* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Gorshkov was exiled from Russia after launching the country's first ever Queer Studies class
By Hugo Greenhalgh
When Lyosha Gorshkov launched Russia’s first ever Queer Studies class as part of a course in gender studies in 2012, he had little clue that it would lead to his exile from the country just three years later.
A former political science professor at Perm State University, situated deep in the industrial heart of Russia close to the Ural Mountains, he had gained his PhD in 2009.
The country at that point, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from his new home in New York, was still relatively liberal when it came to LGBT+ rights. “But when the anti-gay propaganda law was passed in 2013, all of us who were openly gay were targeted by the government,” he said.
First, the authorities attempted to recruit him to spy on others, Gorshkov said. “They asked me to report on people who were homosexual – they knew everything about my whole life story.”
He refused and his position within the university – and personal security on the streets of Perm – deteriorated rapidly. “All of this political climate made me a target for secret services and every right-wing activist,” Gorshkov said. “All of a sudden my apartment was under watch. I had to be driven around the city, as it was not safe for me to walk around.”
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has been steadily unpicking any moves to liberalise the legal system with regard to LGBT+ rights. In addition to the anti-gay propaganda law, city and regional authorities regularly reject applications for Pride marches.
Reports from Chechnya, an autonomous region in the south of the country bordering Georgia, suggest gay men have been rounded up and tortured.
“The peak of acceptance and tolerance in the country was in 2005,” Gorshkov said. “Over 50 percent accepted LGBT people, but because of Putin’s politics – he has chosen LGBT people as a scapegoat to distract people’s attention from the economic crisis.
“We had a honeymoon period, but things have since got much worse.”
For Gorshkov, matters culminated when he finally fled the country in July 2014, seeking asylum in the United States, which was granted in March last year.
Now living in the United States, Gorshkov, who could not work when he first arrived, has turned to public activism. Yet, despite his treatment at the hands of the authorities, he still dreams of returning home one day.
“Of course I want to go back to teach and to do my studies again,” he said. “My real intention in life and my true passion is still academia.”
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