Journalist flees Russia to keep family safe amid persecution of homosexuals

LGBT activist Masha Gessen sees no other choice but to leave

Published August 11, 2013 7:59PM (EDT)

A powerful post in the Guardian by Masha Gessen has gone viral after the Russian journalist wrote about her difficult decision to flee Russia. Gessen, who who has two children and a third on the way with her female partner, no longer feels safe in a country that has banned homosexuality.

The decision was a last resort option for Gessen, who has been an LGBT activist for two years. She fought against the ban and even launched the pink-triangle campaign to fight against the fascism she saw overtaking her nation:

Russia has a lot of poorly written laws and regulations that contradict its own constitution, but this one was different. Like other contemporary laws, it was so vaguely worded that it encouraged corruption and extortion (fines for "homosexual propaganda" are backbreaking) and made selective enforcement inevitable. But it also did something that had never been done in Russian law before: it enshrined second-class citizenship for LGBT people. Think about it: it made it an offence to claim social equality.

St Petersburg passed the law in March 2012. I no longer thought it was funny. I actually choked up when I saw the news item about the bill being proposed at the federal level. My girlfriend had recently had a baby and this, among other things, meant we needed to sell our tiny cars and trade up to something that accommodated three kids and a pram. I asked her: "Are we doing this or do we just need to get out of the country?" We decided we were doing it. We are fighters, not quitters.

But while Gessen continued to struggle, the nation regressed, and in June the ban against "homosexual propaganda" became federal law: "Two things happened to me the same month," she wrote. "I was beaten up in front of parliament for the first time and I realised that in all my interactions, including professional ones, I no longer felt I was perceived as a journalist first: I am now a person with a pink triangle."

Gessen's message is a bleak one for Russia and for human rights: "My family is moving to New York," she wrote. "We have the money and documents needed to do that with relative ease – unlike thousands of other LGBT families and individuals in Russia."

By Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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Gay Rights Homophobia Homosexual Propaganda Journalism Lgbt Rights Russia Vladimir Putin