In the wake of the Supreme Court decision last month that effectively legalized gay marriage across the United States, a group of young Russians decided to make a video that shows how tolerant Russia is of homosexuality.
Not much, the video seems to show.
The video, shot by the group ChebuRussiaTV, is modeled on similar video experiments, the most well known of which showed a young women being catcalled and hit on as she walked around New York. It differs in that it shows two young men in their 20s — Artem Frantsuzov and Jay Babenko — walking around the center of Moscow holding hands.
Frantsuzov and Babenko are not actually a couple (neither are gay), but many Muscovites apparently think they are. The pair are stared at, verbally insulted and, on at least two occasions, physically threatened.
Nikita Rozhdestv, the cameraman and one of five friends who created the video, says that after a second man tried to physically assault Frantsuzov and Babenko, they decided to stop filming. They had been walking around Moscow for less than three hours. Rozhdestv says that the man stopped attacking them only when they explained it was a social experiment.
"After that he got interested in other reactions," Rozhdestv says in an e-mail, "and [he] felt satisfied when we said that a lot of people were aggressive."
Homosexuality is not illegal in Russia, but LGBT communities have complained of increasing harassment in recent years, with a law against "homosexual propaganda" a particular source of concern. A Pew Global Research poll from 2013 found that 72 percent of Russians felt that homosexuality was morally unacceptable.
Rozhdestv says that he and his friends had made similar prank videos before, but they were spurred to make this one after the U.S. Supreme Court decision got them thinking about how different attitudes to gay rights were in the United States and in Russia. "We thought that it's strange that in [the] USA if two guys have a walk holding hands, it would be not a big deal," he says. "So we wanted to see [what would happen in] the same situation in Russia."
Asked whether he thinks Russia is homophobic, Rozhdestv has little doubt. "As seen in the video, it is almost a fact," he says. However, he and his friends are proud of the debate sparked by the video, which has been viewed almost 1.4 million times since being posted Sunday. "Before this day everyone was quiet, so you can say we already did something for the Russian society," Rozhdestv says.
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