Vladimir Putin’s LGBT Refuseniks

We are still in our own struggle for LGBT rights, but I guess we are farther along than Russia.

On June 16, 1961, the Soviet ballet star Rudolf Nureyev slipped away from his KGB minders while on tour in Paris, and within a week, he was doing his jetés and echappés in The Sleeping Beauty with a French company. Ten years later, 13,000 Jewish refugees left the Soviet Union; over the next three decades, the U.S. accepted hundreds of thousands. In 1979, when Bolshoi dancers Valentina Kozlova and Leonid Kozlov ducked out the garage door of the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, the U.S. granted them asylum the next day.

Today it’s not ballerinas and Jews fleeing Russia in droves, but a new group of Putin-era refuseniks: LGBT people. Facing a discriminatory new law against “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” and a spike in homophobic violence, many see getting out of Russia as a matter of life and death.

Slava Revin, a 31-year-old activist who arrived in the U.S. in July, is part of a fast-growing community of young LGBT Russians who’ve flocked to New York, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities. Like the Soviet Jews and dissidents who fled decades before them, Revin and his peers have formed a tight network, helping one another adjust to life in America and advocating for the rights of those left behind.

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