By Megan Burnham, Graduate student, Russian & East European Institute
How do LGTBIQ+ people survive in Putin’s Russia? The current regime is not exactly known for its protection of human rights. LGTBIQ+ people have become a convenient target for a regime looking for scapegoats to distract from domestic economic stagnation and democratic backsliding. The difficulties they must overcome to survive have become harsher since the Russian Duma passed the Gay Propaganda Law in 2013, which authorizes the criminal prosecution of those who spread information about “non-traditional values” to minors. Unsurprisingly, the law is written ambiguously enough that it can apply to almost any person or organization who mentions LGBTIQ+ issues, forcing many to retreat from public spaces in order to protect themselves and their livelihoods.
Directed by Scott Stern and Michael Lucas, the documentary film Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda addresses the issue of how LGBTIQ+ live and survive under the oppressive Putin regime. Michael Lucas personally interviews a wide range of people in order to reveal the true stories of the risks of being “non-traditional” in contemporary Russia. Interviewees discuss how they have been beaten, harassed, forced into psychiatric care, and driven out of their communities simply because of their sexual orientation. Despite the risks activists face to their lives and families, many continue to advocate for LGBTIQ+ rights, and the film reveals the motivations of those who bravely put themselves in danger in order to fight for equality.
The documentary was screened on September 18th at the Indiana University Memorial Union. Lyosha Gorshkov, a scholar-in-residence at Collins Living-Learning Center and Brooklyn-based LGBTQ+ activist, introduced the film and then subsequently led a post-screening discussion. The event was sponsored by the Russian and East European Studies Institute, the Russian Studies Workshop, and the Collins Living-Learning Center. For those interested in watching the film, Campaign of Hate can be purchased on Amazon.