The Achievements and Challenges of Supporting LGBT Persons in Russia

As part of its work in Russia, the Equal Rights Trust works with the Russian LGBT Network to support Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons through legal and psychological assistance, as well as raising awareness on LGBT rights. The Network supports a number of centres throughout Russia, one of which is situated in Yekaterinburg. In 2014 we spoke to the centre’s coordinator who explained some of their achievements and challenges.

Could you describe how the centre was established?

Our activities began in 2011 but the centre was actually founded in April 2014 with support from the Russian LGBT Network. The main staff include a lawyer, psychologist and myself - the coordinator.

What are the major challenges the centre faces?

I could talk about this all night! The main problem is awareness raising, and changing perceptions in the region. There is a particular need to change the thinking among professional groups, such as the police, doctors and educators. We therefore put an emphasis on publicity and awareness raising among the LGBT community.

There is another problem which is the lack of activists who are both prepared and organised enough to coordinate events. Human resources is also a problem -  and because the centre was established when there was no other services for the community like psychological or legal support, it suddenly became very chaotic and it was hard to coordinate all the support needed.

Another problem is that people are afraid to participate in street protests – they are afraid to be seen as LGBT events, and therefore we need to publicise the events in a closed circle. Only members of this specific community or sometimes friends, or friends of friends are invited. People are afraid to be there as there may be consequences at work, or on their families or at home.

Generally, Yekaterinburg is more tolerant than St Petersburg, there are no homophobic leaders here, and the reactions are much more moderate. But at the same time, people read the news online can see what is happening here in St Petersburg to the LGBT community, and they are afraid that if they protest, if they are seen with a rainbow flag, they will be attacked.

Recently there was a one person protest in Yekaterinburg which was followed by a homophobic attack - they detained the attacker and the police had been present to protect the protestor, this is a rare example of police intervention. Further, for five recent demonstrations the police were actually present at two of them to provide protection.

Are there any examples of how the police have not been supportive of protests?

There were no reports about any inappropriate behaviour but it is most likely that there have been.

What are the main reasons for clients coming to the centre?

Most of the clients suffer physical violence. The other problem concerns immigration of Russian federation citizens and the third prominent issue is legal regulations and legal documentation. The latter concerns people who actually seek legal advice to create legally binding documents, on the event of their partner’s death for example. Of course, there are requests from transgender people on changing their identification documents. The most common issue that we encounter are requests for parental rights.

Do the clients who see the lawyer often see the psychologist too?

It is a very rare case when people address both programmes. When people come to see the lawyer, particularly for cases concerning violence, the lawyer would suggest they go and see the psychologist.

What are your hopes for the centre and beyond this for the LGTB community?

Ideally I’d like to see us have an established office, more staff members, and for the team to develop in their areas of work. Secondly, I hope the organisation has the capacity to work with different groups of people, working primary with the LGBT community to gain more allies.

For the LGBT community, I’d like to see the development of the dialogue with government agencies and participations in various consultative bodies - working with on laws and regulations and on regional acts which are discriminatory against LGBT persons.

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