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Russian-speaking gays and lesbians start life from scratch in New York

Russian gays and lesbians each year participate in a gay parade in New York. Photos from the personal archive of Elena Holtzman

Russian gays and lesbians each year participate in a gay parade in New York. Photos from the personal archive of Elena Holtzman

More and more Russians are seeking political asylum in the United States. According to Radio Liberty, in 2015 there were 1454 of such applications, which is half as many as last year, and two times more than in 2012. And this is an absolute record for more than twenty years.

According to immigration lawyers, this surge is associated with the mass exodus of gays and lesbians from Russia, after Vladimir Putin signed a law banning the promotion of non-traditional relations among minors in 2013.

This law triggered a barrage of criticism from human rights defenders and international organizations, including the UN, but most Russians support it. So according to public opinion poll, which was conducted by researchers from the Levada Center, 58% of Russians would like to isolate a society of gays and lesbians. And only 24% believe that they should be left to themselves.

The situation in Ukraine, Belarus and other CIS countries is not much better: skinhead attacks, persecution, arbitrariness of law enforcement, the absence of any hope that the situation will be corrected.

Not surprisingly, in such circumstances, many members of the LGBT community are leaving. In the US, gays and lesbians can count on tolerance and friendliness. The turning point was the decision of the Supreme Court legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states of the country, Photo of Barack Obama appeared on the cover of the LGBT magazine “OUT”so he became the first president of the United States who agreed to film for such a thematic publication. The editors of the magazine called this article “The Historical Moment in the Historical Year”.

But despite the fact that in the US, gays and lesbians from the post-Soviet countries can breathe freely and not be afraid of persecution, they, like other immigrants, have a hard time at first. They are on the same thorny path as other immigrants: looking for housing and work (often illegal at the beginning), struggling with the high cost of medical services, attending free English courses, building a new social circle.

Escape across borders

Roman Morozov arrived in New York just a month ago. His story is worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster - with surveillance, foreign diplomats, illegal border crossings, security agents, and family drama.

Roman Morozov left Russia because he was afraid to go to prison. Photos from the personal archive

To escape from persecution, Roman Morozov had to flee through Belarus and Ukraine. Photos from the personal archive

The novel was born in the Russian outback, in the town of Kovrov, Vladimir Region, and in For 20 years, he decided on a very bold step by Russian standards: he told his parents that he was gay. They took it hard, but Morozov was sure that gays should not hide, otherwise in Russia you will not prove that you are "the same person as the rest."

Dealing with public censure after his “coming-out”, Morozov engaged in social activities, and two years ago with his friends organized the “Gay Liberation Front” in Russia.

"We were engaged in campaigns against homophobes in Russia, including the singer Valeria and LG, whose face she was <...> they helped with what they could beaten up by a gay man from Minsk to Mikhail Pischevsky... Recently Misha died of his injuries in the hospital [the athlete who beat him has already been released - Forum], ”says Roman.

But Facebook Groups, Morozov with like-minded people went outside, some staged single pickets. In September 2015, a gay activist decided to run for the Council of People's Deputies of the city of Vladimir. Such a thing in the history of local elections has not yet been. In the election commission, everyone was surprised; the media staged a harassment on him.

“Journalists, if you can call them that, vying with each other to practice what is worse to call me. Sodomite is the softest word. Many residents did not lag behind them and tried to lower me down the stairs while walking around the houses. Neighbors wrote letters to me in a mailbox and pasted advertisements with unpleasant text on the door, ”Morozov describes his election campaign.

As a result, the gay activist failed to collect a sufficient number of voter signatures, and he was denied registration. Roman thought that in Moscow it would be much easier for him.

“But I was wrong. I am gay, and Russia does not need me, no matter what city I am in. At that moment, I was already in a relationship with a guy, and we were looking for housing in Moscow. Horror! The apartment owners, seeing us together, simply refused rent a flat. We miraculously rented a room where we were not asked why we only use one bed, ”the activist shares his impressions.

Soon Roman was summoned to the Federal Security Service (FSB). According to a gay activist, they were going to open a criminal case on him under the article: “Public appeals for extremist activities on the Internet.”

