It’s been hard to avoid the homophobic mentality which has flourished in Russia’s government and a considerable portion of its people. Just recently news of three gay men attacked by 30 armed members of the public on the streets of Moscow shocked and embodied the currant climate in the country. Those arrested? The gay men, obviously. No other arrests were made. What was their crime? Driving around quad bikes and waving rainbow flags. To make matters more serious, complicated and far-reaching, one of the assaulted men was later fired from his job at pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
One young woman who is no stranger to such abuse is Lena Klimova. The young journalist, based in Ekaterinburg – the fourth-largest city in Russia – has always been outspoken in her articles in which she openly criticises the parliamentary bills set up against ‘propaganda of homosexuality’.
After reading one of Klimova’s articles, a 15-year-old girl wrote her and explained how she was feeling suicidal due to the bullying and isolation felt as a result of her homosexuality. The power of Klimova’s words in her article supposedly prevented the girl from going ahead with her planned suicide. Klimova was so moved that she was encouraged to do more for those like the 15-year-old girl. This is where Children-404 was born.
The Children-404 group is a support project for LGBT teens created on March 4 2013. It’s essentially an online community on Facebook and VKontakte, Russia’s most popular social networking site, that’s divided into two parts: there’s the private ‘closed’ group, which offers psychological support to LGBT teens from adult participants, and allows them to share their problems with one another and effectively support each; the second part is the open project, which allows teens to outwardly publish their own letters, much like that of the 15-year-old girl who inspired the inception of Children-404.
This is the section that has seen teens uploading photos of themselves with placards that bear the words, “Children-404” held over their eyes. This is often followed with the caption, “We exist”, in protest against the widespread intolerance that also exists within their country.
Last year Lena Klimova was charged by Russian police for violating anti-propaganda law because her group “promote[s] unconventional sexual relations among minors, resulting in information aimed at developing juveniles to explore unconventional sexualities”. The 25-year-old journalist was found guilty in January this year and was fined 50,000 rubles (£580).
It’s been a tough year for Klimova because on the back of public pressure she’s been subjected to obscene comments and distressing threats to her life from people via VKontakte. Did she get scared? Did she feel threatened? Of course she didn’t. Klimova saw the irony in their words, and even the irony emanating from their profile pictures; a man posing with his family, a women holding a bouquet of roses, a man taking a selfie next to his pet goat – the irony being that these harmless, comic and somewhat lovely photos juxtaposed with their vicious and violent text.
So what did she do? She collected them all and created an online public photo album titled, ‘Beautiful People and What They Say To Me’, publicly outing and shaming those who privately messaged her. Outwardly spoken as ever, brazen to the core, unrelenting in the face of adversity, Klimova is a champion not just for LGBT teens in her country, but for LGBT communities around the world. Don’t ever expect her to be quietened by anyone.