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A History of Homophobia

Published: March 28, 2012 (Issue # 1701)



  • Modern Russias homophobia can trace its roots from the rise of Stalin.
    Photo: FOR SPT

Russian laws against homosexuality have a long history. Orthodox clerics condemned sex between men and youths. They also condemned men who shaved, used make-up, or wore gaudy clothing as devotees of the sodomitical sin.

It was only with Peter the Great in the late 17th and early 18th centuries that Russias first secular law against sex between men was adopted, in his Military Code of 1716. Relations between men in the army and navy were punished by flogging, and male rape, by penal servitude in the galleys.

Later in the 18th century it was proposed that this law be extended to civilians. This was not done, but new research by St. Petersburg historian Marianna Muraveva shows that church and military courts actively prosecuted sodomy cases.

In 1835, Tsar Nicholas I formally extended the ban on male same-sex relations to wider society in a new criminal code. He was supposedly motivated by reports of vice in the Empires boarding schools. Men who engaged in voluntary sodomy (muzhelozhstvo) were exiled to Siberia; sodomy with minors or the use of force netted exile with hard labor. This law remained in force until 1917. There was no law against lesbian relations.

The authorities in tsarist Russia avoided enforcing the law against upper-class homosexuals. There was no major homosexual scandal in pre-1917 Russia to match those of Britains Oscar Wilde, Austria-Hungarys Colonel Alfred Redl, or the German Prince Eulenberg. Powerful supporters of the Romanov dynasty, and members of the tsars family, were flagrantly gay, and received patronage and immunity from the throne. Yet when the government drafted a new criminal code never to be adopted in 1903, it continued to criminalize male homosexuality.

When revolution came in 1917, the Provisional Government wanted to enact the 1903 criminal code, but lost power to the Bolsheviks, who abrogated all tsarist law in November 1917. Until 1922 there was no written criminal law.

During this interval successive codes were drafted and discarded. All of these drafts, beginning with the first written in early 1918 by the Bolsheviks coalition partners, the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, and continuing with versions drafted in 1920-21 by Bolshevik jurists and a consultant from the Cheka, decriminalized homosexuality. The first Soviet criminal code of 1922 and the revision of this code in 1926 both confirmed the legality of voluntary same-sex relations.

Modern Russias homophobia can trace its roots from the rise of Stalin and his henchmen. In September 1933, deputy chief of the secret police Genrikh Yagoda proposed to Stalin that a law against pederasty was needed urgently.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 28


Learn more about the citys upcoming municipal elections during the presentation of the project Road Map for the Municipal Elections being presented this evening in the conference hall on the third floor of Biblioteka at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. Steve Kaddins, a coordinator for Beautiful St. Petersburg, which gives residents an online forum to lodge complaints about infrastructure problems in the city, will be on hand to answer any questions. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to all.



Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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