I took Russian my first year of college. We had course requirements to fulfill, and one of them was taking a number of language credits. I’d spent the previous five years studying Latin, so I wanted something totally different. Besides, I’d always wanted to visit Siberia.

There’s something about the vast region that fascinates me: the beauty of the changing landscapes, the ancient cultural history, the depths of Lake Baikal. A species of seal lives there, in the deepest freshwater lake in the world, that is the only exclusively freshwater seal in existence. Scientists haven’t figured out exactly how those seals got to Lake Baikal, only that they’ve been there for 2 million years.

I passed my classes – once you figure out the Cyrillic alphabet, Russian is actually pretty easy to pick up – but I’ve never made it to Siberia. This is because my college years coincided with a huge uptick in homophobia in Russia, and I have always been a proud and loud queer woman. My junior year in college – when students traditionally study abroad – was 2013, the same year that Russia passed what has been called the “gay propaganda” law. I spent my junior year in Massachusetts.

Russia’s gay propaganda law, officially titled “On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development,” bans “the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations to minors.” Basically, it is illegal to depict gay and transgender people in a positive light any place where a child might see it.  The wording of the law was vague enough to allow it to be used as an excuse to arrest and prosecute any LGBT individuals living their lives proudly and publicly.

This is what many right-wing conservative politicians want to do here in America. They’ll start a bit smaller, of course. After all, we’re much less culturally homophobic than our Russian cousins. But look at Florida, at the “don’t say gay” law, which is officially known as “Parental Rights in Education.” It bans discussion of gender and sexuality in schools for children younger than third grade, and it’s vaguely worded, which is intentional. The goal of this law is to make teachers worried about bringing up anything tangentially related to LGBTQ people in the classroom.

Watch for this tactic to continue: benignly titled, vaguely worded laws that purport to be for the purpose of defending children (a goal that nobody can argue with). They will be used to persecute LGBTQ people – not just to arrest and jail them, but also to push them out of public life by way of creating a climate of fear. They may speak different languages, but both American and Russian Christofascists think that queer people like me shouldn’t exist and will do anything they can to wipe us off the face of the earth. Russia’s governments wants to do that, too. It’s been reported that, prior to the invasion of Ukraine, “kill lists” of Ukrainian LGBTQ activists were drawn up.

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It’s not that Ukraine is a great place to be queer. It is ranked No. 39 out of the 49 European countries on Rainbow Europe’s rankings of LGBTQ rights and equality. (Russia, by the way, is No. 46.) But Ukraine has been, slowly but surely, making strides in the right direction. (Russia, not in the slightest.) There’s a video from 2019 in which President Volodymyr Zelensky confronts a heckler yelling gross antisemitic and homophobic crud, and Zelensky says, “Leave those people alone, for God’s sake!”

“Leave those people alone”! Would that all political leaders followed his advice. My first thoughts, when Russia invaded Ukraine, were for my queer siblings. Some are hiding, some are fighting, some have fled. None should have to worry about being ground to dust under the heel of a country that doesn’t think they should exist. Same as here in America.

I could pass for straight very easily. I can blend into heterosexual culture quite well. I’m very traditionally feminine in appearance, and I’m currently in a relationship with a man, and since I happen to be quite fond of him, I intend to remain that way. But I’m queer. Always have been and always will be.

My rights to be an annoyingly loud bisexual woman were won by the blood of my ancestors. I worry for all my queer siblings trapped under dictatorships around the world. Right now, the front line is in Ukraine. It won’t stay there. Glory to Ukraine. God bless America. And may the Christian god cover all earthly queer humans in glory.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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