Gay Russian teens communicate in secret to avoid law on 'propaganda'
Young homosexuals faced with hatred and rejection in Russia turn to closed internet forum Deti-404 for support.
Only one person knew that Svetlana was gay when she wrote to Deti-404, a Russian support group for lesbian teenagers. In her letter, the 16-year-old described a life of hiding her sexuality in a small town in central Russia where a man had been killed for being a homosexual. "I am scared that they will find out about me and lynch me. Sometimes I want to cry out: 'Accept me for who I am! Or at least be tolerant of me'," she wrote.
Deti-404, which takes its name from the error page that appears when a website does not exist, was set up by Lena Klimova, 25, after she wrote an article about the plight of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) teenagers. She had no plans to do anything further, but then she got a letter from Nadya, 15. "Nadya was hounded at school, her mother didn't support her," said Klimova in an interview with the Observer. "She decided to die, accidentally read my article and didn't do it."
After Klimova had spoken to Nadya by telephone and understood the depths of her despair, she asked herself: "Why does nobody ring alarm bells, not scream, not shout about it on every corner?" She added: "Many of them close in on themselves, they don't tell anyone. They are scared of parents and classmates. If they open up, parents sometimes beat them, insult them, throw them out, take away their phones, ban them from going on the internet and even lock them up in a psychiatric clinic."
The small support group is one of the few for young gay people in Russia. It would also seem to be exactly the thing that the controversial anti-gay law passed by the Russian parliament wishes to crack down on. The law, similar to the section 28 law that was passed by Margaret Thatcher's government in 1988, bans the dissemination of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation" towards under-18s and imposes fines on anyone convicted.
The legislation has caused an outcry in the west, leading Stephen Fry to compared the situation of gays and lesbians in Russia to that of Jews in Nazi Germany. In an open letter to David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee, Fry called for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi next year to be taken away from Russia. But the prime minister, in a Twitter reply, said he thought prejudice was better challenged by attending the Games rather than boycotting them. Last week the IOC obtained assurances from the Kremlin that competing athletes would not be affected by the law. But for Russia's LGBT community, the latest move has simply ratcheted up the pressure still further.