This summer, Russia will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup – attracting millions of visitors from around the globe. Though Russia is a high-threat environment for LGBTQ travelers, FIFA’s anti-discrimination chief has stated that the LGBTQ community will feel safe at this summer’s events.
However, Russian society does not widely accept the LGBTQ community, and there are no laws protecting LGBTQ individuals from discrimination or violence. Although same-sex relations are legal in Russia, homophobia is widespread, and hate crimes and violence against LGBTQ individuals often go unpunished.
According to the Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR), a St. Petersburg-based research institute, the number of crimes against LGBTQ individuals in Russia approximately tripled from 2010-2015. Human rights groups attribute the rise to the passage of the so-called “anti-propaganda law” in 2013 that makes the distribution of materials which may expose minors to information about “nontraditional” sexual orientations punishable by fines or jail time. Displaying symbols of solidarity with the LGBTQ community, such as rainbow flags or pins, might also be punishable under the propaganda law due to its ambiguity and could result in a foreign traveler’s expulsion from the country.
Openly LGBTQ visitors are highly likely to encounter discrimination or verbal and physical harassment in Russia. However, police are unlikely to arrest LGBTQ travelers due to their sexual orientation. At previous major international events in Russia, such as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, competing LGBTQ athletes reported being harassed and threatened. Russians may be slightly more tolerant of the LGBTQ community in major urban centers such as Moscow and St. Petersburg than in smaller, more conservative communities, but homophobic attacks are still common and likely underreported in these cities.
Attacks often occur near known LGBTQ-friendly establishments or event sites, such as when a man reportedly injured six people attending an LGBTQ Conference in Moscow with acid. Russian and international LGBTQ activist groups are reportedly organizing a St. Petersburg Pride House, a site where LGBTQ fans can congregate to watch the FIFA World Cup events. However, the Russian government is unlikely to allow the Pride House to operate, as calls for the official backing of a 2014 Sochi Olympics Pride House went unanswered and LGBTQ events in Russia are often banned.
Risk Mitigation Strategies for LGBTQ Travelers
LGBTQ travelers can drastically improve their security while abroad by being properly prepared before arriving at their destination. There are also steps travelers can take to mitigate some of the threats while in-country. Generally, LGBTQ travelers are advised to follow local laws and avoid exposure to areas where the threat from government actors or the local population may be high, such as LGBTQ-friendly bars.
Below are recommendations for reducing the risk of becoming a victim of an anti-LGBTQ hate crime, being harassed by the government, or being discriminated against by the local population.
- Maintain a low profile if attending FIFA events and matches.
- Avoid LGBTQ Pride events and festivals.
- Dress and act in accordance with societal norms.
- Understand local expressions and words that may indicate a derogatory view of LGBTQ individuals.
- Do not visit local LGBTQ bars or clubs.
- If transgender, consider having a passport and identification changed to reflect new gender before traveling to avoid confusion or problems.
- Individuals requiring medications should bring enough to last the duration of the trip.
- Be careful of cultural bias when assessing acceptance. Do not presume to understand mannerisms unless you are familiar with the culture.
- Do not engage in public displays of affection, including hand-holding.
- Use caution if engaging others in conversations about sexuality or LGBTQ issues. Only do so with well-vetted acquaintances.
- If caught in a potentially violent situation, immediately seek shelter in upscale hotels or large public buildings such as libraries, theaters, hospitals, or museums.
- Remember that visitors to a country are bound by the laws of that country and cannot expect to be released from a foreign country’s prison by officials of their home country. Home country consulates are only able to give limited assistance to their citizens who are imprisoned.
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