Interview with Daria:
Daria left Russia in 2017 and came to SAFE through her friend Dmitrii. She is currently seeking asylum.
What is it like being an LGBTQ youth in Russia?
My whole life I was scared to admit the fact that I am bisexual. When I was fifteen, I first started to realize that I am attracted to women, in addition to men. Before that, when I felt romantic feelings toward women, I tried my best just not to think about it because I knew it was not considered normal in Russia. At that time, I told myself it was just part of teenage development and part of my passion for art.
When I was seventeen years old, my view changed. I became very close to one of my classmates. She was different, and I really liked her. She showed me that there can be something special between two people no matter their gender. But we did not announce our relationship because we both knew that if someone found out about us, there would be awful consequences, like humiliation and insult from our classmates and teachers.
What did you do to survive?
In desperation, in August of 2015, one of my best friends, a gay man, asked me to be his “girlfriend” for his family and society. He and I could not tell our parents about our orientation as we were afraid they would disown us. They could stop supporting us financially, and we could lose our homes. We thought that maybe our sham relationship would make our parents happy. My mom began suspecting something and asked me about dating boys. When my friend came along with his offer, all these questions disappeared. We felt we would not be judged by society, and it seemed to us that we could have a normal future. Moreover, we lived in a small town, where the truth would have enormous negative consequences. I had seen others fired or denied jobs because of their sexual orientation, real or imagined. Despite my talent, degree, and skills, I was afraid no one would hire me.
What problems do LGBTQ people face in Russia?
I heard terrible things happening to gay friends. Strangers beat my ex-girlfriend and her girlfriend one night on the street because they had been walking hand in hand. They tried to go to the police, but the police refused to take a report. One of my gay friends was fired from work after the boss found out he was not straight. Despite our “relationship,” my boyfriend’s boss recognized that he was gay and beat him. A friend still living in Khabarovsk told me that someone threw a smoke bomb into a small gay club that I used to go to.
It is not just these incidents; it is the fact that the entire society is permeated with fear. Members of the LGBTQ community in Russia cannot talk with anyone about their orientation and their problems. They are made to feel too scared to talk with parents and open up in front of friends. Religion is no refuge, either. If I told the Orthodox Church in Russia that I am bisexual, they would forbid me from even entering church buildings!
When did you decide to leave Russia?
After the incidents affecting my friends, I decided to leave Russia and the feelings of humiliation and fear for myself and my family. I focused on earning enough money to escape to the U.S. and worked three jobs. As soon as I could after graduation, I left for the U.S.
Is there anything you would like to share about your life in the U.S.?
My life here in the U.S. is so much freer. I do not feel scared and abused anymore. I know that I am in the place I should be. I feel calm and confident. I know that I will not be judged because of my sexual orientation. Here, I can build my career and start a family. I can live, work, and study without fear of being excluded, fired, threatened, or killed just because of my sexual orientation.