A Gay Russian, Exiled in Ireland
I'm Dorothy Wickham done on today's politics and more podcast. The New Yorkers Masha Gessen talks with the scholar and gay rights activist of Gainey storm storm was born in Khazakstan and was living in Russia. When the Putin government began cracking down on the emerging queer rights movement under threat from Russian intelligence. He fled to Ireland where Masha travel to meet him. Remesy and rainy. Sometimes I was walking with you again. You store in, in Galway, which is a coastal city in Ireland. The says early may and I had first heard of Guinea, a couple years ago when some friends, let me know that he was looking for help trying to get out of Russia. Something horrible was happening to him. I got some more details later. Can you start by talking about how you ended up in Ireland? I think the story starts in Saint Petersburg. No stores starts in the Soviet Union United States three when I was born in socialist Republic, Guinea was born in Kazakhstan when it was still part of the Soviet Union when he was a teenager. There is a recruiting push for young Russian-speakers from Kazakhstan to go steady in Russia. And he did. And that's also when he came out, I was practicing some sex in school was boys, but I wasn't gay men at that moment. So it just when I moved to Saint Petersburg when I first went to sixty-nine nightclub and another one, which I like more was sneaky. So, yeah, when I that was very moment when I just realized that this is my culture. This is my music. This is my style. This is where I feel comfortable and everyday feel part of it. Elry seventeen eighteen rate at this as you got to Saint Peter's. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it wasn't yet an identity. Let's this is something that I didn't have in. Because overstay thinking I'm the only one there. Well, except for except for the other boys. I think. Yeah, it was interesting. In Saint Petersburg. If Alexander became his partner, his very, bright, Essen and say, you know, stands out in you easily identifies persons whom you, you want to be close. So I stayed overnight, these place point in never, Bart since them Alexander wasn't in Arlon when I was there we talked him over Skype you've Alexander had room a communal apartment in Saint Petersburg. They also had a cat named Mussa. She's like God fill shift fizzled. So you Alexsandr Mussa are living in Saint Peter's year, we were leaving on the sealer skew island in the future, common alka, so, yeah, super. Actually that was part of why Mussa became part of our lives. Because when we go at room. The money was so small that we couldn't really find anything better. But Ryota said that well, we have mice, which basically means that there is no routes. So that was that was a selling point that we have. We have. If we have my SIS, we don't have, and we said, well, we will have a Cup, and it was a fun story. You know, they have a good life and Saint Petersburg, Alexandra got a peach in sociology and started working at an on prophet doing research LGBT issues. This is in the mid two, thousands, when the game of Russia's developing it's not like western Europe, but things are moving in the right direction. People are becoming more open, and they're more spaces appearing. They're not just like community spaces and bars, but there's research discussion groups their film festivals. Things are moving along. Well, we were leaving in really the real bubble. Like, you know, the NGO world's no one judge you for being on sex couple. But there's some trouble with gangs papers. Back when he became a student, he applied for his Russian passport and got it easily. Ten years later. He is suddenly told that there was a problem. So you've gain you went back to the embassy of Kazakhstan and they rescinded his citizenship as well. And suddenly, he finds himself stateless he doesn't have password, and he doesn't have the ability to travel. It's just the kind of designing status on an everyday level, like every policeman, who stops you and loops two papers knows that something is wrong with you. If you want to check in, in a hotel, huge issue, every time they look at the bay Burs of a stateless person in, they don't understand one, the state is. But they definitely know that it's a fishery bad. But Russia tells him he actually has a path to citizenship. He can stay in the country on a residency permit and apply for passport and five years. He can break any laws and his guts, work. He gets a job at the same NGOs Alexander the center for independence social research. Meanwhile, Russian politics is changing in a big way. In twenty twelve Latimer, Putin returns to the presidency after months of mass demonstrations and business immediately, looking for a way to discredit the demonstrators and LGBT people, make the perfect scapegoat. Because we stand in for everything we stand for the west, we stand in for all the things that have changed in the last quarter century that make you uncomfortable. We also stand in for the promise of going back to imaginary passed without gay people. And of course, no Russian things that they've actually met a gay person in person. So that makes it really easy to create the image of the villainous people. I Saint Petersburg and then the federal parliament pass a ban on what they call propaganda of homosexuality or propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations. You can't have any positive or neutral coverage of LGBT issues in any kind of media. You can't have public demonstrations. But the biggest purpose of the Slaw is to signal that they're second class citizens in Russia outside the protection of the law. That means that hate crimes skyrocket. And you've Ganey actually decided to go back to school. And his subject of study is hate crimes against people I was on allies in the court decisions on the murders of gay men, how people were killed in Russian and usually like it's normal situation where two people are drinking and the mon- of them is declaring or proposing. There's drinking, it seems like there's going to be sex. And instead, there's a murder basically the homophobia is in a very private spaces. And this was my main finding you've finding boys in direct contradiction to the states message, which was essentially, you can do whatever you want in the privacy of your own homes. We just don't want you corrupting, our children. In fact, violence was coming to people's homes. So, well, put