Editor’s note. We had some trepidation about posting this, given Russia’s current role in world affairs. But sunlight is the best disinfectant, and Russia is home to an active queer community, however suppressed it may be. So we decided it was important to shine a little light on that community.
Stefan’s coming out song in February 2003 was “All The Things You Said”, a pop hit by Russian girlband t.A.T.u, who were marketed as a lesbian couple. For the video of this song, the two band members, Lena Katina and Julia Volkova, were running around in the rain dressed in school girl outfits and making out.
Obviously the band were (quite successfully!) targeting a very specific heterosexual male demographic. But despite this, the very fact that such a public homosexual image was being shown and accepted across Russian society in the early 2000s, speaks volumes about attitudes to LGBTQ in Russian society…so what the hell went wrong since?!
Just before travelling on the Trans Siberian across Russia in 2014, almost every other person warned us “you better be careful in Russia boys, probably best avoid going altogether!”
With hindsight we are so glad we ignored this advice.
Yes, we were nervous when we first touched down at Domodedovo airport in Moscow. After all, we all know Russia has a terrible reputation for LGBTQ rights, particularly in light of the awful anti-gay propaganda law passed in 2013. Nonetheless, we were absolutely fine during our travels there. We were even pleasantly surprised that there are thriving gay scenes in Moscow and St Petersburg.
This is our advice about travelling safely in Russia for gay travellers based on our first hand experience exploring the country as a same sex couple.
Is it legal to be gay in Russia?
The good news first: it is legal to be gay in Russia! In fact it has been legal since 1993. In addition, the age for sexual consent (16 years old) has been the same for both straight and gay couples since 1993, except in Chechnya. It’s also legal for a single gay man to adopt, you can change your legal gender, and gays are allowed to serve in the Russian military (under a “don’t ask don’t tell policy) unlike in some European countries like Cyprus, which has a total LGBT ban in its army!
Another surprising fact about Russia is that gay men are allowed to donate blood without any restrictions. In the UK, we are required to have 3 months of no sexual relations before we can even be considered.