An Interview with Rainbow World: Raising Awareness of LGBT Rights in Russia

As part of our work in Russia, the Equal Rights Trust works with the LGBT Network to support Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons. This sees that a number of support centres and local organisations are assisted throughout Russia. In 2014 we spoke to Goula a representative of the organisation Rainbow World – which works to raise awareness on LGBT rights.

Could you explain how Rainbow World was established?

Rainbow World which was founded after International Day Against Homophobia 2011. There had been a need for a platform and a place for LGBT activists to meet, so the group was created for this reason. However, after we were established various homophobic symbols began to appear in the region - for example a mocking rainbow cockerel. We realised after this that the environment was not very safe. We therefore came up with a street based public space, to provide a place to regularly meet.  

What is the main purpose of Rainbow World?

We strive to give information about sexual orientation, about the history of the LGBT movement, a need for people to understand who we are, where we are coming from and so on.

Initially we approached a local university and centre for gender research and we agreed to give joint activities such as lectures and seminars both for our staff and for the public. That’s how we started engaging in awareness activities and the lectures were quite popular.  We had movie nights with screenings and discussion and one of the contacts at the centre started to provide a space for free of charge. It’s now been three years that we have been organising various events for LGBT community.

What changes have you seen in the LGBT community during the past three years?

The first change we saw was when the adoption of the LGBT propaganda law came into effect in 2013 - after this it became more difficult to get people to attend the events.

In addition, in May 2012 we began organising not only private but semi-private events such as film screenings of the international side by side film festival based in St. Petersburg and we participated in the traditional May Day demonstration with our rainbow symbols. After this, people became more cautious. It’s always been difficult to get people to participate in the May Day march - out of 50 people who confirmed their participation only 10 showed up. But at the same time, when they took the step to participate in the May Day march, a lot of people who didn’t participate felt part of it even though they were not there. They were grateful and supportive of that those that did march and the demonstration was so significant that the people still talk about it now.

Has the reaction from the wider public to the LGBT community changed since the introduction of the propaganda law?

A circle of regional journalists came to us after the adoption of the propaganda law. One of the journalists felt professionally insulted by the law because of the limitations it has on their work, and they are now approaching our group for news and materials and they are trying to write a piece for their work. But countering this, there are also those who purposefully write very negative articles or commentaries which steal the headlines, and this makes it difficult for the LGBT rights journalists to spread our information.

Could you give an example of the kinds of negative articles that usually get published?

One of the announcements for a side by side film screening was published on a news portal online and most of the comments under the article were extremely negative. As a result, not many people showed up to the event itself. But on a positive note, the police arrived at the sight to protect those coming to see the film screening, even though the organisers hadn’t approached the police to be there.

Looking forward, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the movement and addressing the challenges faced?

On the one hand, the negative developments in the legislation and the discriminating policies of the state are strengthening the movement, and there are many people who feel able to come to LGBT events and to join organisations, but on the other hand, a lot of activists are thinking about leaving the country because of the increasing discrimination they face.

I’m trying to be optimistic and despite all the negative developments I think the organisation will get stronger. For example, if I look back to three years ago I couldn’t have imagined how Rainbow World would have grown and would have been supported.

Useful Links 

Read more in an interview with a coordinator of a Russian LGBT support centre. 
Read more in an interview with a psychologist of a Russian LGBT support centre.
Read more in an interview with a Russian LGBT activist who now lives in New York after facing an extended period of discrimination in Russia.    
Read more in an overview of our work in Russia.