Meet Pavel Lebedev, the LGBT advocate who raised rainbow visibility alongside the Olympic torch

While the world will be watching the Olympic Games in Sochi, GLAAD will continue to raise the profile of LGBT Russians, as a resource to the mainstream media to continue to include Russia's anti-LGBT laws. For journalists reporting on Sochi, GLAAD has prepared the Olympic Playbook for Media, with background information, story ideas, pitfalls to avoid, and profiles of Russian and LGBT spokespeople. For more information, visit www.glaad.org/russia.

Pavel Lebedev is an LGBT advocate from Voronezh, Russia who has been vocal in combating the rising levels of homophobia in Russia. A few weeks ago, Pavel made the news when the Olympic torch was being carried through his hometown. Pavel broke through the barricades and ran alongside of the Olympic torch with a rainbow flag. He was tackled and detained. He later told the Associated Press, “Hosting the Games here contradicts the basic principles of the Olympics, which is to cultivate tolerance.”

GLAAD was able to hear firsthand about his experiences being a gay Russian, and this LGBT advocacy.

 

How long have you been openly gay?

It’s always been somewhat difficult to answer this question. I always realized I was gay, but tried to be “normal” until about 17. Coming to terms with being gay was long and painful for me. I finally fully accepted myself about 4 years ago and finally found my inner peace. I now realize that I was always quite normal, just as I was. I also realized that being gay didn't define whether I’m a good or a bad person or whether my life is useful or pointless. So I simply stopped lying and life became much easier, not because everyone immediately accepted me - in fact, the opposite happened - but because I could be, at least, honest with myself.

How long have you been involved with LGBT advocacy?

I don’t think of myself as just an LGBT activist, but rather a social activist. In 2012, my friend, Dmitry Chunosov, invited me to come to Moscow and join the “March of Millions”. The march and the rally were in protest of multiple violations that happened during the previous Russian presidential election. I saw all these people protesting the lawlessness that took over the country, and I saw people marching with the “Rainbow” group, voicing their support for fair elections and for civil rights. It all made an enormous impression on me. It made me realize, sometimes you have to fight for your rights in order to get them.

I’m not saying that up until that moment I had been happy with everything that went on around the country. I had encountered the unfairness and unlawful conduct by the authorities before. Only back then, I trusted what the official media outlets were saying, and they were saying many things, but not the truth. The state media’s only goal is to keep people from seeing the lawlessness that’s happening everywhere. Undoubtedly, it’s because of my friend that I came into the activism, however, he simply showed me the outlet for the righteous anger that had been long growing in me.

Why did you want to be visible with a rainbow flag along the Olympic torch relay?

When I started running toward the Olympic torch, I realized I might get detained by the police. I knew that, but I wanted to make a public stand about the growing rate of hate and homophobia in Russia.

This trend is pushed onto the population by the government itself. No matter what Putin says about how everyone is welcome here and nobody is oppressed, this is just not true. Even before the anti-LGBT propaganda law was passed, LGBT people had no freedom of speech or assembly.

On January 20, 2013, my friends and I were staging a rally in the city of Voronezh, trying to prevent the passing of the anti-gay law. We were beaten up by a group of homophobes right in front of the police officers. None of our assailants was detained. Later, the city administration released a statement that nothing disorderly took place. My lawyers and I filed a lawsuit against the police department and the city administration for their inaction. The court, however, ruled that we provoked the attack and that there was no violation on the part of the attackers. What is worse is that now, according to the new law, we are officially deemed “instigators” and “child molesters.”

Many Russians think that all LGBT activism is commissioned by someone from Europe. It is very convenient for Putin to create the inner enemy and divide the society, so he can hang on to power for as long as possible.

The Olympic Games in Russia is costing a huge amount of money. By the official report it’s $51 billion. One of the Olympic principles states that one of the goals of Olympic Games is to help create a peaceful society that values human dignity and that any form of discrimination against a country or a person, based on race, religion, politics, or gender is incompatible with the Olympic movement. That means that our country is not eligible to host the Olympic Games, since we contradict the Olympic principles. By endorsing the Olympic Games in Russia, one also endorses those politics of our government that are based on oppression, lies, and hatred.

What do you want the world to know about LGBT people in Russia?

I want to say that you should not believe Putin, everything he says about human rights and the level of life in Russia is all lies. All his politics are solely about remaining in power and about the “divide and conquer” principle. The LGBT population was a convenient scapegoat for him.

Also, I want to say thanks to all so much for all your support. It really makes a big difference. Thank you too, for the opportunity to share.
 

Thanks to Oleg Jelezniakov for translating this interview. 

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