"On the desk of the FSB officer there was a folder with printed comments, dialogues from the Vkontakte social network, my articles and polemics with readers. On the same pages, important details were highlighted with a marker and numbers were written - articles from the Criminal Code, as I immediately understood. Basically, there were 280 and 282 articles everywhere [they talk about humiliation of human dignity and calls for extremist activity], ”says Roman.

On the same day, a lawyer turned to a gay activist and asked him to “hush up” the case for a reward of 5000 dollars, otherwise he faces five years in prison.

Returning home, the gay actuator saw a police car near the entrance. He did not tempt fate and, after consulting with the guy, decided to spend the night in a hotel and flee the country.

Roman went to Minsk, and from there he took a train to Kiev. All the way, Morozov was thinking only about how he would pass the border control, because his name was likely already on the list of restricted to leave.

"Oh, that was something. Smiling at the border guard, I said that I was going to Kiev for a conference. He took my passport and turned to his partner, asking if she checked me in the database. She replied that not yet. Then the border guard said that it is not necessary, he seems to be a decent person, ”says the gay activist.

Having reached Kiev, Roman Morozov bought a ticket to New York and turned to human rights defenders for help. “In America, I was met by a member of the Ukrainian mission to the UN. I cannot tell his name. They gave me some money for the first time and rented a hotel for me for a day, ”says Roman.

Morozov has now moved to Georgia. “I have settled down a little, I have a room. Until recently, I had 40 dollars in my pocket, but now I'm fine, I have enough for food. In the near future I am going to return to New York and meet with the Russian gay community. I have a lot of ideas that I am sure I can implement in America, ”says the activist.

Found love

Elena Holtzman, a Russian-speaking LGBT activist in New York, did not survive the persecution of Morozov. She arrived in New York from Kiev 25 years ago with her husband, immigrating along the “Jewish line”. And after ten years of marriage, she divorced.

“I have known all my life that I am a lesbian. Silence is death. But how do you say this? This is where my problem was. It was a tragedy for my entire family, ”she says.

But over time, Elena was understood and accepted, and four years ago she married again - with the music teacher Barbara, the women met in the synagogue. The wedding was played "according to all Jewish laws", 150 people came, no one turned away, the couple was supported by all the relatives.

“Russian-speaking people and children in the United States began to understand that if, for example, mom and dad divorced, this is a problem. And if mom married a woman, that's okay. It's just that there are two women in the family instead of a man, “- explains Elena.

Elena Holtzman (left) with his wife Barbara. Photos from personal archives

Elena Holtzman (left) with his wife Barbara. Photos from personal archives

Now Elena has excellent relations with her daughter, who is proud of her mother and talks about her in school to her students.

In 2008, Elena Holtzman created an organization for Russian-speaking gays who come to America. This idea was thrown at her in “gay friendly” sinanoga Beit Simchat Torah in New York. By the way, it is there that the famous human rights activist and chess player Garry Kasparov Earlier this year, met with Russian gay activists.

Elena began her social activities by renting an office in New York and posting flyers all over the city.

“The content was something like this: if you are gay or a Lisbian and speak Russian, call this phone. And on paper I also drew a nesting doll with a mustache. People started calling. Many were surprised and at first were afraid to speak openly about themselves, ”says Elena.

With the first ten like-minded people, Elena began to attract new members through the popular American website. Today, there are already about 500 people in the group, “Rusa-LGBT” has branches in Washington, Boston, San Francisco. And the organization has become increasingly active in fighting for the rights of gays in Russia.

Holtsman's actions include calls for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, as well as demonstrations under the UN, when Vladimir Putin spoke at the General Assembly and signed a law that discriminates against gays.

In addition, Russian gays who come to the United States do not know where to go and whom to turn to, and then Rus-LGBT comes to the rescue. The organization suggests what is the timeline for obtaining documents, how to get medical insurance and get free help from lawyers.

Now, every day, Elena and other volunteers answer dozens of emails and Skype calls. The group has broker и Facebook page.

Many people ask how to leave Russia. “We have no right to answer such questions and do not call anyone to leave. We give detailed information to those gays and lesbians who have already arrived here and are going to apply for political asylum, ”explains Goltsman.

