 2006, p. 448-50)
48 Like the one: Mogutin 1995. This scandalous men was threatened by state security services and finally received
political asylum in the USA.
59
homophobia of the policy makers and the movements’ inability to present itself as a perspective
partner who would help with mass mobilizations. Thus, several leaders decided to find cooperation on
the side of marginal political groups (parties), who had just emerged and were less constrained by
common “rules of the political game” in their search for cooperation49. Laurie Essig minutely
describes this “nationalistic” trend in political self-positioning of several leaders of the Russian
“queer community” (1999, ch. 7). However, she does not clarify, to that extent the community has
been, in fact, impacted by these initiatives of its leaders. I think she overestimates the influence of
both Mogutin and Debryanskaya in the community. The overwhelming majority in the community
has been and still is intuitively liberal in their political preferences. However, one of the
characteristic features of the period is that the parties and movements who by their claims should
support this “oppressed’ social group openly ignored them.
At the same time, the ‘traditions” of human rights support was continued by the Krylia, led almost
in solitude by Aleksandr Kukharsky. Since its appearance, this organization was monitoring the laws.
Possibly, the main case in which the Krylia’s legal experience and social capital was to be used to
influence on the law-makers, happened in 2002, when anti-pornography legislation was made more
strict (and leaving place for misinterpretation) and the age of consent (for both sexes) was raised up
from 14 to 16 years. The efforts to influence the mass opinion and rise up a protest in elites were
unsuccessful50.
A comparison of the forms of the sexual minorities’ presence in politics with other countries’
examples shows that some possible methods were not used. For example, “outing” (proclaiming that
politicians who are against homosexuality are intended to or actually are secretly engaged in same-
sex relations) was not appropriated as political method. In countries like the USA, “outing” of
prominent figures, hostile to sexual minorities, is a widely used method of the movement's political
position improvement (Johansson and Percy 1994). It is highly problematic tool in many aspects but
49 The latter cannot be said, surely, about Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who was and would be an absolute unique figure in
Russian political landscape – performing as mainstream and marginal charismatic politicain simultaneously.
50 Among other actions, Kukharsky send a letter to the office of President V. Putin. The documents of the polemics are in:
Apollo: Information Bulletin. (2002) #2.
60
it is used. In Russia, this procedure was not appropriated by the community and did not became a
method of political activity. The “outing” entirely was left entirely to the pulp press, which surely
would do it in its notorious manner and could only reinforce homophobia and “homosexual panic” in
the society51.
In the USA and other English-speaking countries, the early 1990s were a period of the “queer-
nation” movement. In Russia, there were no traces of this movement. Only Dmitry Lychev’s articles
show his commitment towards contemporary discussions in the international community. The news
and translations in the gay press of that period told exclusively about “mainstream” LGBT
community life with a prevailing interest to the everyday life of the gay and lesbian communities
abroad. The actual interests of the community were aimed towards ‘normalization’ (as Foucault put it
(1978)), thus the texts published in the editions narrated about “normal” life of sexual minorities in
the West. Their political practices were not discussed as possible patterns of activists, even if not
neglected at all.
With the disintegration of Triangle’s core activists group, the period of (unsuccessful) politization
of the movement was finished. In meant that Russian “sexual minorities” did not acquire any political
representation and their claims were not introduced in the political agenda. The activities developed
after 1996 followed other strategies; they did not dare to enter the political field as a responsible and
active actor. For the next ten years, their activity was de-politicized. Leaders of the previous period
were busy with their private lives52. The economic difficulties of survival in “Yeltsin Russia” were
mentioned by all the respondents of the “elder generation”; they were not able to sustain the previous
level of activity because of the necessity to survive53. This period also became a time of generation
change. Experience of the previous leaders was not inherited by new activists, who established their
own new groups and organizations.
51 For example Boris Moiseev, a famous dancer and performer, suffered of becoming a hero of yellow press and turned
into a symbol of gay life for homophobic audience.
52 Masha Gessen worked intensively as journalist (Gessen, 1997), Debryanskaya had her own small business , several St.
Petersburg activists emigrated etc.
53 To provide a striking example, I can refer to Olga Krauze’s obituary for Sergei Scherbakov. She described in it how
Sergei tried to remove his name from his university Diploma in order to sell the paper out and buy some food (Krauze
2007).
61
To conclude this chapter, I will briefly characterize the new period, which perhaps still continues
today. This new period had three main features:
1) The gay and lesbian community was deprived of political participation and alienated itself from
the public scene; there were no bright events or scandalous cases around the community. The sexual
minorities’ activities began to concentrate in special places, that just had appeared (clubs, Internet-
chats, seminars54).
