YEREVAN, Armenia — When tens of hundreds of Russians fled the nation this spring following the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, many selected to resettle in Armenia and Georgia.
However for LGBT Russians, their new properties within the conservative South Caucasus — the place there are few protections in opposition to homophobic violence — might imply going through even larger dangers than within the hostile surroundings they left behind.
Watching her buddies in Russia being arrested for his or her anti-war activism, body-positive blogger and LGBT advocate Ollie determined to maneuver to the Armenian capital to work with a undertaking serving to LGBT individuals affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ollie, 27, mentioned she selected Yerevan as a result of many Armenians communicate Russian as a second language and Russians don’t want a visa to enter the nation.
“Nothing is frightening after residing [as an LGBT person] in Russia,” mentioned Ollie, who declined to offer her full identify. “Right here I’ve not skilled homophobia or transphobia… Most likely round 50% of my queer acquaintances moved to Yerevan.”
Armenia and Georgia are socially conservative societies, and LGBT individuals face numerous authorized and social obstacles, in addition to discrimination and occasional violence. Armenia positioned forty seventh out of 49 European and Eurasian nations in a rating of civil liberties, protections and recognitions afforded to LGBT individuals.
Like Russia, the Armenian Structure solely acknowledges marriage between women and men.
However whereas LGBT Armenians battle for acceptance, numerous LGBT Russians mentioned they really feel protected in Armenia as a result of — no less than for the second — they’re handled as visitors.
“It seems like native guidelines don’t apply to me as I’m a foreigner,” mentioned one member of the Russian LGBT neighborhood in Armenia who requested anonymity to talk freely.
“Armenia has authorized discrimination [against LGBT people]same-sex marriage is unlawful and native LGBT communities are much more closed. It’s a conservative nation. However I haven’t skilled discrimination,” she mentioned.
A number of native and worldwide LGBT organizations in Armenia are working to assist new Russian emigrants to combine.
The Queer Svit undertakingthe place Ollie works as a advertising director, helps LGBT individuals from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus flee overseas and gives short-term shelter in Armenia.
In Armenia, locals are “tolerant” towards LGBT foreigners, mentioned Mamikon Hovsepyan, the communications director at Pink Armenia.
“The capital is sort of lively and numerous and there are some [LGBT-friendly] locations, cafes, golf equipment and events, however the basic angle is adverse,” he informed The Moscow Occasions.
“[LGBT] Russians shall be accepted by [Armenian] society except they present their sexuality,” he added. “Homophobia normally targets the local people.”
Native human rights group Pink Armenia final 12 months registered no less than 35 human rights violations in opposition to LGBT individuals, in addition to discrimination primarily based on their sexual orientation, gender identification and expression.
A trans particular person was sexually assaulted in Yerevan in June.
The scenario in neighboring Georgia is analogous. A far-right group staged a rally to disrupt an LGBT occasion within the Georgian capital of Tbilisi earlier this summer season and one of many group’s members died after setting himself on fireplace in a protest in opposition to non-traditional relationships.
Russian activist Alexander Sofeev, who visited the occasion focused by protesters, mentioned the scenario was tense, however police ensured the security of contributors.
“I believe the Georgian authorities doesn’t promote homophobia, it’s normally performed by particular person far-right activists,” Sofeev, a member of the Pussy Riot feminist artwork group who moved to Tbilisi final 12 months, informed The Moscow Occasions.
“Quite the opposite, in Russia, it [homophobia] is imposed on the state stage,” he mentioned.
Russian activists mentioned that Moscow’s crackdown on something perceived as “Western” within the wake of the conflict has had an acute influence on the LGBT neighborhood.
“Tensions in Russian society have elevated for the reason that conflict started and it impacts essentially the most weak teams, together with sexual minorities,” mentioned Anna Akulina, 32, who left the southern metropolis of Rostov-on-Don for Yerevan in early April.
For the reason that Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, Russian state tv protection has solid LGBT rights as overseas values that threaten the nation. A Chechen navy commander mentioned on state tv final month that Russia is preventing a “holy conflict” in opposition to “satanist values” resembling LGBT rights.
Final month Russian lawmakers submitted laws that might ban any data deemed “LGBT propaganda.”
“Russia isn’t a protected place for a queer particular person: you face being outed at work, bullying, even beatings. You get used to hiding on a regular basis in Russia,” mentioned body-positive blogger Ollie.
Many LGBT Russians fled overseas in worry of human rights abuses in the event that they have been detained or arrested by Russian police for his or her anti-war views.
“Are you able to think about me calling the police in Russia if something occurs? I can’t. I do not belief them,” Ivan Sokolov, who’s overtly homosexual, informed The Moscow Occasions.
“I’m extra more likely to get assist [from the police] in Armenia.”
However Sokolov, 23, who moved to Yerevan every week after the conflict began, mentioned he’s skilled homophobic slurs, and that he worries about what may occur sooner or later.
“I really feel safer right here than in Russia,” he mentioned. “However what’s going to the scenario be in three or six months?”