Elena Klimova and Russia's forgotten LGBTI youth
It’s ironic that a law claiming to ‘protect’ children actually helps marginalise and segregate them.
I usually come to the library to work in peace. And by peace I mean absolute silence. I can’t stand noise when I’m trying to concentrate. But today’s a disaster.
I find myself sitting in the non-silent area at the only spare table available. I’m surrounded by giggly, buoyant and care-free students who, clearly with the best possible intentions, are using the last week of the Easter holiday to get as much revision done as possible before their GCSE and A-Level exams take place in the summer. When I think back to the things that used to worry me at that age, they seem rather silly. Shall I dye my hair completely bleach blond or just have highlights? When will the guy I fancy accept my friend request on Bebo? How on earth am I going to afford the bus fair to my friend’s party this weekend now that I’ve spent my weekly allowance of £10 on bacon rolls and doughnuts each morning on the way to school? Having said this, not all my worries were so trivial. Will I get the GCSE results I want? What career path shall I follow? Will my family and society accept I’m gay?
Fortunately, I was lucky. When I came out my family and friends received me with love and support. British society, despite its turbulent past, has also been fairly accepting. Nowadays, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) support groups focusing on helping young people come to terms with their sexuality are easy to find. Charities are praised for championing equal rights for LGBTI youth and adults. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is increasingly frowned upon and we encourage our young people to never be ashamed of who they are. In hindsight, I didn’t have anything to worry about as the support was always going to be there. But, what happens if it’s not?
In Russia, attitudes towards homosexuality aren’t great. Even though homosexuality isn’t illegal, 2013 saw the passing of a law prohibiting exposing children to gay ‘propaganda’. The law makes it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships and to distribute material on gay rights. Individuals and businesses can be fined if they are found doing so, with special fines and the risk of deportation for non-Russian citizens. It’s argued by some that at least this isn’t as bad as the situation in parts of Africa, the Middle East and the UAE where homosexuality is illegal. But what these people forget is that this law cultivates homophobia and ruthlessly stamps its devastating effects on the fabric of Russian society. It’s ironic that a law claiming to ‘protect’ children actually helps marginalise and segregate them.
Children 404 is an online community set up by Elena Klimova to help combat such stigma. Its aim is to provide a space for Russian teenagers to share and discuss LGBTI issues and support each other when facing the reality of growing up in a society that seeks to exclude and reject them. However, since the introduction of the gay ‘propaganda’ law, the journey of Lena and 404 has been a rollercoaster. Brace yourselves…
In February 2014, more than 5000 Amnesty supporters in the UK called on the Russian authorities to drop the charges against Elena after she was accused of 'creating a page on the Internet-resource VKontakte [a popular social media platform in Europe] ... promoting non-traditional sexual relations'. Rightly, the court ruled in her favour.
Then in January of this year, Elena was found guilty of another charge by a court in the city of Nizhni Tigil, this time for ‘spreading information containing propaganda about non-traditional sexual relationships’. This ruling was overturned due to procedural violations and a re-trial was ordered, with a date yet to be set.
New developments came on 6 April 2015, when legal representatives of Children 404 went to a court in Saint Petersburg to observe a separate hearing against the online group that was to decide whether it was to be closed down. On their arrival, they were informed that the court had actually ruled against Children 404 on the 25 March in a secret hearing. Elena resigned herself to the fact that “we will soon be closing on the territory of the Russian Federation”.
Elena and 404’s journey in short? Another travesty at the hands of the Russian establishment, this time for their forgotten LGBTI youth.
What with International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) fast approaching on 17 May, I can’t help but look around me and wonder how many Russian teenagers, who similar to some of the students in this library, may be struggling with their sexuality. The difference is that here in the UK, support, advice and guidance are available. In Russia, it’s not. It’s stamped out. How many children in Russia right now are scared and alone with nowhere to turn? Elena Klimova asked herself this question, but her valiant efforts to do something to help were met with hostility and harassment. The internet error '404 - Page not found' was her inspiration behind the group's name and it seems that in every respect, the Russian authorities wish to ensure this becomes a reality.
Please write and ask the St. Petersburg court to reverse the decision to block Children 404. Please write and ask Sverdlovsk Region’s Prosecutor’s Office to ensure that Elena Klimova’s right to freedom of expression is observed and she is not persecuted in connection with her Children 404 project. Click the link below to find out how you can take action.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.