In addition, the organization “Rusa-LGBT” draws up a letter that gays or lesbians can attach to their petitions for political asylum as a kind of evidence of non-traditional orientation.

“We give a letter stating that a person is in our community. Of course, on paper we cannot write that Ivan Ivanov is gay. We cannot say one hundred percent. But letters from us are received by the most active members of our group - those who participate in the life of the community: they go to rallies, to the cinema, to parties, and so on, ”says Goltsman.

In the future she would also like to help new arrivals with housing, or at least give the guarantee letters that are needed for renting apartments. But inThe organization's funding survey is still hanging in the air - Elena has just begun to formalize the documents.

No entry for unauthorised people

In New York, there is another Russian-speaking group of mutual assistance for gays and lesbians. Russian Speaking LGBT Support Group NYC. there is Facebook pageand they also meet every Wednesday in New York, at the premises of the American human rights organization Project Reach. “We are pleased to cooperate with Russian immigrants. The young people who came here might never have met together. They help each other, and this is very important in a foreign country, ”says project director Don Kao.

Screen Shot at 2015 12-15-3.56.43 PM

15 people from CIS countries come to these meetings in the China Town area.

“The group is closed. For safety reasons, because the members of the club have recently arrived in the United States and still cannot overcome their fear. They are afraid of many things, and you can understand them, ”says Alexey Gorshkov, one of the organizers, about the work of the group.

To become a member, you need to get a recommendation from the person who brought you to the group.

“We cannot help someone with money. But we help with information. We have specific Russian-speaking people in medical centers who come to our group and talk about help. Including psychological. There are contacts of free lawyers. And for those who work officially - we give the contacts of accountants, ”- lists Gorshkov.

The group has one more rule: straight people are not allowed.

“We cannot guarantee that every new member is definitely gay or lesbian. But, of course, we kind of scan people, and if suspicions arise, we can discuss it, ”says Aleksey Gorshkov.

One of the participants, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Forum that people with traditional sexual orientation joined the group in order to formally check in, dive into the environment and under the guise of an oppressed minority get political asylum.

“One girl came for several months and participated in our group's discussions. They tried to check her on a lesbian line, so to speak. It turned out that she was not a lesbian. But she was able to somehow get through the interview [and convince the immigration officers that she is a lesbian]. Now, as far as I know, she prepares documents for a green card, ”- says this anonymous participant.

Sober look

Alexey Gorshkov - the one who organizes meetings of Russian-speaking gays in Chinatown - notes that many Russian gay men come in “rose-colored glasses” and first are euphoric.

“Unfortunately, many Russian gays they are captured by temptations, including experiencing new sensations in their sexual life ... In New York, you can get special pills that protect you 95% from HIV infection. And this is how the sense of security fades away, ”he notes.

In addition, it is equally difficult for gays and straight people to overcome the hardships of immigration. “I know that already ten people have not been able to settle down here and have left back to Russia. America is not for everyone, and even gays are not easy here, ”Gorshkov explains the importance of a sober view of things.

Before coming to the USA, he worked at a university in Perm, engaged in gender and LGBT studies. Gorshkov did not hide his orientation, and almost immediately fell victim to a law banning gay proganda among minors.

Alexey Gorshkov student handed over to the security service. Photos from the personal archive

“I taught preparatory courses at the university. Schoolchildren, that is, future students, attended classes. And now one girl comes up to me after the lecture and asks suspicious questions. Like, what are you, gay? Etc. A few days later, an employee of the FSB of Russia appeared at the university, ”recalls Gorshkov.

According to him, the schoolgirl who was interested in his personal life was the daughter of an employee of the local FSB department. He came and had a conversation with Gorshov, explained that he was already on the “black list”, offered cooperation - to collect information about other gays.

Clouds continued to gather over Gorshkov. In the center of the city, several young people attacked him with a friend.

“One of them said that we are pi… .sy, and we have no place in this city. We were silent. And at some point they pounced on us. After the attack, they put six stitches on my face, ”Gorshkov recalls.

He did not seek justice in law enforcement. The university began to circulate rumors about the dismissal of Gorshkov.

