Showing posts with label Russians Anti Gay Laws. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russians Anti Gay Laws. Show all posts

February 23, 2020

In The Never Ending Hollywood Fantasy They Saved for Real A Gay Russian Teenager


This page is a posting of  BBC Edited and translated into American English by Adamfoxie blog
As a gay teenager in post-Soviet Russia, Wes Hurley breathed a sigh of relief when his mother married an American and they moved to the US - but he soon discovered his stepfather, James, was violently homophobic. This led to strained relations until James underwent an unexpected transformation.
Wes Hurley's earliest memory is of his drunk father hitting his mother. He was only four years old and too young to really understand what was going on, but sometimes he would daydream that he was watching a movie. He'd put his hands up into a square frame, imagining that through the lens he created with his fingers, his life was a movie. 
"My parents would be dancing and singing, and I'd imagine a fun, eccentric movie version of my life. Or they're fighting in a fun movie way. Not really fighting," Wes remembers. 
His parents soon separated, and he was brought up singlehandedly by his mother, Elena, a young prison doctor.

Wes and ElenaImage copyrightWES HURLEY 
Image captionWes and Elena

Elena was unconventional. She wasn't shy about voicing her anti-communist views, she was the only member of her family who wasn't anti-Semitic, and couldn't understand the virulent hatred people around her felt towards gay people. She always stood up for what she believed was right and made her opinions known. This rubbed off on her son as he grew up in the late 1980s in the port city of Vladivostok, on Russia's Pacific coast.
"It was a dark time, but it was a really exciting time for me too. Our country was broken. They were teaching us Communist propaganda, and I'd stand up and say, 'You're teaching us lies,'" Wes later recalled.
Nobody had seen the break-up of the Soviet Union coming, but in 1991, when Wes was 10, it began to unravel, collapsing for good at the end of December. 
"It was amazing," Wes says. "I remember we were at a neighbor's apartment. They had a color TV. Everybody was just glued to TV and radios because it was like a thriller. Nobody knew what was going on exactly. It was an exciting, inspiring, scary moment."
At first, things started to improve. There was more freedom, more food, and to Wes and Elena's delight, an influx of pirated American movies.  

Wes remembers the night he switched on the TV and Ghost appeared on the screen - a film starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg, where the ghost of a murdered man stays on Earth, with the help of a psychic, to protect his girlfriend from danger. 
"It was unlike anything I'd seen before," Wes says. "Russian films were mostly depressing and dark at the time. We hadn't seen anything like that that was so fun and enjoyable and escapist. I was obsessed with Whoopi Goldberg."

Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg (right)Image copyrightALAMY
Image captionDemi Moore, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg (right) on the set of Ghost
Presentational white space

One of the movies that inspired Wes and Elena, even though he's embarrassed to admit it now, was Curly Sue - a "terrible movie" starring Jim Belushi, as a homeless man, Alisan Porter as a young girl he took under his wing when her mother died, and Kelly Lynch, a lawyer who gives them a temporary home. All were dubbed by a single actor, who sounded as though he was pinching his nose - perhaps to disguise his voice so he wouldn't get caught.
"It's kind of like a reverse Cinderella story," says Wes. "And I think it really spoke to us, because they go from being really poor to living in this luxury New York apartment and taking bubble baths and eating nice food, so it felt very 'I hope that happens to us.'
"It made us fall in love with the US we saw in the movies, for sure. Everything we saw was just so different from our reality. That's what started our dream of coming to the United States."
Of course, Wes and Elena knew that the movies were fictional, but the positive stories that they told became vitally important to them, giving them hope when they felt hopeless.

Wes and Elena in VladivostokImage copyrightWES HURLEY

Vladivostok had always been a "post-apocalyptic landscape of unfinished construction sites, decay, extreme poverty and violence" at least in Wes's lifetime. And after the fall of the Soviet Union, it became even more notorious as a haven for corruption and crime. Violent drug dealers and gang members were a perpetual danger for Wes on the city's streets and his school was barely any less violent.
It was in this forbidding environment that he came to the realization that he was gay. 
"At the time [being] gay was something sub-human, monstrous, exotic, something that 'doesn't really exist' in Russia. At the time I wasn't even sure if gay people were real or if they were made up monsters," Wes says.
He didn't mention it to Elena, who was already worried enough about him. But when he started skipping school, and even sometimes carrying a butcher's knife for protection, she took a decision to escape to the world they saw in the movies - by becoming a mail-order bride.

