Vitaly Bespalov has been assaulted more than once. This 28-year-old Russian tells that while living in western Siberia, he suffered several homophobic attacks. He later decided to move to St. Petersburg, known for being one of the most open cities in Russia. “I feel much safer, but I often hear homophobic comments,” he says. A well-known LGBTI rights activist, he also faces daily insults and threats on social networks.
The day he learned that his name was on a list posted on the Internet by a secret homophobic group called the Deadly Games – in which his name was alongside other LGBTI goals that were supposed to receive “a lesson” – was a jolt. She called her friend Yelena Grigorieva, who was also on the list: together they tried not to give so much importance to the subject. “I remember Lena and I laughing and she later wrote,‘ I’m proud to be on a list with so many good people. ” Days later, on July 21, Grigorieva, a bisexual, feminist and well-known for her activism, was found dead in the street in St. Petersburg, hidden behind a thicket. It was stabbed eight times.
Police arrested a suspect for Grigorieva’s murder. The 41-year-old woman was also very active in causes such as the release of Ukrainian sailors imprisoned in Russia and the defense that the Russian annexation of Crimea is illegal. No charges have yet been officially filed against the 39-year-old prisoner. But local media, citing research sources, say it is not being treated as a hate crime but as a “fight.” All despite the victim repeatedly denouncing the threats he received, as his friend Alexander Mironov states.
In 2017, the Russian LGBTI Network reported 107 cases of physical assault on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Moreover, they are almost unreported outside major cities such as St. Petersburg and Moscow, and official reports are virtually nonexistent. Those who suffer the attacks are afraid. And go to court, the cases hardly go forward, he says. “LGBT-phobic motivation is rarely taken into account; even if the criminal himself recognizes it, ”laments Glushkova of the specialized association Stimul.
The “game”, in fact, began more than five years ago in western Siberia, and spread from there, as the Mortal Games website itself, which developed what it calls “gay surveillance.” The group, which in February claimed to have 300 active users, pledged massive “rewards” online for every “hunt” LGBT person online. There were a few known names open. But to access the alleged database of goals, with personal information, the “players” had to pay just under three euros (12 reais). To delete a name from the list, those affected should pay at least 25 euros (105 reais). From time to time, I would publish some picture of the alleged “wounds” caused to the goals. Weeks ago the list was published in which the murdered activist was named.
The norm – which 63% of the population sees as positive, according to the Levada Center – is perceived as one of the central elements of President Putin’s nationalist message and his rapprochement with the Orthodox Church as a symbol of “Greater Russia” identity. Considered discriminatory by the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights, the law threatens publishers and distributors with a fine of between 800,000 rubles (about 46,400 reais) and one million rubles or suspension of the activity for 90 days. Many of them, acknowledges Nadezhda Kruchenitskaya, one of the publishers of Pink Giraffe, are unwilling – or financially prepared – to take the risk. “The law is not clear, so the subject itself is already taboo,” says Kruchenitskaya.