On March 31, Saint Petersburg police found Russian journalist and theater critic Dmitry Tsilikin dead in his apartment in a pool of blood. Police said the attacker - a young man Tsilikin had invited to his apartment - stabbed him a dozen times with a hunter’s knife two days earlier and left him to bleed slowly to death. His assailant, a 21-year old Hitler admirer, who goes by the nickname, "The Cleaner," was arrested a week later.
Tsilikin's friends presumed he was gay but Tsilikin wasn’t public about his sexual orientation and didn’t participate in pro-LGBT events. The attacker reportedly told the police he had met Tsilikin online and planned to blackmail Tsilikin, 54, about his homosexuality but killed him after an argument. The attacker’s social network accounts contain images of swastikas and Adolf Hitler, according to media reports.
Many gay men I have interviewed in Russia have told me they fear meeting people online because of the risk of entrapment. One told me he was ambushed twice within several months by people who pretended online to be interested in him. One of the assailants broke his jaw.
It’s critical the prosecuting authorities do not ignore evidence of all possible motives for this gruesome killing, including Tsilikin’s sexual orientation. Russia has hate crime laws on the books that can be applied. I have reason to be skeptical: of the several dozen anti-LGBT attacks I've documented in recent years, none were investigated and prosecuted as hate crimes, even the ones that most blatantly involving a hate motive.
Russian officials and state media spread hateful, anti-LGBT rhetoric. In this environment, the absence of any concerted official efforts to condemn discrimination against LGBT people is effectively a carte blanche to engage in homophobic violence. As Natalia Tsymbalova, an LGBT activist who knew Tsilikin, told me “there will always be others who will go beyond words and express their hate through violence if they think it’s allowed.”
Until Russian authorities rein in their own hateful rhetoric, acknowledge their obligation to protect those who identify as LGBT and their supporters, and act on that obligation, the attacks will continue. And some, like Dmitry Tsilikin, will pay with their lives.