In the next few weeks, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be held in Russia. Fans travelling to Russia for the World Cup can find guidance specifically for LGBTQI+ people in the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Free Lions Guide. The guide is a collaboration between FSF, the FA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A number of LGBTQI+ organisations, including Gendered Intelligence, were consulted on the content of the guide.
To assess the risks for travelling to Russia for the World Cup, it is useful to know more about the situation for LGBTQI+ people there.
Five years ago the LGBT propaganda law was passed which prohibits the promotion of “non-traditional” values to children. The bill is purposefully vague and its use is highly unstandardised. At its extreme, it could be used to effectively ban the queer rights movement and any expression of queer identity in public. There are also no anti-discrimination laws or specifics protections for the community so while being LGBTQI+ isn’t criminalised and people aren’t persecuted against in the vast majority of the country, life can be extremely difficult.
The understanding of what “non-traditional” could mean is crucial for understanding the impact of these laws and policies on people’s lives. For example, there are mechanisms for trans people to change their names, however, if a trans man wanted to change his name to one regarded as “traditionally masculine” there would be a slim chance of his attempts being successful. Whether or not he succeeded would be determined by the officials overseeing the procedure and be subject to their views. Likewise, applications to change one’s legal gender vary depending on the court overseeing the case. To change one’s gender, a medical diagnosis of “transexualism” is required but this is also one of the “mental disorders” that can be used to deny someone a driver’s license. For non-binary people, there is no form of recognition available outside of the gender binary.
In addition to the issues at the state level, the mainstream view of the general public is much more hostile to the community than in the West. However, this does vary considerably by region and thus, so do the experiences of LGBTQI+ people from different parts of the Federation. St Petersburg is the most liberal city in Russia and there are LGBTQI+ venues, although like in the West, most are aimed are cis gay men. On the other hand, the situation in the North Caucasus and Chechnya in particular is completely different.
While the Chechen government’s persecution against (perceived) gay cis men has been well documented, it has affected people of all gender and sexual minorities. Trans women have been subject to similar levels of violence as gay men. From the society’s perspective, they are seen as one and the same and denied their womanhood. As is normal around the globe, their stories have received much less coverage in the media. Queer cis women have also been targets of violence and persecution, however this is much more likely to come from within their own family in the form of honour-based violence rather than from the authorities. This is a different experience to most gay men and trans women who have been targeted more heavily by the regional government. There is no readily available information concerning the experiences of trans men and non-binary people.
As always, trans voices are going unheard and there is a danger that the experiences of trans people in Russia, and the hardships they face, will be forgotten amid the excitement of the World Cup. Instead there must be continued pressure on the Russian government to lift the propaganda law and properly investigate the atrocities perpetrated in Chechnya. While interest from the general public has waned, there is ongoing effort to change the situation such as lobbying from Amnesty International and work to support and evacuate LGBTQI+ people from Chechnya by ILGA-Europe and the Russian LGBT Network.
All those attending a game in Russia will receive a copy of the FSF’s Free Lions Guide guide with their tickets and it is also available here.
To see the latest update from Amnesty International on the Chechen Purge click here.