"I was scared. They watched me, FSB officers called me on my mobile phone and asked what I was doing. I moved to live in another apartment, to my friend. At the university, they began to call me a foreign agent. I realized that it was impossible to live like this and decided to leave Russia, ”says the former associate professor.

Now Gorshkov is only looking for a job, dreams of getting a job again at a university, but already in the USA, and looks at life in an American-style pragmatic way. “I don't look back. New York is my city. There has not been depression yet and I hope it will not. But if anything, I’ll go to a psychotherapist, ”Aleksey says quite seriously.

Success Story: Lev Trachtenberg

Lev Trakhtenberg in New York is a celebrity, radio host, blogger, producer and writer. He moved to the United States back in the early 90s, and for a long time hesitated to tell his wife about his lover. I turned to a psychotherapist for help.

“It was a different time then. An American woman doctor said: never say anything, ruin your whole life. I left the office, immediately called Russia and confessed to my wife that I was gay and had always been, ”recalls Lev Trakhtenberg.

Three years ago, Lev and his chosen one got married in New York. The witness was the daughter of Trachtenberg.

“We have been together with Seryozha for five years. Of course, most of the people around us, housemates, are well aware that we have a relationship. But I have never heard any ridicule in my address. Maybe because we communicate with good people. It's 2015, and we are in New York, not Voronezh, ”says Lev.

Lev Trachtenberg with her husband. Photo

Lev Trachtenberg with her husband. Photo

The producer says that she and her husband have come a long way to legalize Sergei in the United States, and encourages others not to lose heart over the difficulties and be patient. “I know a lot of young Russian gays who came to America. And they all got up somehow - who have already received a green card, who are applying for citizenship, some graduate from college, everyone is working. In the United States, there is a system of assistance for visiting gays, there are public organizations, and this is a great thing, ”Trachtenberg reassures.

He advises not to be afraid and be sure to contact support groups and make new acquaintances. “I myself have helped the visiting guys more than once. I can always share information and answer questions. It's my duty. We just have to help each other, ”says the producer.

Leo also believes that it is important to go to gay pride parades is very important in order to educate and educate society and fight for their rights. However, he opposes excessive posturing and semi-nudity in public. This, according to Leo, causes a backlash - everyone is presented in the form of sexually anxious, cutesy and painted clowns. It is important that everyone sets a worthy example.

Passwords and attendances

One of the most popular organizations in the US that helps LGBT immigrants - Immigration Equality. All information is duplicated on the fund's website. in Russian. The Foundation provides free attorneys for immigration asylum cases. The site also includes a telephone hotline for emergencies, such as arrests or deportations.

Now Immigration Equality works very slowly due to the influx of applications. To get free legal assistance, you will have to wait several months. At the same time, the organization does not guarantee that it will take up the cause.

Screen Shot at 2015 12-15-4.15.17 PM

Many Russian gays and lesbians constantly visit gay center in new york... Every Thursday, the center hosts gay immigrant meetings (in English and Spanish). “We can offer you very popular individual and family programs. For example, there is a project involving expectant mothers [lesbians]. Women discuss problems and share experiences when they meet at the center. Many more ask: do we provide free housing for immigrants? Unfortunately no. But we have contacts of other organizations. We will gladly give them, ”- told the“ Forum ”the coordinator of the center Mary Steyer.

Organizations that help visitors to gays and lesbians - Russian organization, the site has all the necessary contacts; - a support group for Russian gays and lesbians; - only English-speaking employees work here; - This organization has employees who speak Russian. You can contact Irina Mitishchenko -; - a very popular international organization, there is a Russian-speaking translator; - the organization provides legal assistance, coordinator Alexander Milch.

Companies that specialize in medical care - An organization that helps people living with HIV can also partially pay rent.

Work and education

For those who have the right to work in the United States, there is list companies that invite representatives of the LGBT community to vacancies. Among the huge corporations are Coca-Cola, Bank of America, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Sony, Ford Motor Company and others.

In New York, you can find legal work on the website of the city hall. View full list of jobs available here.

There are also special assistance programs in getting an education for gay immigrants.

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