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My 2013: Lena Klimova - August

The Russian social media activist is battling state-sponsored homophobia to help LGBT teens

In August, Russia was at the centre of an international row after homophobic legislation led to calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Games held in Sochi. LGBT Russians have faced persecution under Putin's new anti-gay propaganda law, with many coming under attack and others fleeing the country for safer shores. Lena Klimova, a Moscow-based literary editor, founded Children 404, a Russian It Gets Better that offers LGBT teens a way to proudly assert their sexuality – even if it's just holding up a sign to say they're there. It's also one of the few social and support networks available to gay youths. Here, she talks about facing down tyranny in the face of increasing hostility to LGBT rights:

"I was hoping that common sense and compassion would prevail. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The law was passed. There were many feelings: rage, anger, disappointment, but most of all, feeling powerless. Many LGBT families I know, with or without children, are planning to leave Russia. But then I thought, that’s exactly what they want, for me to think nothing depends on me. And that’s not the case. So I was getting rid of that powerlessness. I live without thinking about the stupid law, especially since I break it every day.  

In February 2013, I wrote an article for the press agency Rosbalt that was titled “Pervert State”, where I stated my position on the homophobic prejudice and the damaging hate politics of our government. This is where it would have ended if I hadn’t received a letter from a girl from Samara called Nadia (not her real name and city). She is a 15-year-old lesbian. She was harassed at school, her mother wasn’t supporting her, and she decided to kill herself when she came across my article – and didn’t go through with it.

This is how it started. I called Nadia, recorded her story… And then I thought, why isn’t everybody screaming about this on every corner? The children will end up as the primary victims of this idiotic law! I decided to do a photo series, “Children 404. We exist!” LGBT teenagers send me letters with their life stories and their photographs. We block out their faces for safety reasons. There is also a closed group in VKontakte, the most popular social network in Russia, where LGBT teenagers can communicate, get psychological or legal help and other kinds of support.

“when other children in his orphanage found out he was gay, they tried to rape him with a bottle"

Every day I read letters from LGBT teenagers from Russia and neighbouring countries and they all say that the law confirms that they are [to be seen as] outcasts, subhuman. In effect, this law forbids any talk of equality, that we should have equal rights. Of course, the scariest letters stand out the most. For example, a letter from Roma, a 17-year-old boy – when other children in his orphanage found out he was gay, they tried to rape him with a bottle. 

I’m not scared. But I am fully aware that I am in great danger. I get threats from many ‘morality warriors’ who are convinced I’m corrupting children. Plus, my project falls under the ‘gay propaganda’ law – and anything can count as such ‘propaganda’. But I have no intention of giving up, because this is an important and much-needed project.   

Some straight people sent us letters expressing their gratitude and support. Others are appalled and think we are breaking the propaganda law and corrupting the young generation. I receive offensive and threatening letters like that almost every day.

Others are confused by our project, they still don’t get what the problem is and why it is needed. But the very fact that they now have a reason to think about this, to ask questions, to discuss these problems, is already a really positive outcome. Sooner or later these people will get it…"