2) The transformation of relations in the community caused by fast development of the Internet
with its variety of option for communications and search for “similar people”: information needs of
the community as well as of the previously existed gay and lesbian media now could be satisfied by it
perfectly well. Nartova, telling me about the life of the lesbian community, repeatedly mentioned
Internet-sites as the main and sufficient source of knowledge about the news, educational information
and announcements. She personally does not need now to visit any lesbian-oriented meetings or
actions because Internet provides all the information and communication she needs.
3) The gay and lesbian infrastructure began to develop itself according to the new logic of
professionalized NGO organizations and (latterly) social movements. Although the first experimental
discos and club parties came back to the very beginning of 1990s55, in the second part of the 1990s
this business became more serious and influential: clubs made in that time existed till the recent time
or still operate today. In fact, it was true time of genuine emergence of club culture in Russian cities.
Speaking about St. Petersburg lesbian community after 1995, Nadezhda Nartova describes the
period as the time of concentration on “education”. Seminars and group discussions after movie
screening became main typical and demanded form of activity.
I think the struggle was not often discussed at all. In 1990s, there was a feeling that
people were afraid and homophobic because they did not know. Neither did the
heterosexual elites know. So, we should educate people and thereby normalize
ourselves with that. But about political initiatives… nobody knew how to organize
it, these companies, participation. They still do not know it well…
54 In the ALG is kept a collection of programs and announcements of educative seminars about same-sex sexuality and
HIV/AIDS prevention, organized in the period since 1994.
55 The first experimental transvestite party was managed in Leningrad as soon as in 1989 by Timur Novikov after his
visiting Queen Drag shows in the USA. It was aimed at Leningrad artistic circles (Kirsanov 2005, pp. 381-83). Clubs and
discos if the beginning of 1990s described by Essig, hardly with a hint of sympathy.
62
During that period, lesbianism was “normalized” and to a certain extent even ntegrated into the
culture of urban middle class young women as an option. Nartova harshly criticizes this mode of
socialization of lesbianism for its lack of critical and subversive potential. As she exclaimed
ironically, “…and we all live in couples! A family is the most important thing for a lesbian! No
[reasons] for feminism!” Lesbianism was successfully, to the extent that she spoke about middle-class
young urban city lesbians, socialized according to the models offered by consumer society. Its
cosialization implied rejection of any feminist social critics, and total depoliticisation.
In the early 2000s, the absence of a “real” community with internal group solidarity, common
interests and a representation of these interests, legitimized in the community, was notoriously
acknowledged by various “thematic” writers and journalists.
That was the result of attempts of entering into national politics exercised by the sexual minorities’
activists. They tried to advocate their political interests and establish a political subject. The
coordination of different “trends” of the movement development was not achieved; neither was
cooperation with other political actors established. The Center Triangle was the last organization of
that period which had a real chance to accumulate recourses, acquire public attention and politicize
the movement effectively. After its disintegration, the movement lost its political subjectivity.
National tradition and international LGBT Community in the group identity of early
Russian sexual minorities’ movement
Sexual minorities did not appear in the country “out of the blue” (as Kevin Moss had entitled his
anthology of Russian gay prose), even for mass consciousness. However, the image of sexual
minorities’ groups, their place in the cultural system, more or less acceptable for the public eye, only
had to be designed. It was a process of invention of social identity of an emerging social group. This
identity could be presented differently to the social environment and to the community itself. There
63
were different aspects in constructing of the identity. Let’s have a look at the community’s relation to
traditions of gay life in Russia and abroad.
From the one side, the community had to invent its proper place in world of the global LGBT (or
“sexual minorities”, since the former abbreviation was not in use in the Russian community). From
the other side, they could explicitly acknowledge the history of homosexuality in Russia, and try to
present themselves as an actual continuation of the gay and lesbian life. The references to the
traditions of the Silver Age with its habits of non-normative sexual behavior among art celebrities
(Tchaikovsky and Sophia Parnok were among them) could be mobilized as a kind of the community’s
cultural capital.
My respondents often could not remember any special interest in the international life neither by
themselves nor by their friends. They certainly read articles in gay and lesbian edition about it, but
they did not exercise any special interest to international experience. At the same time, for many
participants of the movement, their involvement in non-normative sexuality based activities provided
an ultimate possibility to come abroad. Foreign LGBT organizations invite them. “There were
Lesbian games [in Berlin]… so nice. We figured out: what kind of sport could we play better?
