The 2018 World Cup begins on Thursday in Moscow and thousands of fans from the 32 nations who are participating will be travelling to the Russian capital.
However, there has been a stark warning to the football fans in the LGBT community that Russia does not have a benign attitude to gay people, far from it. There has been a marked rise in LGBT attacks under the Putin regime, particularly after the enactment of a new law prohibiting the distribution of gay material to minors. Whilst it is not against the law in Russia to be gay but there is a very strong anti-gay attitude and the Russian state does not protect the LBGT community in the same way with the same rights that heterosexuals enjoy. In fact, up until 1999 homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. There is no legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and related matters.
There have been a number of surveys of various sectors of the Russian society that indicate that the vast majority of the Russian population display intolerance towards LGBT people. In a survey in 2007 68% of the responses said that homosexuality was always wrong. A survey in 2013 showed that 74% of Russians believed that homosexuality should not be accepted in society. Even more disturbing is that despite the fact that homosexuality is no longer regarded as a mental illness, when 450 psychiatrists were surveyed in Rostov it was found that 62% still viewed it as an illness and nearly 75% view it as immoral behaviour. The most shocking manifestation of homophobia is Russia’s recent purge of the LGBT community in Chechnya when gay men and women were rounded up and allegedly subjected to torture and possibly murder.
This makes disturbing reading for the LGBT football fans planning to go to Moscow for the World Cup. The LGBT football fan alliance, Pride in Football, reports that two threatening emails have been received, one of which incorporated homophobic language warning that LGBT individuals were not welcome in Russia; the other went further making explicit threats of violence coupled with an image of a knife. There have been threats issued by vigilante groups promising to hunt down any gay British fans who display the slightest hint of gay behaviour.
The behaviour of the far right Russian hooligan groups has been seen recently in Marseille in 2016 when 150 of them caused havoc with their extreme violence aimed at the British supporters. This group poses the biggest threat to the LGBT fans, who are effectively damned twice, once by being British and again by being gay. Since the diplomatic freeze between Britain and Russia arising from the recent poisoning of the former Russian double agent and his daughter, the Foreign Office has less ability to protect British citizens in Russia and has delivered scant reassurance to the football fans planning to travel to Moscow; their advice is to sign up to the Foreign Office email alerts so that if a violent situation arises advice to stay in the hotel room can be sent directly to a British fan.
There is limited confidence in a country where there is a new online game called “Play for the President: help Putin kill naked men with a rainbow flag”, when participating in this novel game you can become a former KGB agent (Mr. Putin formerly headed the organisation) and destroy LGBT enemies of the State, will be trying too hard to protect the LGBT fans.
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