Few LGBT events in Russia these days happen without violent interruptions. Almost all public demonstrations in support of human rights of LGBT people last year were shut down by anti-gay protesters and police. The international LGBT film festival Bok o Bok (Side by Side) was the target of fake bomb threats, and the festival’s audience was harassed. Last November, two masked men stormed the HIV prevention center, LaSky, in Saint Petersburg and attacked visitors; one of the victims lost his left eye. To this day, his attackers have not been identified.
The first screening of the documentary Deti-404 (Children-404) about Russia’s LGBT children, which I attended last night in Moscow, was no exception. About 40 minutes into the screening, a group of young people entered the room and demanded that the organizers stop the film, which they called “child pornography.” They were members of an informal nationalist group and entered the screening venue supported by several policemen, some armed with machine guns.
Deti-404 is a documentary telling the story of an online group, also called Deti-404, created to offer psychological support and a community for LGBT children who experience violence and aggression because of their sexuality. The federal “anti-gay propaganda” law, adopted in June 2013, bans dissemination of positive information about “nontraditional sexual relationships” to children, including through media, television, radio, and internet. It severely restricts children’s access to information about human sexuality, the process of “coming out,” and public health information. As the film revealed, the law marginalizes LGBT children from a very early age, causing them to endure psychological distress and deep loneliness. The “404” in the film’s title is a reference to the standard internet “error 404” message, which indicates a non-existent webpage.
The anti-LGBT protesters who tried to end the film screening alleged that there were children in the audience (event organizers required proof of being over 18 for all audience members in order to avoid precisely these accusations). The intruders accused the organizers of violating the “anti-gay propaganda” law. They also called the audience “perverts” and “foreign agents” with tacit approval of the present policemen. One of the protesters held a sign that stated: “Western debauchery won’t be allowed.”
One of the policemen stood next to me with his machine gun across his chest. Although he was there to enforce the deeply discriminatory “anti-gay propaganda” law, the fact that there were no children watching the film did not bother him in the least. I overheard him calling for reinforcements of additional officers to “sift through” the audience.
Eventually, the police and the attackers left the screening area and we were allowed to continue watching the documentary, but the bitter aftertaste of this intrusion lingered. It made the film even more poignant and relevant to current realities of the country, which does not want to hear voices of LGBT children. They are becoming truly invisible as they are being erased from the screen and public sphere. The tragedy is that the government is not interested in supporting them, and the individuals who want to help are penalized for it.