In the 1990s, an emerging industry of catalogues and dating services was developing to match women from countries like Russia with men from countries such as the US, Japan and Australia. 
Elena provided profile information and some photos, as you would on a dating website today, and paid a small fee to be matched with American men.
She corresponded with a few of them over the next couple of years, and eventually travelled to the US to meet a man about 15 years older than her, called James - a wonderfully "exotic" name to the teenage Wes (or Vasily as he was then).

Media captionWes's mother, Elena, explains why she became a mail-order bride in this clip from the film, Little Potato

When she came back, she was glowing and showed Wes a ring. Elena and James had got married, so she and Wes could finally go to America. It was like a dream coming true. They flew from Vladivostok, one side of the Pacific, to a new home in Seattle, on the other.
"Obviously there was so much to learn, and our English was very very bad, but we were so excited to become American and learn English that those were really fun challenges," Wes says. 
Going to a high school "where you don't think you're going to get murdered" was also a huge change.
Everything about their new life was different, from the food in the supermarket to the cleanliness of the city and people smiling at them on the street. But tension soon began brewing at home.
"James was a really conservative Christian fundamentalist. He was a Russian Orthodox convert, and he wanted a Russian Orthodox wife. My mum was technically Russian Orthodox, but she wasn't conservative or fundamentalist," Wes says.

James / Janis and Elena
Image captionJames and Elena

Elena's liberal beliefs were a surprise to James - and likewise James's conservatism was a challenge for Elena. James didn't understand how Elena could support legal abortion. He was opposed to gay rights, didn't believe in secular schools, hated the Clintons, and was appalled by Halloween - believing it to be Satanic holiday.
Wes remembers James as being very intense - often ranting and raving. He would be kind and caring one moment, the next he would fly into an awful rage. At times like this, he often hinted at the possibility of sending Elena and Wes back to Russia, because they weren't Christian or conservative enough for him. They both felt extremely vulnerable. 
At the same time, during their first year in the US, thanks to TV, movies, and discussions at school, Wes came to realize that he wasn't the only gay person in the world. At the age of 16, he came out to his mum.
"It was actually a funny conversation because I was brooding and moody all the time. And finally, I told her I was gay and she was like, 'What, that's it? Everybody's a little gay.'" Wes says.
"And I was like, 'No mum, what do you mean?' And she said, 'Sometimes I notice good-looking women.' And I was like, 'Do you want to have sex with them?' and she said 'No'. And I was like, 'No, I'm actually really super gay.' And she said, 'I don't care if you're super gay.' 
"I thought there would be more sadness or drama but she was so nonchalant about it. It was amazing."

Wes, Elena and James / JanisImage copyrightWES HURLEY
Image captionWes, Elena and James

They both knew, though, that if they revealed Wes's sexual orientation to James, he would definitely send them back to Russia - and this really bothered Wes.
"I was already kind of moody and angry, and now learning about gay rights, thanks to the internet, I was realizing how much gay people had been erased from history, and it made me so angry. I felt like James was pretty much the personification of this evil oppressive presence, so I really started to hate him," Wes says.
He would do everything that he could to avoid James while trying not to upset him. When he was 18, he moved out and got a job. And even then, he still hid his sexuality from James.

Elena's relationship with James remained difficult, but slowly things started to change.
One year James bought a pumpkin to carve and horror movies to watch for Halloween. He had always denounced Halloween as Satan's holiday, so this represented a shift. But James had a much bigger surprise in store.
One night Wes received a phone call from his mother, and she was crying. 
"Not sad crying, just cathartic crying," Wes says. "She told me she'd come home to find a strange woman sitting on her sofa, and after looking at the woman for a second, she recognized James."

JanisImage copyrightWES HURLEY

The woman on the sofa introduced herself to Elena as Janis. She explained she had struggled with her assigned gender her whole life. She had even converted to Russian Orthodoxy because she thought it would help. Marrying a Russian woman had been part of the same plan, even though Elena - "the least conservative woman in Russia", as Wes likes to call her - hadn't quite been the kind of person Janis had originally had in mind.
While Janis had, at first, been frustrated by Elena's open-mindedness, it had also helped her build up the courage to come out as a trans woman.
"I cannot say it was easy finding out that my husband was a woman. In some sense, he was the first real man in my life - the man I could count on. But it was not about me. Janis needed support and unconditional love," Elena says in Little Potato, an award-winning film that Wes has made about his experiences. 
Wes was absolutely blown away to learn about Janis. The discovery instantly turned a "really scary oppressive situation" into one that was "fun and exciting".
"I was dating my first boyfriend," Wes remembers, "and Janis was totally open and was hanging out with all these trans girlfriends she had. It was really special to see her blossom in the later years of her life."
Janis and her girlfriends did, however, become a new problem for Elena, principally because of their love for karaoke, which they asked her to film and take photographs of.
"There was karaoke night after night after night. That's when I decided it was time to divorce and move out," Elena says in Little Potato. "Transgender was fine with me but karaoke? Nobody wants karaoke every night."