an cracking down on BT people. The other attack is on Jews. The foreign agents law requires NGOs, that get foreign funding to submit to special reporting requirements. The whole thing is designed to paralyse their work in also to designate them as pariahs and the center where Ella lender and you can you work ends up on the list. So here's your Guinea, a stateless person working for a foreign agent NGO and setting shoes. And he goes into place for his Russian passport. I go to from call Guinea McCall so that us tweets. Ios our newsmaker Solis loopy. I calling from the migration, the migration service. We are working with your -plication on citizenship said, what is wrong with it? Not everything is okay with just a would have to discuss it with you, personally, could you please come tomorrow at ten AM, the man on the phone gave him an address his name and number, but when he arrived, the next day that migration office was closed, getting called the number and the man came down to meet him. Young, my more loose some hope would Kim well-dressed, polite. S- went was him to the first floor, and it was nothing just to comer in the northerner Doyle, we answered the thing that I saw in the impacted me was this huge portrait of. And they're all under ap- of. Drope of was the KGB and a hero of Putin's and former ahead of the Soviet Union. And then he shows his commuter. She's a genius. Vhf is be. The FSP is the federal security agency, the successor agency to the KGB. Soon as you've gained you saw the FBI, he knew he wasn't there to talk about a passport. The conversation with Asians last two hours. They talked about his master's thesis, and about the murders of gay men and the work of the centre. What was terrifying is mostly, he was naming some people that won't name here. It was particularly interested in certain visuals for he wanted you to talk about. Yeah. The man wanted have Guinea, to greet to be an informant. Basically, his main editor was very polite. But in a very subtle, very ten the way he mentioned the loan Spanish, and the law, all the traits of model. The prison sentences are essentially life in prison, basically. Like my, my main goal was to at least get out of the but also not to them 'age of the people. At the end of the interview has be agent asked, if they could talk again. It sure basically anything to get out of there. He gets out of their cold exander said, everything is okay. And as soon as they got home. You've gaining wrote on a piece of paper as. Well, we're. In the center of Galway, which is terribly touristy terribly shopping. It's one of those places that don't feel like a place to live stone, where people are coming to relax spending the weekends. And holy days. You've managed to get himself, una plane to Ireland, Arlen does not a bad place to land is generally very friendly to persecute people, especially in some ways to BT people. The prime minister's gay the country held the first successful referendum on same sex marriage. And they're definitely worst places to apply for asylum than our land, for example, in the United States. You might end up in detention in you don't qualify for any public assistance, but Irleand has one of the slowest asylum processes in the world. To somebody who is stuck in the process. It can feel just interminable. You've Guinea is living in what's called direct provision, which is this network of hotels, and hostels and former convents, which are run by private companies, but funded by the state, he has a small room with a single bed. He gets three meals a day he can cook. He cannot have overnight guests, which means that Alexander can come and spend the night with him. Alexander is not in our land with you've getting I would go, where he is right. But I'm just a citizen Russian at have to get visa to any country. I, I want to go. The thing is, if they were a straight couple who'd been together for fifteen years, they would probably be married and there, probably wouldn't be questioned whether they're seeking asylum together. As it is they had to consider, whether L exander hit a case for asylum in the also had to consider what it would mean for neither of them to work right now. Alexander has a temporary teaching position at the university in Helsinki, every time he visits of Guinea, in Ireland has to get an Irish visa, which is a fairly arduous process. And both men say that it's not clear when or how they'll be reunited. It's been more than a year. And so we both are waiting and waiting and waiting you want someone who's been with you fifteen years ride beside you and you cannot have it. And we don't know what future is bringing us. I just can't visualize the future. I can see what, what do you think is preventing you for matching Fisher. Times number times. They know this feeling to wake up time after sleeping ten hours. You wake up in your time. This is the type of times. Getting us taking a course at the university in Delhi, because he felt a depression coming on. He spends every day in the library. He leaves the hostel in the morning. He reads and writes until the library closes at ten o'clock at night. I'm at other queer migrants in Ireland, met people from South Africa from Zimbabwe. The thing is in some ways, it's becoming harder for eligibilty asylum seekers to find a place in the world. Many countries. Don't grant asylum on the basis of persecution because of sexual orientation or identity. The United States is one of those countries, but it's getting harder and harder to get into this country to seek asylum. And that possibility of getting refuge is actually, narrowing, just as the world is becoming more polarized in the treatment of BT people. Since some parts of the world where seeing incredible advances in BT rights, including really striking like India in other countries where seeing the horrifying backlash Kenya's has court recently upheld a ban on gay sex in new law, and Brunei has made gay sex punishable by death-by-stoning. So even as global culture is pulling more people out of the closet when the culture becomes more repressive. There's no closets to go back into so people end up really exposed. I found myself in a sense of newly fide belonging. I don't belong to any country don't belong to any ethnic group any anything. Chew, my only desperate, queer LGBT the Spurs. That's where I feel that part of this nation. This is my. That's Masha Gessen in Galway Ireland with Gainey store.