Handball. So, we formed a women team. We were the last in the line after the competition, but, well,
we got to Berlin!” (interview with Natalia). At the same time, the whole community was autonomous
in the ideas about itself and its future life. They were interested in the West, but its most important
contribution was in creation of the first organizations’ infrastructure. People became acquainted with
life and practices of other communities. However, they did not take the organizational rationality and
identity as easily as they, perhaps, were expected to do it by their “Western” partners.
It is described above, how the word “gay” was appropriated by the community with its
connotations to a “virtual”, imaginary lesbigay community in making. This was, possibly, the most
discernible “western” innovation in the group identity in the period. Although the Western
missionaries really tried to import a “western” (mainly, “American”) way of conceiving the non-
64
normative sexuality to this cultural area, they were not successful56 (look attentive “participant
observation” of their action description by Essig (1991, p. 121-139)). It may be explained, however,
by the availability of sufficiently other ways to practice the non-normative sexuality in the society
(exactly which Essig decided to name “queer”). Russian sexual minorities already had developed a
“native” tradition of managing the non-normative sexual preferences and forming the individual and
group identities based on it. This community had developed before the openness to the West and
could depend on its own experience. If one had a circle of friends to sleep with and spend time
together, one did not need to appropriate anyone’s experience 'from outside'.
After the beginning of Glasnost’ epoch signalled by opening of the country for foreigners, a
considerable interest among foreign activists to the state of things in the USSR arose. They traveled
to study the situation to help the community, to organize and to share their experience (as did Daniel
Shluter (1993)). When Russian sexual minorities came out and began to organize themselves, they
had a strong support from the West. The West provided money and necessary equipment, whereas the
local activists were considerably free in their ways to use these contributions.
American influence was especially recognizable in the shape of “radical” trend activities. An
organization called the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), aimed
at supporting Russian LGBT activists, was established in California in 1990 by US citizens who used
to visit Russia and wanted to advocate for the sexual minorities’ struggle there. They promoted new
leaders of Russian community Roman Kalinin and Eugenia Debryanskaya to travel across the USA in
1990, and organized a serial event in Moscow and St. Petersburg in August 1991, such as “thematic”
movies screenings, press-conferences and discussions. The key figure was American lesbian activist
and co-founder of IGLHRC Julie Dorf.
Laurie Essig mentioned that the idea of a festival was to become a “Russian Stonewall” (1999, p.
133-134), though she had to admit that “Russian Stonewall” as an event worthy with comparison with
56 Here and below, by the “West” I mean Western Europe and the USA. It does not make sense to try to discern between
the USA, Germany and France as the countries to which these activists were primarily oriented. It depended on their own
circumstances. I only should mention that the Leningrad/St. Petersburg lesbian community was in closer contact with
Germany, whereas several persons from Moscow fin a way to the USA first. But all these territories may be gathered
under one category of “West” – that is, capitalistic North European and American countries.
65
the classic event of American gay and lesbian struggle, never occurred (p. 66). She criticizes the
approach Americans exercised to Russian activities, and directly classifies it as “colonialism”. The
Americans felt that they had to introduce the experience of the US community into this “native”
(=naive) and still unorganized community. In this vein, Essig made a disappointing description57 of a
seminar which took place as late as in 1994, them foreigners tried “to teach” Russians how to be a
gay, a lesbian etc. There really were attempts to “export identities” there. However, who would
receive them?
In my interviews I did not find any strong evidence of influence by “western movement
experience” in construction of activists’ individual and group identities. The foreign organizations
and “allies” were an indispensable source of financial and information support, but “Russians” did not
follow their patterns of self-description. Possibly due to the rich experience of living in a society
where the private/public sphere was constructed in another way as it as in the (imagined) West, these
people already had their own patterns of making their everyday life (Moss 2002; Nartova 2004). This
is what Essig tried to conceptualize as a Russian “queerness”. Straight “propaganda-styled” actions
like “soviet Stonewall” of 1991 could not be accepted by local lesbians and gays because of the
culture distance and because of non-existence of 'identity-politics' in this society. They knew that
usual interpretation of these actions would be as nothing but a “propaganda” with a negative response
to follow.
At the same time, a slow introduction of images of the Western community took place - at least, in
the realm of language (semiotics). As I have mentioned, the name “gay” was thoroughly appropriated,
and “LGBT” is also in the process of being adopted. I saw rainbow flags at the homes of at least two
“old guard” activists, while visiting them for interviews. In 1993 at an anti-AIDS conference,
symbols of ACT UP (the pink triangle with signature Silence=death!”) were used, even if the
participants did not know the origin of the sign. Originally, it was used by New York anti-AIDS gay
57 Essig, 1999, ch. 7. The same seminar is described by David Tuller (1998, pp. 118-122). He was skeptical about the
possibilities to “teach” Russians how to be lesbians, gays men etc., too.
66