A signed photograph from Janis to ElenaImage copyrightWES HURLEY
Presentational white space

Over the years, Janis also became a devotee of Wicca, a modern pagan religion. She remained in contact with Elena and Wes but they would only see each other occasionally.
"Years later, I would see Janis on Facebook or she'd come to my film screenings. We weren't close, but she was still an important person for me," Wes says.
"Janis was every bit as loony as James in many ways. Once she became Wiccan, she would tell me how she'd used spells to move Hurricane Katrina out of the way of her hometown. She was an anti-fluoride enthusiast and was searching for towns to live in that didn't have fluoride. 
"Talking to her was always awkward because I didn't know how to react to her crazy ideas, but part of me was proud of her, for just always doing whatever she wanted to do."

Wes HurleyImage copyrightLITTLE POTATO
Image captionWes Hurley in his film, Little Potato

In 2015, Wes received a message from Janis's daughter from a previous marriage to say that Janis, now 70, was fading away. So he and his mum went to visit her in the hospital.
"She wasn't responding because she was in a coma. So we told her how much we loved her and that she rescued us, and how grateful we were. We were there for a couple of hours talking to her, talking to each other and crying, thinking how much our lives had changed." 
Wes and Elena are still extremely close, talking several times a day on the phone.
Elena is living her American dream. One of her favorite movies is Frankie and Johnny, where Michelle Pfeiffer plays a waitress, Frankie, who resists the advances of a cook, played by Al Pacino, even though she's lonely. Elena would always say that if she could have Frankie's life she would be happy without Al Pacino - "just live in the States, have my own little apartment and job and I'd be happy."

Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino in Frankie and JohnnyImage copyrightALAMY

"And that's what she has now, and she's happy," says Wes.
Wes has brought their love of movies full-circle and become a film-maker. Little Potato even caught the attention of one of his biggest idols, Whoopi Goldberg, who told him she was touched by his story. He was left struggling to find the words to respond. "I was like, 'I'm so sorry I sound like an idiot, I just love you so much - you changed my life.'"
Wes Hurley has just finished shooting a feature-length version of his film, called Potato Dreams of America.  

Micah's birthdayImage copyrightRACHEL MASON

It wasn't the most obvious career choice for Karen and Barry Mason and not one they could talk about openly. Outwardly they were a respectable family, but for years the couple ran LA's best-known gay porn shop, and distributed adult material across the US.

August 3, 2019

Guitarists Paul Landers and Richard Kruspe Ended the Show in Moscow with Mouth Kiss

Rammstein is a freaky, cult German metal band, best known for storming their shows in BDSM costumes with flamethrowers, Extremely lame, yes.

We watched a performance of the six-piece during which their hyper-masculine, mountainous frontman Till Lindeman squirted the crowd with a mysterious liquid from a swinging strap-on. We talked about queerness and performance, and compared how Lindeman's antics would be read in comparison to those of Lynn Breedlove, the swaggering lesbian frontwoman of queercore punk act Tribe8, who also frequently performed wearing a dildo.

With this as the only context, it was very cool and not entirely surprising to see this photo of Rammstein from their recent concert in Moscow. Guitarists Paul Landers and Richard Kruspe ended the show by making out on-stage, and saying "Russia, we love you," flying in the face of the Russian government's crackdown on LGBTQ people.

Their steamy performance tactic is specifically being linked to a policy called the "gay propaganda" law, that bars "the promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors, which based on its usage so far, includes films like Elton John biopic Rocketman and pretty much all LGBTQ rights activism. It can even get foreigners like Rammstein "arrested and detained for up to 15 days, then deported, or fined up to 5,000 rubles and deported."

The law has also justified the lack of judicial action taken against hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people. As recently as last week, LGBTQ activist Yelena Grigoryeva was stabbed and killed after her information was shared on an anti-LGBTQ vigilante Facebook group, which Russian authorities have reportedly failed to investigate.

According to The AV Club, the Rammstein kiss wasn't a totally new addition to their set, and thus not entirely about protesting Russian policies. Apparently, the band has been ending their shows with a make out session throughout their current European tour, which, given the band is all straight, as far as we know, is perhaps a questionable shock tactic.

However, huge, scary looking dudes sucking face front of thousands of people in country full of rampant, institutionalized homophobia — and getting people talking about the oppression of queer Russians — you have to love it. Rammstein's camp and leather has always had a queer sensibility, and this might just bring to icon status.

