“I changed,” said Maxim, a dark-haired boy with an earnest expression. “I was afraid when I was younger, but when my mom died, I opened up. I didn’t care when people called me dirty names.”
Maxim said he never felt attracted to girls. When he was 10, he said, he told another boy that he loved him. The boy laughed him off. “Are you crazy, or what?” he said. Maxim kept his feelings to himself after that, but when he was 12, his uncle got a computer. Maxim went online and searched for: “What does it mean if a boy likes a boy?”
The search produced a trove of nastiness, but amid the homophobic comments, he found definitions of gay and lesbian. “I printed that out,” he said, “and thinking about myself, I decided I should be called gay. Of course, I didn’t say a word to anyone.”
Now, it’s even more difficult and dangerous for teenagers to get information. The new law makes it illegal to tell minors that “traditional” and “non-traditional” sexual relations are socially equal. Its prohibition on giving minors gay “propaganda” is so vague that most people assume they can’t mention the word “homosexuality” in front of minors.
Lawmakers said they wanted to protect children. “Homosexuality is a sexual perversion which is unnatural and contradicts human nature,” said Duma deputy Tatiana Yakovleva, a member of the ruling United Russia party. The law is so broad that it has been interpreted as prohibiting gay pride parades — a minor might see one. Frightened teachers are silent.
President Vladimir Putin signed the national law July 1. Even before that, four cities had passed their own versions. Earlier this year, Lena Klimova, a 25-year-old Internet journalist from Yekaterinburg, wrote an article about the debate, challenging the assertions that homosexuality is a perversion.
A 15-year-old girl wrote to Klimova in March, saying the article had saved her life.
The student said she had been sitting in biology class when a pack of girls started to hiss at her. “Lesbian,” they taunted, “lesbian.”
A teachable moment? Not here. When the distraught victim told the bullying girls to shut up, the teacher ordered her out of the classroom. When her mother asked her why she had gotten home early, the girl broke down in tears and told her everything. She was a lesbian and had been together with her girlfriend, Vera, for a year.
“So my mom started to yell at me,” the girl told Klimova, “and said that everybody had normal children, and I am not normal, a pervert. She was yelling that she would lock me in my room and would never let me see Vera again.”