More Russians sought asylum in the United States than ever before last year. Nearly double the number of applicants from the previous year. Many of these applicants are LGBT asylum-seekers fleeing trauma and oppression in Russia. Those fleeing end up in communities with little support – even in New York. Eileen Grench reports on how members of New York’s Russian-speaking LGBTQ are starting a new life.
Vladimir Avetisian [AH-VEH-TEES-IAN[ was a successful Opera Singer back home in Russia. (This is him performing at a concert in a church in 2016). In 2013 Russian President Putin had passed a law against what he called non-traditional values, wheresomething as simple as two men holding hands in public was against the law. Shortly thereafter, an acquaintance of Vladimir’s was killed in the park by men who thought he was gay. Then, the threat came close to home. Vladimir had just started dating someone. Suddenly, when they stopped responding to his messages.
[00:24:33] And you started to think oh my God probably I’m not good enough or something. You know we all had this kind of experience. And I said OK probably he just doesn’t want to hang out or something or met someone or whatever. // after six [00:25:53] months yeah like police found his body …yeah.
Vladimir knew it was time to leave. A friend told him about the asylum process in the United States and he quickly got a visa, bought a ticket, and left.
I came here in 2016. March 3rd I went to the street. with no language no phone no nothing.
He went from being a successful performer to being completely anonymous in a strange country. Because of Vladimir’s travel in Europe, he could get a visa. But like many before him, he found challenges when he arrived like money, food, housing,.
[00:21:26]And then there’s the language barrier.
Dr. Alessi studies forced LGBT migration at Rutgers University.
While other immigrant groups can rely on their communities many times LGBTQ refugees cannot or they have to they have to hide or again to take to be members of the community.
Brighton Beach is the biggest Russian-speaking community in New York. M, where many Russian immigrants head there first. Lyosha Gorshkov is co-president of RUSA LGBT, a meet-up group that connects Russian-speaking LGBT asylum-seekers. He agrees that homophobia is a particular challenge there.
They use slurs, they use derogatory terms, F word, or call somebody CC, physical abuse, or mistreatment in medical offices, in some kind of landlord spaces, a lot of a lot of stuff like that. It could be a very traumatic experience. And of course instead of healing being in the United States our guys again and again and again going through this resurrection of trauma
In Russia, Lyosha was a professor of Queer Studies. And after the 2013 law passed he was trailed by secret police. Lyosha also began to get death threats.
He made it to the US, but things were difficult.
[00;10:46]when I got here for the month I was completely alone. I didn’t have anyone. And all of a sudden I got to the Russian speaking LGBT support group and I started communicating with people/
LYOSHA BEGAN ORGANIZING events like the first ever Brighton Beach Pride Parade last year. He’s trying to change attitudes in Brighton Beach, and he’s putting on another this year.
Ambi Women Gossiping [3:00]
On most days, senior Brighton Beachers line sit gossiping on the benches of the boardwalk. That’s right where the parade will be marching next week. There’s a biting breeze today, but one gets the feeling that the Babushkas would be wearing their oversized fur coats anyways. Lana, a Brighton Beach resident, sits with her father next to a group of older men playing chess. Her father is sitting bent over in a black sweatshirt and baseball cap. Lana is dressed up, wearing bright pink lipstick, her hair curled and dyed red.
They’re saying there’s going to be a Veterans Day parade soon and for them they care about this Veterans Day parade about about commemorating the day that the Russians defeated the fascists. They don’t care about a parad e for homosexual people.
Her father agrees.
He starts peppering the translator with questions, and tries his best to communicate his disgust in english, while his daughter laughs beside him.
I don’t love!
[0:3:32] I don’t like this.
But his isn’t the only view here. Just across the boardwalk, 9 year old Ana is playing next to her mother, Inga Gordan, in the sand.
[Ambi kids playing]
I don’t know much about upcoming parade but I’ve seen it before and I think any thing is fun. is not bad.// I think if it’s not hurting anybody it’s fun you know and it’s music and people is really cool, and I’ve seen thos costumes. I like it.
Inga turns to her daughter.
Do you know what that means gay?
Yes! It’s when two boys come together
Lyosha says he hopes 1000 people will attend the parade this year in Brighton Beach.
You have to persist. // every single way and every single person who comes here with their own stories on LGBTQ surviving or LGBTQ experience being in our countries. // It’s kind of and everybody will be an ambassador a queer Ambassador everybody can be an activist in their own way.
Lyosha says that little by little events like this will help create a space where LGBTQ immigrants can just be themselves. The second annual Brighton Beach Pride Parade will be held on May 20th at the Brighton Beach boardwalk.
Eileen Grench, Columbia Radio News.