Photo via Instagram

March 22, 2019

Russian Authorities Similar to Past USSR Ban Teen Theatre Production

In front of the Russian Embassy in Helsinki, Finland. In 7
 September 2013 a group of activists painted the pedestrian 
crossing stripes with rainbow colors to protest the Russian
 anti-LGBT sentimentality and legislation, notably the bans 
on “homosexual propaganda” // Flickr, Murmur, under CC3.0
Global Voices Org

“The Pinks and the Blues,” a youth theater production about gender stereotypes, has been banned by local authorities in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in far eastern Russia.
Russian media report that company director Yulia Tsvetkova was questioned by a police anti-extremism unit and that the actors in her amateur collective, teenagers aged 13 to 15, were questioned as well.
The play was intended to be staged as part of an activist theatre festival called Tsvet Shafrana (The Color of Saffron), touching on diverse subjects such as school bullying, the Prague Spring and anti-war themes. The festival has been called off, due to the ban and its loss of a performance venue.
“The Pinks and the Blues”, developed by the activist troupe Merak, triggered intense scrutiny from local authorities who saw it as a dangerous and subversive activity promoting “hatred against men and non-traditional family relations,” Tsvetkova told Takie Dela, an independent charity news website. In parallel, her festival first lost one venue that agreed to host them, and then another one two weeks later. These cancellations sent a clear signal to Tsvetkova that authorities would not allow the festival to proceed.
“Non-traditional family relations” echoes the formulations of a recent law legislating against “propaganda of homosexuality to minors.” In the recent years, it has been used almost exclusively against advocacy groups for gay rights, gender equality and sex education. Accusations of “gay propaganda” can attract large amounts of attention and pressure from local legislators, child welfare and school authorities, as well as the police’s anti-extremism unit — as it happened in Tsvetkova’s case. 
Yulia Tsvetkova, a teacher and a feminist activist, says that during questioning, police agents confronted her with print-outs of her social media posts about sex education in schools, feminism, and homosexuality.
She denies ever exposing her child actors to any LGBT-related content, saying:
Pink and blue are seen as typically “male” and “female colors”, that’s it. That’s what the play is about, the name was suggested by one of the actors, a 11-year-old child.
Tsvetkova also said the police were acting on three different anonymous letters of complaint against her, all written in the same formulaic language echoing the words of the law prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional family relations.” 
Russia has recently passed a series of socially conservative laws and “traditional values” are regularly mentioned in political speeches and statements. These laws have been used to prosecute activists, health awareness websites and online news media, resulting in fines and website blockages — not to mention intense hate campaigns on social media and other forms of public backlash.

April 25, 2018

Tom Daley Say "I will Fight For Gay Rights in Russia, At least I Won't be Thrown in Jail"

Diving great Tom Daley will campaign for gay rights when he competes at next month’s World Series in Russia.

 Daley, who combined with Dan Goodfellow to win gold at the Games on the Gold Coast, has called on the Commonwealth Games Federation to do more to pressure those nations where homosexuality remains illegal. Thirty-six of 53 member states still outlaw gay sex.
Speaking to the BBC, Daley, 23, said he intended to maintain his campaigning when competing in Russia.
“I think the one thing that is the most powerful thing to do is go and compete and do the best I can, and just be who I am and compete at the highest level that I can,” he said.
“Speaking out can only do so much, but for me going there competing is a message that I want to urge other LGBT people to go and compete in Russia.
“It doesn’t matter about our sexual orientation.”
Daley, who held a baby shower with husband Dustin Lance Black last weekend, said becoming a father has inspired him to be more forthright in his activism.
“You want your child to grow up having an equal opportunity as everyone else that is born, whether they’re gay, straight, male, female, whatever religion you are, whatever ethnicity you are,” he said.
“I think that everyone should have the equal opportunity to do the best you can.”

Daley told the BBC it struck him while he was sitting with his gold medal at lunch with Black following the Commonwealth Games how lucky he was “to not be worried about any ramifications or someone being able to throw me in prison”.
“To know that 36 of the competing nations criminalise LGBT people so that if I was born in a different country I wouldn’t be able to compete truly as I am, it struck me in such a way I was mortified by it,” he said.
“I crafted a little sentence on my Instagram post and that was exactly what I was feeling in that moment.

April 7, 2018

How Gay Chechens Run from Death Threats, Beatings and Even Exorcism

Family pressure has fuelled a sense of persecution felt by gay people in Chechnya, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia. 
Dozens have fled and some have been granted asylum abroad, amid reports of kidnap and torture by Chechen security forces targeting gay or allegedly gay people. Chechen officials deny the reported abuses.
Olga Prosvirova of BBC Russian interviewed two of those who fled in fear. They requested anonymity, so their names have been changed.

