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social sciences

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The high water mark of this activity was perhaps 1996, when a national lobbying organization, Triangle, opened an advice and cultural center with a library in Moscow, held a national conference attended by more than 125 delegates, and called for the re-election of Yeltsin in that year's presidential poll. A British study showed that 20 community organizations were running in various cities throughout Russia. A number of local and national queer periodicals were appearing, and the quality of some was as good as anything in the mainstream press.

The wider culture was also opening to and themes, with Roman Viktiuk's drag-production of Jean Genet's The Maids taking Moscow audiences by storm, and pop singers such as Boris Moiseev and Sergei Pankin recapitulating the entire history of glam-rock and gender-bending camp in their video releases.

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Since that optimistic time community activism has declined almost to nothing, and no gay or lesbian periodicals or magazines are commercially published and distributed in Russia. The longest-running gay man's review, 1/10, ceased publication in 2001, apparently the victim of a Moscow city "anti-pornography" drive. Triangle closed its doors in 1997 when its European funding ran out. A major lesbian and gay archive, "GenderDok," was transferred from Moscow where it was harassed by police and civic authorities, to Homodok in the Netherlands.

Many activists of the 1990s generation have either emigrated or abandoned community politics, some for business ventures. The single most significant development in queer life observable in President Vladimir Putin's Russia has been the rise of large gay nightclubs, bars, cafes, and gay-specific saunas (as opposed to traditional bathhouses) in Moscow and to a lesser extent St. Petersburg. For affluent gay men in the country's richest cities, the commercial scene offers a glimpse of the high life in Amsterdam or San Francisco, but without the infrastructure of community to nourish solidarity or to protect people from unsafe sex.

The only alternative to the commercial scene has been a "mini-boom" in queer academic book publishing. Fueled by intelligentsia curiosity about sexuality in general, and a fashionable lurch toward post-modern theory, there has been a stampede to translate and publish the works of Genet, Burroughs, Foucault, and Wittig. A small number of scholars and authors outside the academy have written books for this audience on queer themes, with titles like "The Other Love," "The Other Petersburg," and "Russian Amazons." The liberal intelligentsia of Moscow and St. Petersburg is catching up on a century of queer studies.

Russian politics took a homophobic detour in 2002 during a little-noticed debate on sex crime legislation in the Duma. While a package of amendments to the law (including a rise in the age of consent to 16, and new penalties for internet pornographers) were introduced and discussed, a member of parliament with ties to the Kremlin tabled a bill to re-criminalize consensual male homosexuality. A colleague from a competing party offered his own draft legislation to outlaw all lesbian relations. Although they were not enacted into law, these proposals were hailed by religious leaders, Soviet-minded doctors, and other conservative forces who view the population decline as the gravest issue facing Russia, and blame a "women's birth strike" and sexual perversion for "the desecration of the national gene pool."

In July 2003, the Russian military issued a decree formally banning homosexuals (along with alcoholics and drug addicts) from serving even as conscripts. This homophobic move was entirely facilitated by the Duma debate on homosexuality in 2002.

Nevertheless, officialdom may have realized that it had cracked down too hard on queer self-organization, and risked looking illiberal to Western public opinion. In 2002 Moscow city authorities granted official registration to a queer community group publishing a website in Russian and English ( The "Together" group announced plans to establish an advice and counseling center and to publish a national queer newsmagazine.

[Recent Developments

The climate for glbtq Russians has become increasingly hostile during the reign of Vladimir Putin and his associate Dmitry Medvedev (Putin assumed power in 1999; was elected president in 2000 and re-elected in 2004; in 2008, prohibited by the constitution from running for a third four-year term, Putin was succeeded by his hand-picked candidate Medvedev, who served until 2012; in 2012, Putin was elected to a six-year term). During these years, fewer public figures came out, and activists who tried to speak up for human rights increasingly faced repression, arrest, and violence.

Permits for pride parades were routinely denied. In 2007, for example, after Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov denounced glbtq rallies as "satanic" and once again turned down a request to hold a parade, a group of activists attempted to deliver him a petition that called for respect for the right of freedom of assembly and that was signed by 50 Members of the European Parliament. Some 30 of the protesters were arrested before they could reach the mayor's office. Three were subsequently charged with disobeying the police. When the other activists were released after several hours in custody, they were set upon and attacked by Neo-Nazi toughs and an Orthodox priest.

The other protesters fared no better. Skinheads and members of the Orthodox Church pelted them with eggs and stones, then beat some of them. Among the victims were German Member of Parliament Volker Beck, Member of the European Parliament Marco Capatto of Italy, and British glbtq rights activist Peter Tatchell.

Tatchell stated to Luke Harding of The Guardian, "The police stood there while people knocked me to the ground and kicked me. Four or five neo-Nazis attacked me. The police watched. At a certain point the police then arrested me and let my neo-Nazi attackers walk free." He added that officers taunted the protesters in the police van, saying, "We are going to have some fun with you at the police station."

A Russian--identified only as Alexey--still bloodied from the attack, told Harding, "This is a scary place, a pretty scary country if you are gay. But we won't give up until they allow us our rights."

Despite repeatedly being cited by the European Court on Human Rights for violating the European Convention on Human Rights by denying freedom of association to glbtq citizens, in 2012 Moscow authorities enacted a hundred-year ban on gay pride parades.

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