Brutal Murder Casts Light on Homophobia in Russia

May 13, 2013

On Sunday, Russian investigators revealed that a 23-year old man (subsequently identified by activists as Vladislav Tornovoi) was tortured to death, in what the authorities believe to have been an anti-gay attack. Tornovoi was brutally beaten and raped during the Victory Day celebrations on May 9th, and two men have been detained in connection with the incident.

The attack has prompted a flurry of questions in the international and domestic media about the connection between this act of violence and institutionally-sanctioned and popular homophobia, which human rights campaigners have long complained is on the rise in the Russian Federation. Russia’s LGBT community has reported regular instances of both casual and more aggressive instances of homophobia, including verbal and physical attack by both private citizens and policemen.

In an interview with The Moscow Times, gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev suggested that investigators made the unconventional admission of the homophobic motivations for the crime in order to downplay the importance of his death:

“‘By noting that the victim was gay, investigators wanted to portray him as someone abnormal and therefore expendable,” he said by phone.

“‘… Political figures have provoked anti-gay sentiment by portraying the gay community as a bunch of freaks,’ Alexeyev said. ‘They are accomplices in the killing.’”

Homophobia is increasingly being legally legitimized in Russia. Later this month, Russia’s State Duma is expected to pass a piece of legislation banning “homosexual propaganda.” As with many of the laws introduced since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency last year, the oblique and vague wording of this piece of legislation is thought to have been specifically designed to leave open the possibility to harass and shut down outlets for self-expression by gay individuals, ranging from the publication of books and magazines addressing homosexual themes or discrimination, to shutting down gay clubs and LGBT protests.

Vladimir Putin also recently stated that countries which allow gay marriage may be banned from adopting Russian children. These developments are part of an escalating trend which seeks to harness the country’s socially conservative mores (and bigotry) as a means of sustaining Putin’s political stability. As Voice of America reported:

“Putin’s conservatism is backed by a nationwide Levada poll conducted in February. Two-thirds of respondents backed laws banning ‘gay propaganda.’  And large majorities said that gay propaganda could mean banning books, films, protests and parades.”

Sadly, as homosexuals make strides towards securing equal rights elsewhere in the world, we are likely to continue to see the opposite trend in Russia as long as the current political status quo remains in place.