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Documentary: Young and Gay in Putin's Russia

Watch the crisis continue in this brand new documentary from Stonewall and VICE

Just when you thought you'd read everything on the unjust horrors of homophobia in Russia, today VICE NEWS released their latest documentary Young and Gay in Putin’s Russia.

We attended the press screening last month, hosted by Thompson Reuters, and met one of the film’s directors Milène Larsson, as well as Sam Dick from Stonewall. So here’s everything you need to know…

About the film

Young and Gay in Putin’s Russia exposes the aftermath of Russia’s “anti-gay” law passed last June, giving hard evidence that this law supports homophobic violence. We see footage of thugs luring innocent gay teenagers off the internet and then torturing them with various "therapies". Gay people have bottles of urine poured over their heads and are forced to repeat lurid confessions on their phones to family members while onlooking captors laugh.

Driven around by a member of Moscow’s secret LGBT taxi service, Larsson follows a handful of brave Russian gay activists such as teenage YouTuber Nikita Gurjyanov (pictured).

The most prized scene – in want of a better word – comes when Larsson is granted an interview with Putin's spin doctor Alexey Mukhin, who goes by the knee-shaking job title of Director General of the Centre for Political Information. He tells Larsson that it is okay to be gay in Russia, but it is not okay to make it too obvious or to promote homosexuality to others. This interview is juxtaposed against footage of gay rights campaigners being stuffed into a blacked out van and detained.

Finally the film links Russia’s homophobic crisis to, surprise surprise, the Orthodox Church. A bat-shit-crazy priest called Hieromonch Nikon backs up his repulsion towards gays by arguing that all gay people love paedophilia and zoophilia, and that gay people are perverts who keep zoo-brothels.

Interestingly, while this documentary serves to highlight rising homophobia in Russia, the gay activists who appear in it talk avidly about their fear of Western intervention because, if matters are handled incorrectly, they might be punished for it. They make it very clear that they do not want us to boycott the impending Olympics.

Sadly the documentary doesn’t explore Russia’s emerging underground gay scene because Larrson wasn’t permitted into any of the male-only bars. Nor was there an attempt to investigate rumours that some of Russia’s smartest hotels have male prostitutes on hand. Nor was Russia’s vast and growing gay porn industry addressed.

As a specific account of LGBT activists, the homophobia they face and their struggles to campaign freely, Young and Gay in Putin’s Russia is a persistent and enlightening short film. Larrson and Kravets achieve their goal in exposing the hurt, pain and abuse which young Russian citizens are suffering as a result of Putin’s anti-gay law. The film also offers a sharp portrait of “accidental activists”. Watch it now here:

About the film's reception

Most in attendance at the screening were impressed. However, a few spiky questions were raised. A Russian Reuters employee told the director that some of the film’s statements aren’t true, such as a statistic that 85% of Russians support the anti-gay law. Explaining to the director that Russia is a very complex place with homophobia being just a small part of its problems, she stressed that it is only gay rights activists who are coming under real pressure.

Larsson replied saying: "There is no denying that this new law is increasing homophobic attacks and legitimising state homophobia, but there are no real statistics on this either because who would finance such a report? All of the activists I spoke to in Russia said that homophobic attacks are definitely on the rise.”

And so a debate arose over whether Russia is as anti-gay as we think.

Could it be that this snowballing media sphere focusing itself on homophobia in Russia, this documentary included, is part of an anti-Russian propaganda wheel?

Due to the grip of the Orthodox Church, it might be true that public opinion is largely homophobic and so Putin’s law is a simple crowd-pleaser. But if LGBT issues cannot be made visible, how will this ever change?

It is actually legal to be gay in Russia and the age of consent stands at sixteen. Compare that to the 41 "British" Commonwealth countries in which being gay is still a crime.

Larsson explained at the screening that when she was making the documentary she questioned her motives for focusing on Russia’s homophobia. But the fact remains, there is an anti-gay federal law there that must be revoked. Gay people are being pressurised into living a life of secrecy and shame. Russia is supposed to know better in a sense, so is the fact that they’re deliberately moving backwards is more concerning than slow progression in say Cameroon or Uganda?

Sam Dick from Stonewall justified Larsson’s decision to highlight problems in Russia by pointing out that it is not just Russian LGBT communities who are at risk here but all the other countries who look to Russia for example.

Beyond the film: What can we do?

We asked Larsson how British viewers can make a difference, or does the film only serve to raise awareness?

“We can all help by giving the activists on the ground there a voice. All of us can use social media to gather support. These activists want their efforts to be noticed and to receive exposure. They want to connect with other LGBT communities across the world.”

And so the crisis continues.

You can follow Milène Larsson on Twitter at @milenelarsson
Words: Jack Cullen @jackcullenuk

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