British actor and AIDS activist Rupert Everett told the BBC’s Newsnight that homophobia and anti-gay legislation have turned Russia’s LGBT population into criminals and wandering outlaws.
In a September 11 interview, Everett said that during his time in Russia, “To be gay was absolutely impossible, and any gay people that one actually met were really outcast. They were forced into a life of petty criminality.”
Everett, noted for his stage work and for his roles in movies like “Hysteria” and “Shakespeare in Love,” said that there is so little social infrastructure and sense of community for gay Russians that even HIV and AIDS education in the country runs up against a brick wall.
“No one in Russia even knows about AIDS,” Everett said. “If you were gay and were to develop HIV, it would be better for you to pretend you were a junkie when going to the hospital than to be gay. So it is better to be a junkie than to be gay.”
In his new book “Vanished Years,” Everett recounts the story of a Russian doctor who claimed that HIV rates among gay men in Russia were so small as to be inconsequential.
“But that can’t be true,’ I say. ‘Da’, she clucks defensively. ‘But surely one in ten people all over the world are gay.’ ‘Not in Russia.'”
A string of new anti-gay laws and the vocal criticisms leveled at the Russian government by activists abroad in the face of the pending Winter Olympics in Sochi have turned international attention onto the plight of Russia’s long marginalized gay population. Russian gay rights activists like Larry Poltavtsev (a Russian immigrant now living in Virginia) echo some of Everett’s characterizations of LGBT people in Russia being forced outside the shelter of the legality.
“As Americans, we believe in the rule of law, but over there, complaining to the police often could lead to more trouble,” Poltavtsev told 429Magazine. “It’s hard for us to understand the level of anti-LGBT propaganda going on there. People are trying to paint a picture that gays are after your children.”
“There is a historical element, the rejection of same-sex relations leftover from the Soviet Union,” Poltavtsev added. “The government makes Russians believe that they have demographic problems. It’s much easier to fight a social group than economic problems and drugs, after all.”
“They were very isolated, very scared people, and this has just gotten worse,” Everett said of the Russian LGBT population on Newsnight. Everett has been a vocal proponent of a boycott of the Sochi games over LGBT discrimination in Russia, comparing them to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.