Presentational grey line

Marko, a Chechen in her early 20s, will never forget the day her family found out she was gay.
"They said to me: 'Either we will kill you, or we will lock you up in a psychiatric ward and throw away the key. The only alternative is that you undergo an exorcism.'" 
Marco now lives temporarily in one of Russia's largest cities, waiting to complete her documents so that she can leave Russia for good.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov maintains that there are no homosexuals in the republic. But an investigation by the Novaya Gazeta newspaper last year found that members of Chechnya's LGBT community were regularly beaten and tortured. Some, it alleged, had even been killed.
Mr Kadyrov's spokesman Alvi Karimov dismissed the allegations, telling the Interfax news agency: "Even if such people existed in Chechnya, our law enforcement agencies would not need to bother with them, because their own relatives would simply send them to a place from which they would never return."
Marko says she knew she was different even at the age of four.
"As a teenager, I used to think about suicide," she told BBC Russian. "But then I decided: 'No, I won't give you the satisfaction. I'll run away and do the things I have always dreamed of, whatever it takes, whether you like it or not.'" 
Muslim exorcism
Before she left Chechnya, Marko agreed to her family's demand that she undergo an exorcism. Her brother took her to their local mosque, where the mullah told her she was possessed by the devil.
"He held my head and read verses from the Koran, and I knew I had to respond as a person possessed would," she says. "I had seen enough YouTube videos to know what to do, and so I twisted about and shouted and said there were seven different demons inside me."
After two hours, she says, everyone rejoiced and said I was cured. "'Hooray!' they all shouted. 'You are no longer a lesbian!'"
They found a young man for her and told her she would marry, but soon after that she managed to escape.  

Presentational grey line

Since giving this interview, and helped by an LGBT organisation, Marko has left Russia for a new life abroad. She says she now wants to put her past behind her and just live with her girlfriend, whom she met on social media.
"I just want to live, to have children and be happy," she says.

International dimension

Gay protest in London, 2 Jun 17Image copyrightAFP
Image captionGay rights activists protested outside the Russian embassy in London last summer

It is hard to find out how many Chechens like Marko have been granted refuge outside Russia, as many immigration services do not register the sexual orientation of asylum seekers. 
Last year the German foreign ministry said it had accepted one gay man from Chechnya and was reviewing four more applications. Lithuania has taken in two and France one. 
Belgium has given five gay Chechen men humanitarian visas so that they can fly to Belgium from Moscow, Belgian media reported on Friday.
And more than two dozen gay and bisexual men and women from Chechnya have been granted asylum in Canada.
This week Igor Kochetkov, head of the Russian LGBT Network, told Novaya Gazeta that over the past year his charity had assisted 114 people from Chechnya who said they had been persecuted because of their sexual orientation.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin, 20 Dec 11Image copyrightAFP
Image captionChechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (R) is a firm ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin

Ruslan is torn between his feelings for his boyfriend and love of his own family. He escaped Chechnya after being held captive for a month.
"I've liked boys since I was a kid," says Ruslan, now in his early 30s. "But when my relatives found out I was gay, they took away my passport, my documents and my mobile phone and they locked me in my room for over a month."
One day he managed to get out and borrowed a neighbour's phone. Later that night his boyfriend came to whisk him away to a different city.

'Living a lie'

Ruslan spoke of a "big purge of gays in Chechnya". 
He said the Kadyrov militia "found one and beat him until he gave them the names of others. 
"Some were caught and thrown into cellars and beaten violently. Some were never found: their relatives didn't even bother looking for them, because they said they'd brought shame on them."
Ruslan's new life is more difficult than he imagined it would be. He spends most of his time hiding indoors; if he goes out, he covers his head with a hood. 
To earn money recently, he handed out campaign leaflets before last month's presidential election, but once he came across a police patrol and ran straight back to his flat.
Unlike Marko, Ruslan has not decided whether he should flee Russia. "I don't know what's happening at home (in Chechnya)," he says. "My brother is probably looking for me: he has most likely gone to the police."
When he talks about his family and his home, he struggles to hold back the tears. He misses his mother and young niece, he says, who is getting married soon.
"All my life I have observed our customs, according to the Koran," he says. "But I simply couldn't carry on living a lie. The only thing I wish for is that my niece, whom I love dearly, doesn't think badly of me and that her husband does not say to her: 'Your uncle is gay: your family is unclean.' I pray to Allah to protect her from this."


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