Gay Teachers in Russia Fired
A quick look at history shows that a population will embrace bias, if legally allowed to do so: The Numemberg Laws of 1935 in Nazi Germany opened the floodgates for nascent anti-Semitism and laid the groundwork for the Holocaust, the nearly 100 years of Jim Crow legislation in the United States reduced African-Americans to a persecuted, and even hunted, underclass. While they are the Muslim cause célèbre, Palestinians in Lebanon are restricted to refugee camps under a system of laws the Gatestone Institute labels "apartheid" and consequently face grim job prospects; they fare no better in Egypt and Jordan. When states in northern Nigeria instituted Sharia law in 1999, attacks on women and Christians immediately went on the rise. Zoroastrians, members of an ancient, pre-Islamic religion in Iran, faced and continue to face similar prospects when that country was established as the Islamic Republic in 1979.
With the passage of Russian president Vladimir Putin's anti-gay statute, Article 6.21 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses, critics within the country and across the globe have come to believe that Russians are essentially "allowed" to persecute fellow citizens based upon their sexuality. Along with a growing number of attacks on gays, known LGBTQ people are now being fired from their jobs for no other reason than their sexual orientation.
As reported Sept. 18 by journalist Yelena Racheva in the Russian-language e-zine Colta.ru, two teachers have been fired because they identify as LGBTQ. Olga Bakhayeva, a schoolteacher from the central Russian city of Magnitogorsk, was forced to leave her job and Alexander Yermoshkin, a teacher from Khabarovsk, near northeastern China, was also let go. Both had their orientations discovered outside the classroom; Bakhayeva divulged her bisexuality on VKontakte, a Russian social network site, while Yermoshkin was already a locally known LGBTQ activist when Article 6.21 took effect.
Bakhayeva, 28, who readily admits to having views running contrary to the Kremlin, recounts how an off-handed comment on somebody else's social network post set off a chain reaction leading to her termination.
"After a couple of hours," she says, "I received a message from a user named 'Valkiria Repina.' Repina told me to resign at once, otherwise they would 'ruin my life.'"
"Valkiria Repina," Racheva later reports, is the pseudonym of a man involved in attacks on LGBT demonstrations in St. Petersburg.
When she neither answered nor resigned ("The demands were fascist. I was happy in my job, and wasn’t going to change it," she said.), the story hit the media. A reporter from the Moskovskii Komsomolets newspaper soon appeared, having got Bakhayeva’s contact information from her school office. When questioned, Bakhayeva admitted to being bisexual, and a supporter of LGBTQ rights, which wasn’t a crime at the time. Moreover, there was never any question of her conduct, either personally or professionally; she had never mentioned her orientation to students.
Nevertheless, in rapid succession, she found that support from her school was quickly evaporating. Returning from summer break, Lyudmila Vasilyevna, the teaching head of Bakhayeva’s school, called the teacher and commanded her to cease posting, not only any sort of LGBTQ material online, but anything politically oppositional.
"Kittens, yes; politics, no," she describes. "They said, ’You teach history, yet you wrote bad things about our head of state and the Kremlin,’ when all I had actually done was share postings."
Reassigned to a janitorial position, she was then informed prosecutors were after her; a conservative group organized by "Valkiria Repina," The group, "Parents of Russia," issued a formal letter of complaint to the local Magnitogorsk Dept. of Education, which was signed by a parent whose child did not go to Bakhayeva’s school, but found her VKontakte page, and began asking questions. Under the Russian anti-gay statute, this qualifies as spreading propaganda, and after a public "telling-off," Bakhayeva was dismissed, forbidden to work with children. She was also blacklisted as a "pervert" in Magnitogorsk and must move.
Having organized LGBTQ flashmobs in Khabarovsk, going so far as to coordinate a "Week Against Homophobia," Alexander Yermoshkin’s orientation was something of a moot point; he even offered to resign if his activism and his teaching proved mutually exclusive. That school’s head-teacher, Natalya Sergeyevna, considered separate his employment and his private affairs as a citizen, so he kept his job.
"I think the pupils knew," he says. "On a desk at the back of the classroom I once found a note that said ’Stupid literature, and Gay Geography.’ I laughed at the time. ’Stupid Literature’ was much more offensive than ’Gay Geography.’"
But with the passage of Russia’s "homosexual propaganda" law, Yermoshkin, 38, recounts something that in any other situation would be considered satire: One of his events was set upon by a band of local Nazis. On Aug. 26, a Nazi camera crew accosted him, but while these were little more than exercises in intimidation, it very quickly escalated.
"The Nazis made common cause with the Baptists," Yermoshkin says, and goes on to describe how Sergei Pleshakov, leader of a third party called Zelyony Dom ("Green House" in Russian) entered the fray and is, in a bitter irony, a pro-democracy group. Pleshakov began a smear campaign against Yermoshkin and other LGBTQs, using gay-panic buzz phrases, their "position below the belt", their "debauched libido."
Those three groups spent the summer collecting signatures in favor of Yermoshkin’s dismissal, collecting 678 signatures in total, and delivered them to the regional Ministry of Education. The troika then began raining phone calls on the office, demanding action.
It was a swift move and Yermoshkin was removed from his classes, and fired soon after. He now works as a researcher in an environmental research institute, but reaffirms that teaching is his greatest love.
"As recently as last spring there was a school that was trying to get me to work there, but now there’s no school anywhere that will take me," he said. "It’s like forcing an artist to stop painting. I shall, of course, fight for my right to teach, but I don’t know how long I’ll manage to keep fighting."
"It was unpleasant, I won’t deny it," said Bakhayeva of her experience. In an understatement, she adds, "Life as an LGBT in Russia is unpleasant."